Upper Hunter Shire Council seeking community feedback to preserve our cemetery heritage

UPPER Hunter Shire Council is seeking community feedback on a Cemetery and Monument Care Guide to improve the maintenance and preservation of our cemeteries.

Council manages 11 cemeteries across the shire and is responsible for general maintenance of the surrounds.

Maintenance of the burial monument such as headstones and plaques is the responsibility of the family.

Some of the cemetery sites in the Upper Hunter, which have historic significance, have been damaged by vandals or weather including poor drainage.

Council therefore engaged heritage advisers to create a Cemetery and Monument Care Guide as a working document. 

The guide includes action plans and priorities for cemetery maintenance and management options for historic monuments.

The guide notes that monuments as well as fencing, should be maintained in a safe manner with little or no intervention unless collapse is imminent. 

Damaged headstones and monuments should be kept at the relevant grave site and, if necessary, laid on sloping aggregate to allow water run-off and inscriptions to still be read.  

Subsidence at a grave site should be partially filled with gravel to provide an even surface without obscuring any inscriptions.

Old gate and fences are an important part of a cemetery’s history and are to be retained for as long as possible.

As a first step the guide advises undertaking an assessment of cemetery grounds including the location of broken, decayed and unstable monuments.

Any person wanting to carry out work, however minor, on a grave in a cemetery, must have council’s written approval.

One of the other recommendations of the guide is to form a ‘Friends of the Cemetery’ group of volunteers who have an interest in the shire’s historic cemeteries and particularly preserving them. 

These community volunteers would be trained in conservation management and provide the added benefit of casual surveillance at the sites and being able to report to council areas that need attention.

Currently, council inspects cemeteries at least three times per year, maintains asset protection zone fire breaks around individual or clusters of graves and treats for noxious weeds at least annually. 

Grass surrounding monuments is whipper snipped and then cut with a ride-on mower but not at the base of monuments to avoid damaging them.

The guide advises against the use of whipper snippers anywhere near fragile stone, metal or other loose objects without temporary barriers to prevent damage to graves and monuments.

It also outlines the scope for additional work that could be undertaken at cemeteries, including by volunteers. 

Information shelters and respite seating could be installed at cemeteries, if grant funding became available.

Regular working bees at cemeteries, and seating to encourage visitors, encourages passive security for sites.

Signage could include historical context and a map of grave areas and sites and encourage visitors to report any evidence of vandalism to council. 

Vandalism of graves and monuments is a criminal offence.

The guide includes possible funding sources for heritage cemeteries.

It can be viewed on council’s website - http://upperhunter.nsw.gov.au/do-it-online/say-it/notice-of-public-exhibition-draft-cemetery-and-monument-care-guide.aspx - or in council offices and libraries.

Feedback is welcomed by Friday, September 8.