THERE has allegedly been a catastrophic failure with practices used at the Wonthaggi Cemetery, under the Bass Coast Shire Council’s watch as the appointed trust for the San Remo and Wonthaggi cemeteries.
And according to local monumental stonemason, Barry Wakley, who is engaged by bereaved families to erect headstones and other permanent memorials at the cemetery, it’s such a serious issue that he believes it needs the intervention of the shire CEO Paul Buckley to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Mind you, Mr Wakley only erects one or two memorials at Wonthaggi annually.
“We were going to send a letter to the CEO to ask for a meeting but we were advised to go through the Mayor Cr Rothfield and we intend contacting her this week,” Mr Wakley said last Thursday.
Cr Rothfield, who is secretary of the community-run Phillip Island Cemetery Trust and chair of the Wonthaggi/San Remo trust, has since phoned the Wakleys and offered to arrange a meeting with the CEO, if required.
Together with his wife, Rose, Mr Wakley has already had a meeting with shire officials, on Wednesday, March 7, and the issue of concern was discussed in closed session at the cemetery trust meeting last Wednesday.
But he says arrangements for the erection of monuments at the cemetery are still fraught.
The issue of concern, according to Mr Wakley, involves the drilling of foundation holes for the monuments, a practice he pioneered for the Health Commission back in 1981, when he was teaching stone masonry at the Collingwood College of Masonry, mostly training stone building workers at the time.
He also says the shire has adopted unnecessarily high levels of governance and compliance, well beyond what is typical at well-run community trust cemeteries in the area.
A Master Stonemason, Mr Wakley comes from a 500-year line of stone craftsmen and previously worked on Westminster Abbey, under his father who was foreman, before coming to Australia.
“At the time, the Health Commission, now the Department of Health and Human Services, which has ultimate responsibility for the management of the state’s cemeteries, asked me to assist them because they were concerned monuments were being erected without foundations and they feared they might topple over.”
But exactly who was responsible for the incident at the cemetery (the details of which have been kept confidential at the request of the affected family) is not clear.
Mr Wakley says it was a contractor engaged by the shire to drill foundations for the monuments, they say Mr Wakley engaged the contractor directly.
But he is adamant.
“I don’t even know the guy.”
Unfortunately it’s not the first time Mr Wakley has had issues with the operation of the two cemeteries managed by the Bass Coast Shire, something he says is rare at the other 40 cemeteries in Gippsland where he does similar work, all of them managed by community trusts.
Cr Rothfield told the ‘Sentinel-Times’ last week that she felt sure the apparent impasse between Mr Wakley and the shire over the cemetery could be resolved amicably but she also acknowledged that running a cemetery was not a core responsibility of the council.
“I see great merit in the community taking control and having charge of its own cemetery but it needs people who are passionate about their community, about history and the importance of the cemetery to family groups,” Cr Rothfield said.
“The problem is that we aren’t seeing new people stepping up to the plate and getting involved in these important community organisations,” she said.
“I’d like nothing more than to see the shire hand over responsibility but first we need capable people who are prepared to take it on.”