It was standing room only at the Wingham Bowling Club on Sunday, August 11 at a public meeting held for the community to express their concerns about the damage done graves at the Bight Cemetery under MidCoast Council's Monument Risk Assessment Program, and for council to address the public.
The meeting was chaired by Mave Richardson OAM, and addressing the meeting were Tim Crossley, representing the concerned citizens in the Blight of the Bight Facebook Group, and MidCoast Council's general manager Adrian Panuccio and director, liveable communities Paul de Szell. Also in attendance were Mayor David West and Councillors Peter Epov and Kathryn Bell, and MidCoast Council's manager of community spaces, recreation and trade Dan Aldridge.
"The purpose of this meeting is to request council to review policy and procedures regarding all cemeteries in the LGA with particular attention to the recent perceived mismanagement of the upgrades to the Bight Cemetery. This meeting is not only about information sharing and clarification of issues it is also about setting the healing process in place and ensuring that such perceived mismanagement does not ever happen again," Mave Richardson said in her opening address.
Mr Panuccio took the floor to immediately apologise again to the community for the poor delivery of the Monument Risk Assessment Program. Mr De Szell was similarly apologetic.
Mr De Szell admitted that none of the guidelines that would traditionally be used were used for work at The Bight Cemetery, that no approvals were put in place before work started, and that council currently has no policy on cemeteries.
He also confirmed that council's outdoor staff undertook the initial assessments and follow up work.
As to when work would start restoring the headstones damaged by council, the situation is made complicated by the presence of a threatened species of orchid that is found in the cemetery, meaning "proper processes" by order of and with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) must be followed.
"We have to come up with a formal action plan to meet the requirements of OEH, the National Trust, and Cemeteries and Crematoriums NSW," Mr De Szell said.
We expect to be treated with respect and the deceased with dignity. The community feels this has not happened.Tim Crossley
Mr Crossley had been asked addressed to give a statement on behalf of members of the community, starting with community expectations from council.
"The community expects council to be open and transparent on such an important issue," he said. "Without explanations people jump to conclusions.
"We expect to be treated with respect and the deceased with dignity. The community feels this has not happened.
"You have lost your social and moral licence to represent the community," he concluded.
A question and answer session followed with many community members wanting to have their say. Some called for those responsible to be sacked.
It was productive and started to establish a way forward and commenced the healing process.Paul de Szell, MidCoast Council's director, liveable communities
Mr Crossley presented a list of 15 desired outcomes to council, to which the response was that council has no "significant objections" to anything on the list, and that many of the things listed were part of what they were already looking at doing. The full list of desired outcomes can be found on the Blight of the Bight Facebook page.
A request from the floor came that an addition to the desired outcomes be the beautification of The Bight Cemetery with the replacement of trees and fences.
The general feeling at the conclusion of the meeting was that something had been achieved.
"It was productive and started to establish a way forward and commenced the healing process," Mr De Szell said.
Following the meeting, a memorial service was held at The Bight Cemetery.