By Gav Ross
A PROPOSAL to relocate the cenotaph at Bass has been abandoned due to overwhelming community opposition.
The Bass Valley Friends of the RSL group recently floated the idea and organised an informal meeting/barbecue at Bass Recreation Reserve, allowing locals to give input.
President of the Friends group, John Hulley, said 90 per cent of the people who turned up to the meeting were against the plan.
“We had around 30 people there and the general feeling was that we shouldn’t (move it)” Mr Hulley explained.
“There seemed to be a feeling from people that our committee was doing a good job by raising the issue of safety, though.”
The Friends group believes the current location of the war memorial – on a junction between Hade Avenue and Bass Road, where it was erected in 1927 – has become a safety hazard due to the hundreds of people who attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service each April.
They had hoped that by moving the memorial to a bigger space away from the road – such as the nearby recreation reserve – more people would be able to safely pay their respects at the Anzac Centenary dawn service in 2015 and years thereafter.
Instead of pursuing any plan to move the memorial, the Friends group will now focus on making the current site as safe as possible.
“We will be meeting with Bass Coast Shire Council and hopefully we can get some better traffic management in place, as well as some temporary lighting,” he said.
Mr Hulley said most people at the meeting argued against the cenotaph being shifted because they viewed it as a sacred site.
One local who vehemently disagrees with any notion of the memorial being moved is Di Wilson – a long-time Bass resident whose father, Laurie Pike, was president of the Bass RSL when it still existed.
Ms Wilson drew up petitions and took them to the initial meeting before distributing copies to local general stores.
Speaking to the Sentinel-Times last week, Ms Wilson said she was pleased to hear the idea had been dropped.
“It’s a holy site and I don’t believe (the Friends group’s) reasons for moving it were sound,” she said.
“It’s a sacred site; the ground has a lot of emotional and religious energy going through it.
“Think of all the dawn services held there and the families who have gone and cried there over lost loved ones.
“As soon as a shovel is stuck in there and the ground is disturbed, all that energy is released and gone.”
Despite being at odds with the Friends group’s well-intentioned plan, Ms Wilson thinks the committee does “a marvellous job” overall.
“They are looking after the records of the Bass RSL because there isn’t one anymore and they do a wonderful job organising the dawn services,” she said.
And while the petitions she drew up might now seem invalid, Ms Wilson will still submit them to the council so the matter can “be put to bed once and for all”.
“Moving the memorial is something that was also raised three or four years ago,” she said.
“The petition will still be submitted to council and the RSL in the hopes that it won’t come up again.
“Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve begun to fully realise how many people would really be upset if it was moved.”
Bass Coast Shire Council’s director of economic and community development, Antoinette Mitchell, said council was the custodian of the cenotaph and any plans for relocation would need to be approved through the council’s War Memorial Custodian Committee.
She added that Anzac House (the RSL head office) would need to be approached and there would need to be significant community consultation before any decision was made.
The Friends group is currently seeking the names and details of soldiers who may not be listed on the memorial in the hopes of organising a new plaque for the Anzac centenary.
“We’d like to hear from anyone in the Bass Valley district with relations or friends who served,” Mr Hulley said.
“If they know a rank and serial number this would also be helpful.”
Mr Hulley can be contacted at email@example.com