Jewish Cemetery Project wins National Trust award

Published 01 May 2011

jewscemA heritage project based on research by Dr Janis Wilton, an Associate Professor of History at the University of New England, has won a major National Trust award.

The Maitland Jewish Cemetery Project won this year’s National Trust (NSW) Heritage Award for Interpretation and Presentation by a corporate or government organisation. The award, presented during a ceremony in Sydney last month, went to Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG), the institution that coordinated the project.

The judges described the Maitland Jewish Cemetery Project as “remarkable and visionary”, and explained that, in seeking “to revive interest in the small, forgotten 1840s cemetery of some 50 graves”, the project had demonstrated “the discoverable relevance and importance of heritage places, and how their celebration can inspire other communities”. “The outcomes,” they said, “have encompassed an exhibition of art works inspired by the cemetery, with interpreting catalogues and education program, a wonderful published history, and similar projects that have been initiated within other regional and rural communities.”

Dr Wilton’s book Maitland Jewish Cemetery: a Monument to Dreams and Deeds was published to accompany an exhibition at MRAG last year comprising recent paintings of the cemetery by the Israeli-born artist Hanna Kay and an installation – including images from the past – designed by David Guy. Dr Wilton also compiled an online database (http://hfrc.une.edu.au/heritagefutures/maitland/) from the results of her research. The book and the database are the product of a partnership between MRAG, the Heritage Futures Research Centre at UNE, and the NSW Migration Heritage Centre.

Maitland Jewish Cemetery: a Monument to Dreams and Deeds recreates the historical and cultural context of the cemetery, provides biographical details on 52 people buried there, and transcribes and translates the inscriptions on the 42 surviving gravestones. It also documents, in words and pictures, the history of the cemetery itself – from its acquisition by the Maitland Jewish community in 1846 to its last recorded burial in 1934, and then through periods of neglect and flood damage to eventual reconsecration and heritage listing.

Dr Wilton describes in her book the excitement that she and her husband Joe Eisenberg, the Cultural Director of MRAG, felt when they first became aware of the cemetery’s existence, and how they set about the task of elucidating its history and significance through images and words.

Dr Wilton was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for her services to the community through public and applied history.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of part of Maitland Jewish Cemetery displayed here, taken by David Guy, is reproduced in Maitland Jewish Cemetery: a Monument to Dreams and Deeds.