Brisbane Tales From The Grave

August 14, 2017

Do you ever wonder about the people who are buried in your local cemetery? I know I do. I wonder who the large mausoleums in Toowong Cemetery belong to and about the humble stories of people buried in the little country cemeteries. Authors Helen Goltz and Chris Adams have taken this curiosity one step further and researched and written the book ‘Grave Tales: Brisbane Vol 1′. This book takes a look at the fascinating events that everyday people were willingly or unwillingly caught up in. It seems there is many a riveting tale to be found in our local Brisbane cemeteries. I caught up with Helen to ask about some of the stories this talented pair have unearthed.

About the Authors

Helen Goltz and Chris Adams first met in the 90’s when they were both working for Channel 7 in Brisbane. They met up again in 2009 at 4BC, and were married in 2014. Helen says, “We both have a fascination for cemeteries – the history, the tales, the mystery and dare I say, the serenity. Chris has visited many of the old European cemeteries and I have roamed many of the local ones. I thought it was weird that they really fascinated us both, but since writing our book, it appears we are not alone!”

Helen has had the concept for decades and had pitched the idea as a television or radio series in the past. She explains, “While having a ‘sea-change’ in Victoria we decided to put pen to paper and began to research and write the stories.”

Brisbane Cemeteries and their Stories

It must have been difficult to choose which cemeteries and people to include. Helen says, “There’s many a good tale to be had in  Brisbane; so, we narrowed the list down to Toowong, South Brisbane, Lutwyche, Balmoral and God’s Acre (near Archerfield) cemeteries. There are stories of heroism like that of 21 -year-old Harry Jarman who gave his life jacket to his aunt when the ferry he was on began to sink; stories of inspiration like Emma Miller-seamstress and suffragette-who fought for a better life for the women and men of Brisbane-you can visit Harry and Emma at Toowong Cemetery. There’s sporting heroes; a mother and her two daughters who were victims of an awful crime in Coorparoo; three military ladies who rest together forever in Lutwyche cemetery; and hopefully enough to entice all readers.”

Sharing Stories of Brisbane Women

I asked Helen which of the stories might resonate with our SheBrisbane readers. She told me of her personal favourite, the story of Grace. Helen says, “We don’t know a lot about 27 year old Grace Yorsten from Woolloongabba, but after work one afternoon in 1896, she was walking to the ferry and realised she was going to miss the first one. A witness said that she was walking slowly, perhaps enjoying the February afternoon and was prepared to wait for the next ferry, The Pearl. Unfortunately, The Pearl capsized in the river not far from where the Victoria Bridge stands now and Grace drowned. It’s a ‘sliding doors’ story for me. Another moving story is that of the first and only woman hanged in Queensland, Ellen Thompson. Her story is indicative of the struggle of many women of her era- left a widow with mouths to feed and having to succumb to a marriage that wasn’t ideal, but provided for her family. The marriage would contribute to her death.”

Researching the Stories

I imagine that the research for such a book must be extensive so I asked Helen how they went about the process of digging up the past. Helen explained, “ The research and writing is fun; the editing not so much. Our Queensland State Library is superb….one of the best in Australia, and we are spoilt by having their resources to use. Trove (a digital site that helps you find and use resources such as photos and news clippings related to Australia) is also wonderful and given many of our stories happen pre-1950s, the old news clippings are our best source of material. I love reading the style of reporting too.”

What’s next for Grave Tales?

This book is titled ‘Grave Tales: Brisbane Vol 1′ so I asked Helen what we can expect next in the series,“In October,‘Grave Tales Great Ocean Road Country: Geelong to Port Fairy’ is coming out; and we are in the process of researching ‘Grave Tales: Sydney’. We are also heading up the highways of Queensland shortly!”

To find out more about these fascinating stories click here  or look out for the books on Amazon. Helen and Chris are doing a series of author talks around the South East if you’re keen to know more. The next one is a spine tingling talk at the Queensland Police Museum – Is Jack the Ripper buried in Toowong Cemetery? I just got goosebumps. Local libraries will also host these multi-talented journalists and authors over the next few months. ‘Grave Tales Brisbane: Vol 1’ promises a dose of fascinating local history, a hint of mystery and a range of Brisbane stories that trace the path of some of the city’s residents to their final resting places.

Michelle Beesley

Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.


Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).