A small private cemetery near Goulburn will be sold for the grand sum of $1, resolving a long-running bureaucratic headache over its ownership.
The State Government will sell The Forest Cemetery, some 10km from Goulburn to a community association, established to maintain its historic graves.
Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole said the move ensured the facility would remain in public hands.
“This historic site is one of great significance to the community, particularly the small band of dedicated locals who have maintained it for decades,” he said.
District historian Edith Medway applauded it as a “commonsense decision” that ended more than three years’ research and government wrangling.
“It’s been a long haul and we’re very pleased,” she said.
The cemetery, set below the old Methodist Church off Middle Arm Road, contains 48 graves and ashes of people who lived in the area. Some of them belong to World War One and two servicemen, including Rat of Tobruk, David Ernest Gray, who also represented Australia in hockey. Goulburn RSL Sub Branch member Rod MacLean has researched the service records of the men.
A group of descendants of those buried at the cemetery were outraged in 2013 when Goulburn Mulwaree Council decided to sell the one-acre cemetery for $1500 in unpaid rates, plus $1000 in accrued interest.
But in fact the council had never previously issued rate notices for the facility because it couldn’t trace the owners.
The cemetery was established by Robert and Harriet Grubb in the 1870s after their child died in an accident.
Albert Frederick Grubb, who died in 1930 and John Augustine Bourke, who passed away in 1929, were the last known titleholders. Hours of research by Mrs Medway, a descendant of the Grubb family, has failed to track down any subsequent titleholders or trustees through probate or other documents. But she discovered a 1900 caveat introduced by Grubb and Bourke which prevented the cemetery from being sold.
Regardless of its ownership, a willing band of descendants of those buried there have voluntarily maintained the grounds since the 1960s. That will continue when the cemetery is sold to The Forest Cemetery Association Inc, which will become the titleholders. The government is firstly advertising the compulsory acquisition for 60 days. The council will also waive the rates.
“It’s very special to me because five members of my family are buried there,” Mrs Medway said.
“It is worth fighting for.”
She said a staffer for former Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, John Filocamo also saw the cemetery’s importance and worked hard on a breakthrough.
Mrs Medway said the matter could have been handled better from the start. The council had advertised the cemetery’s sale without first notifying the group, she told The Post.
The history of these people is the history of Goulburn and not to preserve it is a great loss to all of us, our children and grandchildrenDenise McConnachie
Mrs Medway praised the work of Wollongong woman, Denise McConnachie, a fifth generation descendant of Robert and Harriet Grubb. The former public servant negotiated a maze of government bureaucracy to help resolve the stalemate.
Ms McConnachie described it as a huge combined effort.
“So many people helped. It was one of those things where the community shared one heart and achieved a great outcome,” she said.
Research revealed that Robert Grubb had left the cemetery land to his son, William, who died just one month after him in 1893. William left a wife, Jane,and five children but as it was not accepted to leave property to her, he appointed Albert Grubb and John Bourke to administer his assets.
At some point, with an adjoining land sale, the cemetery was split off under a separate title and there it stayed in limbo. Ms McConnachie said technically, William and Jane’s descendants were the legal owners butdespite every effort, could not be traced.
However the extensive research has turned up interesting connections.
“We’ve suddenly discovered who is related to who and a number of us have met relatives for the first time,” she said.
“It has brought the family together in a positive way and helped us all to value history. I think the stories of ordinary Australians don’t often survive to contemporary times.
“The Grubb family arrived in Australia in the 1850s, settled first at Murrays Flat and then at Rhyanna (near the cemetery). The history of these people is the history of Goulburn and not to preserve it is a great loss to all of us, our children and grandchildren.
“It gives us a sense of how we developed and anchors our identity.”
Under the terms of the acquisition the cemetery will revert to Goulburn Mulwaree Council and public ownership if the Cemetery Association folds.