• Date: 16/08/2017
  • Cemetery: GMCT Home

Above: Helen Linehan (R) has worked in the horticulture team at Fawkner Memorial Park for 22 years.

GMCT’s team of hard-working horticultural experts keep our 19 cemeteries looking beautiful year-round. Their knowledge and insight was recently shared with 17 members of Encouraging Women in Horticulture Australia, who visited Fawkner Memorial Park for a tour led by outdoor senior supervisor Helen Linehan.

Following the tour, Helen reflected on what makes her career in cemeteries challenging and uniquely uplifting, and how GMCT’s horticulture team works with the community to create meaningful memorial spaces.  

Helen, who has worked at Fawkner Memorial Park for 22 years, is one of two women leading GMCT’s horticulture team.  Sharing her experiences with members of EWHA – an organisation encouraging women to choose horticulture as a career - was a significant moment. 

“I just don’t think there’s enough women these days who choose [horticulture] as a career.” Helen says. “The [EWHA] event was really special to me, because the women wanted to follow my journey.  One of the women in the group taught me everything I knew. I was her apprentice as a 17-year-old. Without her guidance and support, I wouldn’t be what I am and where I am, so it was really beautiful.”

Horticulture in memory

A typical day for Helen and the GMCT horticulture team might involve hedging, planting, weeding, weed spraying, mowing, pruning, brush cutting, or laying turf. But Helen says what makes the job unique - and what interested the tour group most - is her work helping people with their memorials.  

“That’s a really important part of what we do,” Helen says. “That was a real eye-opener for our tour visitors.

“Plants and flowers are not just a connection with the grave, it’s a connection to that person, and a memory of that person, so there may be plants that are special or significant. We get a lot of requests from families. It’s about working with the family to try and find a suitable solution, and creating a sense of ownership and belonging for them – we’re very aware of that.”

Being able to give back is an important part of the job for Helen.

“I know what some of these families are going through, because my family’s here as well. For me it’s very personal.  I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl,” she says.  

“We used to come every Sunday to visit my aunty. I remember my parents teaching me about respect: don’t step on somebody else’s grave. Don’t take anyone else’s flowers. If there’s rubbish, pick it up and take it away with you. That’s been ingrained in me, because that’s what I pride myself on now. 

"Those little things I do every day, just those little things, can make someone else’s life that little bit easier. I’m here because I want to be here.”

Cemeteries for the living 

Helen is particularly passionate about boosting the profile of cemeteries as public spaces to be used and appreciated. One of her fondest professional memories is sharing Fawkner Memorial Park with a group of young people with intellectual disabilities and introducing them to the possibility of a career in horticulture. 

“Years ago, we had a group of visitors from a special school. Some of the kids initially wouldn’t come, because they thought cemeteries were ‘scary’.

“The visit was about showing them … it’s a beautiful place, where people can come and remember in whatever shape or form they want, and there’s many different ways to remember people and enjoy the park.  It was opening up their hearts to working outside. I know that one of them went on to get a job in a nursery, and one went on to work in a local council.”

Helen believes that events like the women in horticulture tour will also help change people’s minds about cemeteries – both within the community and within the horticulture field.

“We were able to showcase Fawkner as a park and as a recreational environment. It’s not just seen as a cemetery. We’ve got the bike path, people walk through to do genealogy, people walk their dogs," she says. “We open people’s eyes and minds to something totally different, and debunk the myth that cemeteries are just for memories, because they’re not, they’re also for the living.

“These are people’s memorials, and look at the setting they’re in – how beautiful it is. Stop and smell the roses. Stop and watch the bunnies, and just enjoy the serenity of it.”

Visit our careers page for more information on working at GMCT.

 

Above: Helen Linehan with GMCT CEO Jacqui Weatherill (fifth from right), GMCT staff and members of Encouraging Women in Horticulture Australia.