With my head held high, I’ve always been most proud to be South Australian and enthralled by its uniqueness as a planned and free settlement. This dream of the “dissenters”, often called “The Paradise of Dissent” and “The Utopia of the South”, was certainly not fulfilled as planned but, nonetheless, South Australia has always been right at the forefront of social change. One prime example is being only second in the world, with New Zealand being the first, to grant women the right to vote and the very first in the world to allow women to stand for election to Parliament.
It is, therefore, with shame that I realise South Australia has also led the country in the desecration of the Burial Sites of our Pioneers, our Ancestors and our dearly departed. No longer permitted to R.I.P. – if the leases on their graves are not renewed the Cemetery claims ownership, buries strangers on top and, if family do not collect the memorials, they are disposed of in whichever way the authorities choose.
Cheltenham isn’t the only cemetery which treats our Ancestors with such contempt. Centennial Park, Dudley Park and Payneham are three others, that I know of, but there may be more. However Cheltenham is the only public cemetery, managed on behalf of all South Australians, who treats our Ancestors in this most disrespectful way.
The Adelaide Cemeteries Authority (ACA) is a statutory authority of the State Government of South Australia and, since 2002, has been responsible for managing four cemeteries in the Adelaide metropolitan area—
* West Terrace Cemetery, established in 1837, is a State Heritage Place (Register Number 12722).
* Cheltenham Cemetery, established in 1876, originally owned and operated by the Port Adelaide Council.
* Enfield Memorial Park, established in 1944, and commenced operations in 1947.
* Smithfield Memorial Park, established in 1986 by the Northern Adelaide Regional Councils.
West Terrace Cemetery has, in the past, re-used graves but since receiving “State Heritage Listing”, because of rare indigenous plants growing within its grounds, the graves are protected. I believe Enfield has also previously re-used graves, but stand to be corrected. In a phone call, a few weeks ago, I was informed that Enfield don’t re-use graves because “we have enough land.” Smithfield is way out in the northern suburbs, in a rather beautiful bushland setting, was only established in 1986 and seems to have huge amounts of excess land. They don’t re-use gravesites and disturb those who’ve been laid to R.I.P in their environs.
The destruction of Cheltenham gravesites, and memorials, is the destruction of our history and a profound dishonouring of so very many of South Australia’s earliest Pioneers. Cheltenham Cemetery is one of the oldest in the Adelaide metropolitan area, having commenced operations as the Port Adelaide and Suburban Cemetery on 27 July 1876 with the burial of Hannah Wheatley Mussared of Le Fevre Peninsula.
Port Adelaide is an historic area which was central to the colonization of South Australia dating right back to its inception in 1836 when Colonel William Light first sailed up the Port River. Port Adelaide has been the gateway to trade and commerce in the state and the first contact with South Australia for thousands of emigrants when they arrived by ship. Dr Susan Marsden points to the significance of the Port Adelaide region by describing it as:
“South Australia’s main port, its second city, and largest working-class district.”
Initially Cheltenham was the responsibility of the Port Adelaide Council, however, in 1987 this was passed over to the Enfield General Cemetery Trust on the understanding that it would be permitted to run the cemetery according to business principles and that gravesites, in the crowded cemetery, could be reused to provide funding for maintenance and further enhancements. It was a business decision.
Enfield General Cemetery Trust’s assumption of responsibility coincided with a series of State Government legislative reforms and Cheltenham became the first cemetery in Australia to redevelop expired burial sites. This was widely criticised by members of the public and the media and I well remember signing a petition, way back then, opposing this practice.
I would say that the interests of business still predominate in the continuing destruction of our heritage at Cheltenham Cemetery. The ACA Management plan reports,
“At present, more than 40 per cent of all burials at Cheltenham Cemetery are in re-used sites. While the practice may be unpopular with some members of the community, it allows space for more than 300 interments each year and for the cemetery to continue to play an active role in meeting the needs of the local community.”
On page 7, Adelaide Cemetery Authority also reports:
“The Authority provides more than 3,000 burial and cremation services annually, generating $8m in revenue that funds both operating expenses and capital development at our four cemeteries.”
So, who is responsible?… It is not the Cemetery management nor the staff. It is our South Australian Law which gives this practice the green light and our South Australian politicians are responsible for allowing it to continue. Many were hopeful the new South Australian “Burial and Cremations Act 2013” would bring an end to this practice but not so.
I’ve written previous about my distress at the destruction of “the final resting place” of so many of our Pioneers which you can read about HERE. I also put this concern to the Attorney General, along with the expired leases at GX Section (click HERE to read) and received this response:
I’ll be writing about this “Significant Places Policy” very soon. In the meantime you may like to read it for yourself on the “Adelaide Cemeteries Authority Management Plan.” Just click HERE.
The best time to get politicians to listen to our concerns always is leading up to an Election. As it happens, the South Australian electorate goes to the Polls in March… so we all have an opportunity to contact our local member, the opposition, the Greens, Nick Xenephon… whoever, and say STOP THIS!!! … that’s if you have a mind to, of course. Not trying to tell you what to do 😆
Copyright © 2014. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel