THE caretakers of a district cemetery are seething that Council wants to sell the facility for unpaid rates.
Crookwell woman Edith Medway, who has a close family association with the cemetery, described it as holy ground.
“We’re very, very angry,” she told the Post.
“How would you like your mother’s and brother’s graves sold for 30 pieces of silver?
“We’re angry about (Council’s) attitude, its insensitivity and rudeness of two of its staff.”
‘The Forest’ cemetery, 10km from Goulburn on the Middle Arm Rd, is one of 10 properties agents for Council will auction on February 22 for outstanding rates.
The one-acre area, nestled in the corner of a paddock below St Columbus Anglican Church, has $1500 owing but with interest and legal costs included, has blown out to $2500.
In a closed session at the December 17 meeting, councillors considered a request from caretakers to withdraw the property from sale.
They decided to proceed unless arrangements were put in place to pay the money owing within a year, evidence furnished that land title issues were being addressed and the cemetery registered with NSW Health.
Mrs Medway, a local historian, said she’d spent a month of sleepless nights, trying to work out how to preserve the cemetery, where some 47 people were buried and interred. They include six soldiers from World War One and Two, the Korean War and a Citizens Military Force serviceman, and families who settled in the district.
“This is part of the area’s history,” she said.
“It must be preserved.”
Mrs Medway of Crookwell and Keith Speer of Goulburn are two of four cousins who’ve looked after the private cemetery since 2004. In that year, the previous caretaker, Lionel Price, passed way.
Mrs Medway is the granddaughter of Arthur Ernest Grubb, whose family established the cemetery in the 1870s and donated land for the original Methodist church, later purchased by the Anglicans. Mr Speer’s wife, Marjory is descended from the same line.
Neither owns the cemetery. In fact the last registered owners were Albert Frederick Grubb, who died in 1930, and John Augustine Bourke, also long since passed away.
Establishing just who owns the facility now is proving the biggest headache.
Like about three of the properties up for sale, the land title might never have been transferred and was missed altogether, council’s corporate services director Brendan Hollands said.
Mr Speer said he was astounded to see Council’s advertisement to sell the land, along with the other nine properties, in Post Weekly, before Christmas.
The problem has sparked a flurry of research by Mr Speer and Mrs Medway.
They’ve established from a will that original landowner Robert Grubb left the property to William Grubb when he died in 1893. The latter died just one month later and passed the land on to Albert Frederick Grubb. It included one acre which was to be left “in perpetuity” as a cemetery.
In 1917, the Cameron family bought the surrounding land but the cemetery section was split off.
Mrs Medway said Albert Frederick Grubb was a bachelor who retired to Goulburn. But she believed his younger brother, Arthur, struck an arrangement with the Anglican Church that it purchase the cemetery.
“We think it is owned by the Church of England,” she said.
“It is listed as a cemetery on church records and the National Trust also lists it as an active cemetery.”
The pair also claims that despite council statements to the contrary, the facility is listed as a cemetery on its records.
They have applied for Albert’s will to help clarify ownership. They have also contacted the archivist for the Canberra/Goulburn Anglican diocese.
Their research is a race against time before the auction. But the pair says it shouldn’t be that way.
Mrs Medway argues that other councils do not rate cemeteries. She also challenged council statements that it had made every effort to contact the landowner before deciding to sell. Neighbours who could have reasonably been suspected of owning the parcel had not received letters, she told the Post. One owner only received correspondence in the past week.
“Council also said it had sent rate notices since 2009 and they hadn’t been paid,” Mrs Medway said.
“But that’s a lie. There were never any.”
Extensive combing through the late Lionel Price’s records had not shown up a rates notice either, she said.
Mrs Medway has written to State MPs Pru Goward and Katrina Hodgkinson and to the War Graves Commission for assistance.
The historian says the cemetery oozes local history with graves of pioneers, long-time Goulburn West Public School teacher Eva Price and soldiers. There were also anecdotal reports that children who died in the 1919 flu epidemic were buried there, Mrs Medway said.
“We feel so helpless because we’re innocent,” she told the Post.
“This cemetery has been going for 136 years and nobody has ever questioned whether it should or shouldn’t be here.
“…In all my time I’ve never come across this type of attitude from a council.”