In February 2017, when I arrived with my young son at the gravesite of my great-grandparent’s Fletcher and Gladys Brand, I noticed a plaque that said it is in an area approaching renewal (see Figure 1).1 We were on a quick trip to visit my great aunt, when I decided to take my son to Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia to see where some of our ancestors are buried. This was when I first heard that Karrakatta Cemetery is currently undertaking a cemetery renewal program.2 I thought, that is lovely, graves are being done up as part of a cemetery renewal – how naive I was!
I did not think much more of this until in July 2017 when I found the Facebook Group, “Saving Family Headstones at Karrakatta”. I lost my naivety that day as to what Cemetery Renewal is and my concerns only grew the more I read. Carol Trigwell started this group in May 2017 to raise awareness and fight what is occurring at Karrakatta Cemetery, and has become a tireless campaigner ever since.3 She found out by chance a couple of years ago that her parents’ headstones were to be removed under this program as the “lease” had automatically run out in 2012.4 This Facebook group seeks to educate people and address concerns about the Cemetery Renewal Program being run at Karrakatta Cemetery.2 Finding this group explained why we had been unable to find a number of ancestors graves. What had become of them?
What is cemetery renewal?
Cemetery Renewal is a program being undertaken by the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB), the organisation responsible for managing a number of cemeteries including Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia.2. The cemetery renewal program, is the redevelopment of older gravesites, within the cemetery boundary, to create room for new burials.2 Karrakatta Cemetery has had an active renewal program in place since the 1970’s.2,5 The cemetery renewal process at Karrakatta Cemetery involves the removal of headstones that are not considered to be of historical importance, grassing over the areas, and developing new gravesites in the old walkways (See Figure 2).2 This process is being done in accordance with the Western Australian Cemeteries Act 1986.6 I have been unable to establish what criteria is used to assess historical significance of a grave and it appears to miss gravesites that should be considered as historical – read Susan’s story below.
Karrakatta Cemetery states that gravesites are not disturbed, however, the new site does encroach on either side of the original site.2 It is hoped it does not touch the coffin but we cannot be sure. Karrakatta Cemetery is happy for new burials to occur in existing family graves.2 However, if an area has already been developed, it would be impossible for the family of original occupants of that site to be buried there. The most obvious signs of cemetery renewal is on the surface where there are significant changes above ground including new lawns, gravesites, walkways, and roadways.2
Prior to removal, some headstones are photographed and details recorded for future historical research.2 The worst part is, that whilst some headstones are placed in gardens or walls around Karrakatta Cemetery, others are simply destroyed. It appears that no record is kept as to where the headstones have been placed and it is feared the majority have gone forever. Whilst there are many walls around the cemetery that contain headstones (see Figure 3) it would appear that there are nowhere near as many markers as there are cleared sites. Many people are against this renewal program, as it appears that dollars are the main driving issue not the loss of loved ones final resting places. In years to come people researching their history will be unable to find their ancestor’s grave as there will be no marker. When you go to visit a more recently buried family member, you will be standing on someone else’s loved ones final resting place.
Karrakatta Cemetery state:
Once the complete scope of the renewal project is established, an extensive 12 month community consultation period commences.2
This process involves signage around the site due for renewal, letters to registered family members, and advertising in The Western Australian newspaper.2 I have not lived in Western Australia since the 1970’s, and whilst I have been to Perth a number of times on holiday in the ensuing years, it was not until the late-1990’s I had an interest in cemeteries. I also did not come across the cemetery renewal program until I visited this year. I do not subscribe to The West Australian, and given I have family members buried in many locations throughout the country, it is not feasible for me to stay abreast of all publications. I personally do not believe they are doing enough to educate people in regards to the program. This was my first visit to Western Australia in 13 years so how was I to know? Given the mobility of the population today, I think more advertising needs to be done, and not just in a paper that is only readily available in Western Australia. The map (see Figure 4) shows areas already renewed as well as areas coming up for renewal.7
Gravesites are given an original 25-year lease and families can choose to purchase another 25-years, as long as it is purchased within the first 25-years.2] If this does not occur within the timeframe the gravesite reverts to the MCB, however the further 25 years is at the discretion of Karrakatta Cemetery “subject to any conditions that the Board may wish to impose.”2 That is, a further 25 years may be refused if there are plans to renew an area that the grave occupies.2
On their website, the Metropolitan Cemetery Board states:
Parliament endorsed legislation stipulating that Grants of Rights of Burial issued prior to July 1 1987 that had not expired by July 2 2012 would, collectively, expire on July 2 2012.8
Whether it be the first or a subsequent burial, the Grant held over a nominated burial plot must be current at the time a burial is conducted. Once a Grant expires, official ownership of the plot reverts to the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board.8
Basically, this means that all graves in a proposed renewal area, either expire by the 25-year rule or by the automatic cancellation of rights on 2 July 2012. Even if you have had a recent burial in that grave, the 25-year grant is from the original grant and not from the newest burial – read Sharon’s story below.
There are many concerning facts about the renewal process which have been enshrined in law in the Western Australian Cemeteries Act 1986. Notwithstanding, the whole process of renewal, the clause in the Act I find most concerning is:
Part IX – Miscellaneous. 59.Board may authorise exhumation and re‑burial.
A Board may in writing authorise the exhumation of a body buried in the cemetery and the re‑burial or disposal of the ashes after cremation of the body in that cemetery.9
Ethically and morally this is a concerning piece of legislation, given that many people are buried as their religions do not condone cremation. The question that needs to be asked here is, what are the future plans for Western Australian cemeteries with this clause included in the Act?
You can read more about Karrakatta’s Cemetery Renewal Program by downloading this brochure from the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website.
The Future of Cemeteries
Major cities around Australia are running out of available space in their cemeteries to conduct burials. Some cemeteries say it is too expensive to maintain cemeteries without new interments and that if cemeteries are to exist for years to come then renewal must occur.2,10 It beggars belief, how a country with so much land to spare is unable to keep up with the burial demands of its population. There are so many new housing developments being created, so why is the issue of what to do with the deceased of these new communities not being addressed?
Prior to writing this article, I decided to see if this was an issue solely at Karrakatta Cemetery or whether it is more widely spread. I must admit I had no idea of the extent of the issue and have been shocked by what I have found. Many people would be under the misbelief that a grave is for life, a permanent fixture – I know I certainly was.10
In Dudley Park Cemetery in Payneham, South Australia, over 400 graves have been bulldozed to recycle graves.10 Dudley Park states they follow the South Australia Burial and Cremations Act 2013 which allows for sites to be reused upon expiry of the internment rights.11 The cemetery ensures that they photograph and record the details of each site before reusing the sites to retain the historical integrity of the cemetery.10 As at Karrakatta, gravesites considered to be of historical importance are not removed, but again I do not know what criteria is used to assess this.10
Suncorp Stadium, Queensland
In reading the article about Dudley Park Cemetery, I was reminded of a famous Brisbane site that is on a reclaimed historical cemetery – Suncorp Stadium.12 Despite having lived in Brisbane for over 30 years I only heard of Suncorp Stadium’s prior use a couple of years ago. In 1842 the North Brisbane Burial Grounds was established, however by 1875 there was a need for a much larger cemetery and the Brisbane General Cemetery at Toowong (now Toowong Cemetery) was established.12
The old cemetery became overgrown and the Government turned it into a recreation ground in 1910, with relatives of existing internments given the option of moving their relatives to other locations with unclaimed sites being left and their headstones turned to landfill.12 Now Suncorp Stadium is a major sporting venue which has seen sporting events such as the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, the WBO welterweight title fight, and entertainers such as Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift.12 However, just because this has occurred in the past, does not make it right for now and into the future.
New South Wales
This issue was further pushed into the spotlight in recent weeks when the NSW Government proposed a new burial rental scheme.13 Under the proposed NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Regulation 2017 people would be given the right to rent the grave for 25-years and then, if family choose not to extend this, the bones would be removed to an “ossuary house” or bone room.13 Any memorials would be returned to the family.13
The NSW proposal has given the public the opportunity to have a say prior to this being implemented, however it would appear that the “no attempt has ever been made to legitimately gauge the public’s response on this issue” in Western Australia.13,14 Why are the general public largely unaware of these redevelopment programs? Whilst I find what Karrakatta Cemetery is doing repugnant, it does not compare to the sacrilegious NSW proposal to exhume bodies, however this option is also contained within the WA Cemeteries Act 1986 (see above Part IX – Miscellaneous. 59.Board may authorise exhumation and re‑burial).
Examples of Preservation
In some locations around Australia there are examples of programs that encourage cemetery preservation. Here are a couple of examples.
St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, NSW
St. John’s Cemetery in Parramatta, Sydney, NSW was established in 1790 with over 50 First Fleeter’s interred there.15 It is also the location of the oldest surviving headstone in Australia.15 Michaela Cameron, Historian and Project Manager of the project is working on preserving the site to get National Heritage listing and keeping the cemetery in the consciousness of the community.15 She says that the biggest threat to our cemeteries is:
Apathy. The worst thing that can happen to any cemetery is for people to simply disconnect from it (along with their own history) and not see its value.15
This is an Anglican, rather than a public cemetery, however they appear to be rather more sensitive around the issue. They do not appear to feel the need to continue making a profit. I believe lessons can be learned from their example of a well-managed historical site with cultural significance.
Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane, Queensland
Brisbane City Council manages a number of historical cemeteries within its boundaries, including South Brisbane, Balmoral, and Toowong Cemeteries.16 The Council works with historical groups to preserve these sites for future generations.16 For example, Toowong Cemetery is still in existence today with Brisbane City Council and Friends of Toowong Cemetery working together to ensure this historical cemetery remains for generations to come.17,18 There are some burial sites available, as well as the option for direct descendants to be buried in family plots if there is space, or if the last burial was over 30 years ago.18 How are some cemeteries able to work closely with community groups and others do not appear to?
Whilst some Governments and cemeteries appear to be doing all they can to preserve our heritage, others allow cost pressures to drive their policies. What some cemeteries seem to forget is, that whilst they have a business to run, the people buried in them are someone’s child, parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent. People want to be able to have somewhere tangible to visit their loved one. And whilst 25-years plus 25-years seems like a long time to grieve, there are people who do still go visit their stillborn child, their mother who died in childbirth, or their father they never met, who died in a war fighting for our country. Did anyone ever tell Queen Victoria she was not allowed to grieve for 50 years? Our ancestors, our families, purchased plots for their loved ones to rest in peace. They certainly did not purchase plots to rest in peace for 25-years with a possibility of a further 25-years. Our ancestors are a part of who we are, our personal history – their lives and contributions deserve our respect. Why have their graves become a commodity? What lessons can be learned from these cemeteries that encourage preservation?
Impact on the Living – The Stories Behind the Dollar
There are many stories of people affected by these cemetery redevelopment programs. These following stories, told by Carol, Sharon, and Susan, are just the tip of the iceberg.
“These are the faces of the graves that will go, in the redevelopment programme at Karrakatta. A little weather-worn, but still in good condition. My grandmother Viviette Higgins, I never knew her but she’s still family, she died in 1938 of basically malnutrition she had kids to feed never enough for her. She died young so sad.”
“My uncle Clyde Higgins, was the nicest man I ever met, he was like a father to me. He was a jockey in the 40s horse stomped him in the head. He was semi-paralysed down one side, he walked like he was drunk.”
“They are going along with the others there. Not just concrete and sand. They were actually people who lived, built and paid taxes in Australia for them to be treated like this.”
Sharon buried her beloved son. when he was just 21-years old in 2009, in a family grave at Karrakatta Cemetery that had been granted in 1959.19 Little was she to know that on 2 July 2012 the lease automatically expired, which saw old tenures automatically run out on that date. This is how Sharon found herself less than 8 years after her son’s death fighting to keep his gravesite in place. She had paid to bury him and place a headstone, yet she lost all rights to his grave in less than 3 years. With the support of Saving Family Headstones at Karrakatta she has been able to extend the grant until 2042.19 Whilst Sharon has had a win not everyone has or will be as lucky. This was not an easy process, and was filled with lots of heartache along the way, as Sharon explains:
Thanks to all the help and support from the wonderful people working on this site and behind the scenes, that I am one of the very lucky people that get to keep my son’s resting place from being removed. Only 8 years has my son been layed [sic] to rest, and I never would of imagined that I would of had to go through the grieving and emotional turmoil of the process that the MCB put myself through.3
“The headstones of my Grandparents and my Aunt have been destroyed as part of the Redevelopment Program at Karrakatta Cemetery. John Godfrey Johnson and Ellen Maria Johnson and my Aunt Victoria Lillian Johnson were buried together. The Cemetery Board decided to redevelop the area in which they are buried. Their headstones were arbitrarily deemed to be damaged, despite no damage showing in the photos taken by the Board – so they were destroyed.”
“My Grandparents were pioneers of the State. My Grandmother had 17 children and built the family home in Darkan WA, stone by stone from the local creek. She is mentioned in several books on the area and is to be part of a historical display being prepared by the local council. She was awarded a WW1 Mother’s Medal with 5 bars to mark 6 sons who went to war – Gallipoli and the Somme – by the Governor of WA. This was a record for WA – 6 sons sent off to war from the one family. The State was rightly proud of her and she travelled to Perth to be presented with the medal (a big deal at the time). Amazingly all 6 sons returned from war – however, some had been badly wounded. Two of the younger sons (my Father included) enlisted to serve in WW2.My Grandparents and Aunt are now in an unmarked grave, its position unable to be located, they have no headstone, no plot number. It is as if they never existed and yet they had a big impact on this State. Unknowingly people trample over their grave to visit their own loved ones. I now cannot visit them pay my respects and tell them I love them. I have no place to lay MY flowers.They will never be forgotten – they are still loved.”
I am one of the lucky ones – I have seen the gravesites of my great-grandparents Fletcher and Gladys Brand, and their sons Donald and Dudley. I have photos, not just from my visit this year (see Figures 5 and 7), but from 1956 (see Figures 6 and 8).21,22,23,24 There are many people who make the trip to Karrakatta Cemetery and find nothing, or another person’s headstone where their loved one should be. As I have already mentioned, gravesites with historical significance are protected at Karrakatta Cemetery, and this includes some war graves.1 However, as I said I have been unable to find what constitutes historical significance and have discovered some returned soldiers are treated more favourably than others – only some are being saved .
For example, my great-grandfather Fletcher Alderwin Brand has been buried at Karrakatta since 1947 and is in an area approaching renewal. He has a plaque saying the monument is being repaired by the Office of Australian War Graves as he fought in WWI and is being remembered by his nation (see Figure 5).2,21
If you look closely at Figures 5 and 6, you can see a gravesite directly behind Fletcher’s headstone. This grave is of Fletcher and Gladys’ sons, Hilton Dudley Brand and Donald Raymond Brand, who died in separate accidents in 1944 (see Figure 6).25 Dudley (Hilton) was in the army in WWII yet his grave is not protected, but Fletcher is because he was in receipt of a war pension at the time of his death.2 I have contacted the Office of the Australian War Graves to see if they can protect Dudley and Donald’s grave too, but to date, no-one has responded to my queries. They are cousins of Sir David Brand, Western Australia’s longest-serving Premier, yet it would appear they are not considered as important.26 Both boys were very much loved and very much missed and even as my grandmother was dying last year, she and her sister were talking about them. So why is my great-grandfather worthy of being honoured with his remains but not my great-uncle Dudley? Why are some people more important than others?
UPDATE 23 February 2018
Today I discovered that my information about Fletcher’s grave being safe is incorrect. I had based my assumption, and that is what it was, an assumption that his grave was safe because of this:
Those service personnel who died during the specified war periods for the two world wars and other wars, conflicts and military operations and who are buried in the Perth War Cemetery or general cemeteries throughout the State of Western Australia, including Karrakatta are in the main, not affected by the Cemetery Renewal Program.2
However, what I have failed to see was four little words “in the main”. Further down it states:
However, under MCB regulations, memorials may be removed from graves where official commemorations have been provided for eligible veterans buried in an area that has been identified for renewal. Official commemoration would then be provided elsewhere in Karrakatta or in the OAWG Garden of Remembrance adjacent to the Perth War Cemetery.2
The OAWG is responsible for the maintenance of all official commemorations in perpetuity. It is therefore the preference of the Office that these official commemorations are retained for all time. The MCB has always ensured the issue of war graves be dealt with responsibly and respectfully.2
So, whilst the OAWG states that they will care for the graves and they prefer that Karrakatta keeps them in place, the reality is Karrakatta can choose to remove the grave and just commemorate the individual in another location in the cemetery. Not even our war heroes are safe.
Questions to Ponder
I have come to realise as I write this piece that there are many questions to answer. I leave you with the following to ponder.
What happens in 50, 75, 100 years when they are out of space again?
How do they address finding new burial plots when they have already renewed an area?
What is the criteria used to establish historical significance?
How is a large country like Australia running out of land for new cemeteries? Why is this not being addressed?
Why are the considerations of the family not being adequately taken into these policies?
Why is the general public largely unaware of these redevelopment programs?
Is a cemetery just another source of government income, or a place where the dead are respected and allowed to rest in peace?
How are cemeteries allowed to treat people like this?
How are some cemeteries able to work closely with community groups and others do not appear to?
What lessons can be learned from these cemeteries that encourage preservation?
What Can You Do?
At the end of the day once the cemetery is renewed we cannot get back the history that was removed. There has already been so much destroyed that we can never get back. We all need to get involved now so that our descendants can see what we see, can walk where we walk, can visit their ancestors.
Find out what is happening at your local cemeteries.
Register your name as a contact for family graves.
Join a “Friends of” a cemetery group.
Write to your local member.
Sign the petition to save graves at Karrakatta.
On that note, I will leave you with the following wise words of ‘The Lorax’
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
- 1. Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, ‘Name Search: Fletcher Alderwin Brand’, http://www2.mcb.wa.gov.au/NameSearch/details.php?id=KB00083089, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 2. Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, ‘Cemetery Renewal’, http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/our-cemeteries/karrakatta-cemetery/cemetery-renewal, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 3. Saving Family Headstones at Karrakatta, https://www.facebook.com/groups/317215618710978/, Accessed 10 December 2017.
- 4. WAToday.com.au, ‘Family Voices Shock as parents’ graves marked for removal at Karrakatta Cemetery’, http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/family-voices-shock-as-parents-graves-marked-for-removal-at-karrakatta-cemetery-20150724-gik40j.html, accessed 13 December 2017.
- 5. Abc.net.au, ‘What Happens When Burial Grounds Fill Up?’, http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/07/30/3556637.htm, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 6. Western Australian Legislation, ‘Cemeteries Act 1986’, https://www.slp.wa.gov.au/pco/prod/filestore.nsf/FileURL/mrdoc_28609.htm/$FILE/Cemeteries%20Act%201986%20-%20%5B03-a0-00%5D.html?OpenElement, Accessed 18 December 2017.
- 7. Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, ’Karrakatta Cemetery Map’, http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/docs/default-source/maps/karrakatta-cemetery-map.pdf?sfvrsn=e3fb884b_6, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 8. Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, ‘1986 Cemeteries Act Review and Grant Tenure’, http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/our-cemeteries/1986-cemeteries-act-review-and-grant-tenure, accessed 18 December 2017.
- 9. Western Australian Legislation, ‘Cemeteries Act 1986’, https://www.slp.wa.gov.au/pco/prod/filestore.nsf/FileURL/mrdoc_28609.htm/$FILE/Cemeteries%20Act%201986%20-%20%5B03-a0-00%5D.html?OpenElement, Accessed 18 December 2017.
- 10. Theconversation.com, ‘Losing the Plot Death is Permanent but Your Grave Isn’t’, http://theconversation.com/losing-the-plot-death-is-permanent-but-your-grave-isnt-33459, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 11. Government of South Australia, ‘Burial and Cremation Act 2013’, https://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/C/A/BURIAL%20AND%20CREMATION%20ACT%202013.aspx, Accessed 15 December 2017.
- 12. Suncorp Stadium, ‘History’, http://www.suncorpstadium.com.au/The_Stadium/History, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 13. News.com.au, ‘NSW Government Flags Plan For 25 Year Rents for Grave Plots to Make Room in Crowded Cemeteries’, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/nsw-government-flags-plan-for-25year-rents-for-grave-plots-to-make-room-in-crowded-cemeteries/news-story/ff7618e7c3c7508d67ad009db27d3d8c#sharehash, Accessed 10 December 2017.
- 14. PressReader.com, ‘Public Should Have a Say at Karrakatta’, https://www.pressreader.com/australia/the-west-australian/20171128/281779924440223, Accessed 10 December 2017.
- 15. Inside History Magazine, ‘Preserving a Historic Australian Cemetery: St John’s, Parramatta’, http://www.insidehistory.com.au/2017/06/preserving-a-historic-australian-cemetery/, accessed 13 December 2017.
- 16. Brisbane City Council, ‘Historic Cemeteries’, https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/parks-venues/cemeteries/historic-cemeteries, Accessed 14 December 2017.
- 17. Friends of Toowong Cemetery, ‘Home’, fotc.org.au/home/home.htm, Accessed 14 December 2017.
- 18. Brisbane City Council, ‘Toowong Cemetery’, https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/parks-venues/cemeteries/toowong-cemetery, Accessed 14 December 2017.
- 19. Metropolitan Cemetery Board, ‘Name Search – John William Bertram’, http://www2.mcb.wa.gov.au/NameSearch/details.php?id=KB00113404, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 20. Metropolitan Cemetery Board, ‘Name Search – James Hargreaves’, http://www2.mcb.wa.gov.au/NameSearch/details.php?id=KB00198534, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 21. Megan Walker, ‘Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia – ‘2017 Grave of F.A. Brand and Gladys Brand’, Digital Image, Personal Collection.
- 22. Megan Walker, ‘Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia – ‘1956 Grave of F.A. Brand and Gladys Brand’, Digital Image, Personal Collection.
- 23. Megan Walker, ‘Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia – ‘2017 Grave of Donald and Dudley Brand’, Digital Image, Personal Collection.
- 24. Megan Walker, ‘Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia – ‘1956 Grave of Donald and Dudley Brand’, Digital Image, Personal Collection.
- 25. Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, ‘Name Search: Dudley Hilton Brand’, http://www2.mcb.wa.gov.au/NameSearch/details.php?id=KB00074897, Accessed 13 December 2017.
- 26. Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘Sir David Brand’, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brand-sir-david-9571, Accessed 13 December 2017.