Grave concerns for Bight Cemetery

AS CEMETERIES go, the Bight Cemetery is rather charming, surrounded on three sides by forest and fronted by a line of gloomy-looking cypress trees, and with its ornate Victorian marble carvings, sandstone headstones and wrought iron grave fences.

The south west corner of the cemetery is the oldest, and, some might think, creepiest part of the grounds, with fallen headstones and broken, cracked and sinking curbs, paving and ground.

If, as a sensitive child, I had to visit this cemetery as it is now, I would be terrified at the confronting sight of broken graves and black holes yawning down to who knows what supernatural scariness, and my nightmares would rival the imaginings of Stephen King.

I recently had to visit the cemetery to take a photo for a story, and I found the state of the sinking graves disturbing on a couple of levels.

One is about the significance of cemeteries, not just for historical reasons, but also more human ones. As the National Trust of Australia says, "All cemeteries are significant to the community."

Some people might say "dead is dead" and cemeteries have no meaning for them. Others see them as their loved ones' final resting places. They are places of mourning and emotion.

Whether you see a cemetery as a site of special or spiritual significance or not, I think it could be agreed that we do need to respect cemeteries and the graves of the people buried there.

The second level that concerned me was one of safety.

Now this journalist is not a lightweight, physically speaking at least, and not all graves are marked, and it was obviously a long time since the grass had been mowed when I visited there the other week.

You can guess what happened ... I stepped, inadvertently because I would never do it knowingly, on an unmarked grave.

Thankfully my very weak ankles held up and I didn't actually go over on either of them. My guardian angel must have been present at the time and looking after me, because what I stepped in was a very definite depression in the ground. A hole, one might say. Oops.

So, thinking about respect for our dead and safety for the living, I had to find out who was responsible for repairing issues such as subsidence.

Family and friends are responsible for their loved ones' headstones and markers. After contacting Greater Taree City Council, I learned that subsidence of graves is the responsibility of council, along with maintenance of the grounds.

"If members of our community become aware of subsidence at any of our cemeteries, we encourage them to let us know," said Dan Aldridge, senior leader property and procurement.

"We generally become aware of subsidence at any of the 17 cemeteries managed by Council when it is reported by either family members, or our maintenance staff or contractors.

"Once we are alerted to it, we can address the issue," said Mr Aldridge.

To alert GTCC to the existence of subsidence, and the need for maintenance of grounds in our local cemeteries, please call 6592 5399.