After last week’s deluge, several grave sites within the Rose Garden lawn section of the cemetery were underwater last Wednesday. Frequent visitors say this is a common occurrence, even if there hasn’t been much rain.
by Gav Ross
FULL of pot-holed driveways, waterlogged lawns and weedy garden beds, Wonthaggi Cemetery is a mess, according to several frequent visitors. Unsatisfied with the appearance of his local cemetery compared to other burial sites around South Gippsland, Wonthaggi resident Les Larke is calling on Bass Coast Shire Council and anyone involved with the cemetery trust to formulate a strategic plan to improve the historic Cameron Street site for future generations. Les visits the cemetery every few weeks to visit the graves of his father-in-law and wife. He says that bringing his elderly mother-in-law along is made far more difficult than it should be due to inadequate drainage in the main lawn area. “She’s 91 and she has a walker but I have to virtually carry her through the grass because she sinks into the ground,” Les explained. “And that’s just not fair.” Les believes that compared to cemeteries in Inverloch and Leongatha, Wonthaggi is an eyesore and it deserves better. “There seems to be only a minimal amount of maintenance work done around the place,” he said. “I think a strategic approach – a proper plan of management – would be the best way forward. “It might be a plan for 10 years or longer but there might be some short term wins as well.” A simple improvement to the site could be some form of shelter, Les added. It’s something Jim and Marg McCulley, who have been maintaining the cemetery grounds as volunteers for over 20 years, agree with. “We wouldn’t want anything fancy, just a simple shelter,” Jim commented. “Back in the 1950s, there was a little rotunda for years but there has been nothing since.” Much more urgent than a shelter, though, is a solution to drainage around the site. “It has to be the main priority,” Jim said. “From the middle driveway up past the original lawn cemetery section is just underwater most of the time. “But we have a problem in that the cemetery is lower than the road.” Jim and his wife visit the cemetery twice a week to “clean up wherever we can”. “Marg tends to the garden beds but it just keeps getting away from us,” Jim continued. “We’re at the age where we like to go away for a few weeks, and we end up coming back and nothing more has been done. “If you visit Leongatha or Inverloch you’ll see they’re pristine compared to this. “We keep hearing that Wonthaggi is going to be a growth town – well, this is our heritage. “This cemetery should be a tourist attraction.” A local funeral director, who preferred not to be named, described Wonthaggi as “the worst cemetery in the area”. “There are visible puddles all the time and the driveway is in constant need of repairs,” the funeral director said. “We have beautiful roundabouts, parks and footy grounds, but the cemetery is forgotten about.”
Bass Coast’s arts and leisure manager, Jenny Churchill, says a lot of the criticism directed towards the cemetery is “unfair”. She said that while most cemeteries around the shire are run and maintained by trust volunteers, the original Wonthaggi Cemetery Trust was handed over to the care of the Borough of Wonthaggi in the mid-1960s. The shire oversees maintenance at both the Wonthaggi and San Remo cemeteries, with councillors acting as trustees. Ms Churchill herself is Wonthaggi’s trust secretary, and she has donated countless volunteer hours at the site, both in a research and maintenance capacity. And while she admits that the older monumental sections at the cemetery “absolutely” have drainage issues, she points out that the trust spent $8000 last year on drainage within the new lawn extension. And she says that’s just the first in a long list of works undertaken at the site in recent years. “We have had trees removed along the boundary, which cost $1500 per tree; seats have been installed; the driveways have been regraded; and new concrete beams have been installed in the lawn section,” she said. Ms Churchill confirmed that expenditure for the trust each year is around $80,000, with most of that going towards grave-digging costs and the installation of plaques. She said there’s a misunderstanding that the council itself undertakes upgrades and is neglecting to fund site improvements. “If council does any work, the trust has to pay,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s the ratepayers’ money and it’s up to council, but it’s no different to any other cemetery trust.” Ms Churchill said not a lot can be done around the older monumental sections, since digging for drains can’t be undertaken where remains are already buried and much of the water-pooling problems can be blamed on the clay-based soil. Currently, a contractor, paid by the trust, cuts the grass at the cemetery once a fortnight, but extra work is scheduled for times of the year when mourners are expected to be greater in number. “We always make sure our grounds’ maintenance contractor cuts just prior to every Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Easter, Christmas – all those key times,” she said. As for comments on its ‘shabby’ appearance, Ms Churchill said she hears different opinions from residents, most of them positive. “I’ve had people come up to me in the street to tell me the cemetery has never looked better,” she said.