Single Cyprus Tree (Tall narrow conifer)

Hazelwood Cemetery

By Leo Billington

In classical antiquity, the cypress was a symbol of mourning

On page 63 of Latrobe City Heritage Study Volume 3: Heritage place and precinct citations Amendment C14, July 2010, it is written that “Cemeteries provide a commentary on the local area, with insights to how people have lived and died.” Hazelwood Cemetery is no different.

The 2010 study also explains Hazelwood Cemetery is of local historic, social and aesthetic significance to Latrobe City, because historically and socially, it is significant as the first cemetery established in the Morwell and Hazelwood districts and is a representative example of an early rural cemetery in the area. As many of the settlements surrounding the cemetery have been lost to the Morwell open cut, the cemetery now provides an important tangible record of the early settlement of this area. The cemetery is also significant for the memorial granite gates - while a number of major bushfires have devastated the Gippsland area in post-contact times, this is one of the few permanent memorials to the impacts of the fires upon communities.

Row of Cyprus trees

Aesthetically, Hazelwood Cemetery is significant as a most picturesque example of a small rural cemetery, which is enhanced by its plantings of Italian Cypress and elevated setting overlooking the surrounding countryside.

In part, this little unknown 2010 study also establishes general Conservation Management Guidelines, some of which refer to the Italian Cypress trees. In order to conserve the heritage significance of this place, it is policy to, as appropriate, to conserve significant trees or other plantings, and maintain a visual relationship between the plantings and the significant buildings on the property. To also conserve or reveal views that contribute to the significance of the place.

Having established the significance of these trees in Latrobe City - after all they are mentioned in a Latrobe City Heritage Study Volume 3 – it needs to be recorded that, in early May, 1983, the Hazelwood Cemetery Trust announced a new facelift for itself. This was to “plant avenues of Italian Cypress trees along the cemetery roadsides.”

The Trust explained in its press release “the trees grow to 20 feet and are widely used in European cemeteries. They’re ornamental and are recognised as the traditional tree for cemeteries.”

Sometime known as “The Mournful Tree”, the Italian cypress (scientific name: Cupressus sempervirens) has been associated with death and mourning for the past 2,000 years. It is also known as "the churchyard cypress," from being often found standing (as if sentinels) surrounding a graveyard.

Other writers mention, that in classical antiquity, the cypress was a symbol of mourning and in the modern era, it remains the principal cemetery tree in both the Muslim world and Europe.

There are approximately 78 of these trees in the Hazelwood Cemetery.

The appearance of a cemetery reflects how nearby towns may be presented. A public perception of any town can be judged according to how well a nearby cemetery is maintained.

Hazelwood Cemetary - General View with graves and cyprus trees

At which point, one refers back to the 78 Italian Cypress trees. At approximately 40 years old in May this year, these trees are showing signs of aging. Apparently, they have relatively few disease issues. Most common among them are cypress canker, root rot, bag worms and spider mites.

Our trees are quite healthy. Some years back, one was blown over in a massive windstorm and another was severely scorched in 2019 from a lightning strike. Nonetheless, as they age, each tree sends out “whiskers” thereby detracting from their ideal, traditional sentinel like appearance.

They have not been “shaved” in the recent decade, perhaps even longer. In November 2022, advice was sought as to what action is allowable for the Trust to undertake tree maintenance. These statuesque trees watch over the cemetery area, now a pleasant, welcoming garden atmosphere nurtured over recent years. Further plans to trim these trees depends if there is a heritage overlay covering the total cemetery area.

As editorialised for several years in the Churchill & District News, there is plenty of history encompassed in the Hazelwood Cemetery. It is worth preserving and telling others about what can be discovered.