Donna McRae

Ladies of the Cemetery

25 May – 27 June 2021

Opening Saturday 19 June 2021, 3 – 5pm


Ladies of the Cemetery is a video installation featuring two female ‘ghosts’ in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery – home for over a hundred years. Drawing from local heritage from the City of Kingston, this work engages with the past, post-colonial critique, and spooky thrills.


            A ghost puts nature of the human senses, vision especially, in crisis. A ghost, a spirit, or a phantom is something that is sensed without being seen.[1]


I am interested in the ghost and gothic genres and the effectiveness of using these genres in the moving image. My interest is the threefold embrace of ghostliness that the moving image offers us. These are, firstly, the medium itself: the realm of silvery light that re-animates human forms that have become mythical to us; secondly, the moving image’s capacity to explore our inner histories and politics through story-telling, especially via the sometimes underestimated genres of ghost films and horror; and thirdly, our (the audience’s) relationship, both personal and public, to our own stories and heritage.


I believe that ghosts and memory are central to our existence. They live in our past and act as a rich resource. Can we learn from them in order to shape our future? And, through storytelling, how can they represent contemporary themes?


On Sunday 24 March 2019, I attended a graveyard talk given by the Friends of the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery. It was an extensive talk which brought attention to 10 particular women who are buried there. Some of them were wealthy, most were poor, but all had a common history of perseverance and tenacity. In a place where hardships were commonplace and women were not treated fairly, these women paved the way for their later sisters to flourish.


After the talk I wondered whether these women actually knew that we, over a hundred years later, were listening to their stories and that their ghostly memories were fuelling our imaginations. The group attending had reached out to the past and provided a portal in which these women could reappear and reanimate.


I believe that this work speaks on many levels; to the history of the area, the poetic nature of the performance and its ghostly tendencies. In the contemporary environment, with what we now know about the selective nature of the manufacturing of history, these stories provide an opportunity to reconsider colonial history through a feminist lens.




Donna McRae is undaunted by ‘swimming against the tide’. She works across colour, black & white, long takes and multi-channel video with exceptional fluency. Her particular interrogations of the Australian female gothic, ghosts, 19thC gender roles and post-punk rock‘n’roll offer a surprising and powerful potential.


Donna’s first micro-budget feature, Johnny Ghost (2012), won seven awards and two Special Jury Prizes. Her video installations Lamb of God (2012), California (2015), and Flyville (2016) have screened in galleries internationally and she makes collaborative works and music videos with visual artist Michael Vale.


Her second micro budget supernatural feature Lost Gully Road has worldwide distribution, won Best Feature at three International Film Festivals and is sold to Channel 9. Her feature documentary Cobby: The Other Side of Cute toured the festival circuit and has distribution with LABEL. She is in development with the Acme Film Company on KATE KELLY, a ‘ghost’ western which was selected for Frontiéres co-production market at Fantasia IFF in 2016. She is also working on a five part speculative fiction ghost story called Preservation and a ‘psycho biddy’ ghost story called Dawn. Donna has been nominated for Best Direction in a Feature Film for Lost Gully Road at the Australian Directors Guild awards in 2019.


Publication highlights include a chapter in Women Make Horror, the award winning edited collection by Alison Pierse, and the forthcoming books The Punk Reader and Spoofing the Vampire, and a chapter in Ecozona with Michael Vale entitled The Cutopia Paradox: Anthropomorphism as Entertainment.


She lectures at Deakin University.


Ladies of the Cemetery is her latest video installation.



Cast and Crew of Ladies of the Cemetery:


Rose (19thC ghost)              Eleanor Webster

Susannah (1970’s ghost)   Jess Ciancio


Director: Donna McRae

Director of Photography: Laszlo Baranyai, HSC, ACS

Camera Assistant: Peter White

Makeup and Hair: Meg Guthrie

Wardrobe: Tricia Simmons

Production Assistant: Abigail Tay

Production and Equipment Support: Matt Skarajew


Editor: Donna McRae

VFX Artist: Chris Tomkins

Sound: Donna McRae



Matthew Skarajew, Laurie Meade, Michael Vale, Deakin University, Michelle James, City of Kingston


Twitter: @donnalmcr

Instagram: donna_mcrae_

  • [1] Tom Gunning, To Scan A Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision, January 2007, Grey Room 26(26):94-127


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