The Burial Files

Produced by the State Library of NSW

#Australian history, #exhumation, #cemeteries, #graves

This podcast is for you if …. you’re fascinated by the role death played in developing on of our major cities.
This podcast may not be for you if…  the idea of graves being disturbed is distressing for you.


This is an unbelievably interesting podcast on any level. It was created by The State Library of NSW as a companion piece for their 2019 exhibition Dead Central.

The podcast explores the history of the ground beneath Sydney’s iconic Central Station. From 1820 until 1867, this land was home to the Devonshire St Cemetery. However, Sydney’s rapid development meant the city could not afford to leave such central real estate as a cemetery. The controversial decision was made to exhume and relocate the remains of over 30,000 people.

This is a beautifully produced podcast. There is an excellent balance of interviews, sound design and general reflection on the topic. It covers the stories of individuals buried in the cemetery. We learn more about the people responsible for the relocation. The hosts explore the changing nature of Sydney’s community, and how different cultural and faith groups were represented and treated in the process. It looks at the history of the area and why this massive undertaking was considered necessary. They examine the role cemeteries, and particularly headstones, play in keeping the stories and history of an area and its people. And, of course, they look in detail at how you actually relocate over 30,000 bodies in a respectful fashion. Oh.. and there’s even a murder!

This podcast also makes you reflect on the fact that demand for land is still an issue we face today. Cities all over the world are grappling with the challenge of how to be respectful of the resting places of people who have died while meeting the needs of those currently alive. Allocating land indefinitely for a gravesite, as we mostly do here in Australia, is driving up the price of burials. If burial is an important part of your culture’s death rites, this increased cost can sometimes force families into significant financial distress.

With nine episodes of around 25 minutes each, this is a fabulous series to enjoy in chunks, or just devour in one completely fascinating afternoon.

You can find The Burial Files, and all the links to play it on your favourite pod player, at The State Library of NSW:

Review by Catherine Prosser

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