Headstone restorations at Bight Cemetery still a fair way off

Headstone restorations at Bight Cemetery still a fair way off

It was in July 2019 that many headstones in The Bight Cemetery at Wingham were laid or knocked down by MidCoast Council causing an uproar in the community.

Nine months later, the stones are still damaged and laying down, and are no closer to being repaired, as council is working on the Draft Bight Cemetery Restoration Action Plan (BCRAP).

The draft plan was put to councillors at the MidCoast Council ordinary meeting on March 23 with a number of recommendations:

  • Engage an independent professionally qualified heritage consultant to prepare a Conservation Management Plan for the Bight Cemetery in accordance with the NSW Heritage Office guidelines and National Trust Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation. This is estimated to cost $50,000.
  • Information from the plan will be used to update the draft BCRAP.
  • A further report to council that includes a finalised BCRAP so it can be adopted and works can proceed.

All restoration works on headstones will be covered by council's insurers, with council paying an excess of $12,000.

The above recommendations were adopted by council along with the following additions:

  • As a parallel process, council undertake the assessment of all impacted headstones as a separate task.
  • Council split the repair and restoration into two sections of work (headstones less than 50 years and heritage headstones, ie more than 50 years old).
  • Council proceed with work for headstones less than 50 years old if deemed appropriate by council's Heritage Officer.

Following presentation of the draft BCRAP to council's ordinary meeting on November 27, 2019, a copy of the document was sent to the Blight of the Bight community group, the National Trust, MidCoast Council's heritage advisors, Cemeteries and Crematoriums NSW, and all known affected families, in January.

As a result submissions on the report were received from all of the above organisations plus eight affected families and two community members. The Conservation Management Plan was a stipulation required by council' heritage advisor before the draft BCRAP could be finalised.

This would add a further three to five months to the process "in normal circumstances" before the plan could be finalised and adopted and restoration works commence.

The draft BCRAP states that council never intended to use only one stonemason to repair all of the headstones, as the headstones "are of various age, historic value and difficulty to repair and need to be assessed individually by stonemasons with expertise in those areas".

Council will liaise with the affected families regarding the appointment of stonemasons and says that work will not start until council has written approval from the families.

The motion to accept the report's recommendations with the above additions was voted for by all councillors except for Clr McWilliams, who was absent on leave, and Clr Epov, who had left the meeting early.