Last week my post on “Help Save Headstones, Sign the Petition” created a lot of controversy, discussion and feedback in the form of advising others about the petition, signing the petition itself, and also comments that have been left.
I felt the need to do this Follow Up post, as I have had the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB) contact me wishing to clarify a few things, so I am passing this info on to you.
Firstly no-one likes to see headstones destroyed, and that includes the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board. They are as much about preserving our heritage as we are. The one difference is that they have a cemetery to up-keep, and that costs money. As a way to generate some money, as well as being able to keep the Karrakatta cemetery even ‘open’ (since technically is it full), they have implemented a “renewal program” which had been working well for them since the 1970s.
Shutting the gates and ceasing to offer new burials at Karrakatta was never an option as this site is of great importance for many Western Australians with many viewing Karrakatta as the place in which, ultimately, generations of the same family are able to be reunited.
But if the unthinkable did happen and the gates did close, the MCB still has a responsibility to maintain the gardens, burial areas and facilities for generations of families to follow. As an unmaintained cemetery not only disrespects the memories of those laid to rest but can also become a significant safety hazard as monuments or other structures become dilapidated.
While no-one likes the idea of graves being reused, it is something that the MCB have thought about, and have actually come up with an alternative …
Are bodies dug up or disturbed?
This simple answer to this question is absolutely not! Only the surface environment is altered. New graves are located in the pathways between the old graves. Old headstones are removed so that the new headstones have sufficient room to be placed.
What happens to the old headstones?
Prior to the commencement of renewal there is a 12 month public comment period, and historical research is undertaken with each grave being assessed, and families are invited to make submissions to have their plot retained. An overall report is presented to the Monument Assessment and Advisory Committee (MAAC), who then determines which headstones will be removed and which ones will be relocated within the area. Over the years the challenges of managing the old headstones has been refined, and you will be pleased to hear that NONE are crushed and used for other purposes. Headstones are not disposed of unless they are already significantly damaged (Note: renewal headstones are generally 50+ years of age and some are brittle with weathering). A number of families opt to collect their family headstone, others opt to purchase the new plot next door thus ensuring that family members can be reunified within the same area for generations to come. Another use for old headstones is that they help transform beautiful gardens within the cemetery as headstones placed throughout.
While other cemetery renewal initiatives do exist in varying across Australia, the Perth model has made a concerted effort to ensure that old headstones are retained for family and history within the cemeteries.
War Graves. What happens with them?
The MCB recognises the valiant efforts of our soldiers as well as the need to preserve these memories. The MCB continues to work closely with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Office of Australian War Graves to make sure that war graves are identified. The headstones of Official War Graves are NOT disturbed or modified in any way during the renewal process. These are left in situ.
So while signing the petition is a great idea to show your support against the destruction of headstones, you do also have to look at the other side of the story, and respect that the MCB will not destroy them, or disturb those already buried there. They do rely on the renewal program to not only keep the gates open at these big cemeteries in and around Perth, but also to remain financially viable.
For further information on the renewal process at Karrakatta Cemetery, please visit the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website.