Grave concerns at settlement cemetery

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
Jan Biglin said she would like more support keeping Memorial Park Cemetery in shape.
Camera IconJan Biglin said she would like more support keeping Memorial Park Cemetery in shape. Credit: Toby Hussey

In the centre of Albany, Memorial Park Cemetery hosts the graves of some of WA’s first pioneers.

But, overgrown and weather-worn, in some areas it appears abandoned.

Here at one of WA’s oldest post-settlement burial grounds crumbling footpaths meet collapsed headstones, moss spreads freely and branches grow unrestrained across the park.

In these two gardens are graves from settlement’s earliest days.

The elements have damaged many. Keeping the park in shape is an ongoing struggle for Albany Cemetery Board chairwoman Jan Biglin, whose small volunteer group is responsible for more than 18,000 graves across Albany.

The group visits Memorial Park once a month to tend to grass and clear paths but Ms Biglin said heritage laws restricted them from doing much else.

“They’re not allowed to use whipper snippers, they’re not allowed to use poisons of any sort, they’re not allowed to use big machinery in case it flicks up stones,” she said. “We do get a lot of criticism but we can’t do a lot.”

The park hosts monuments to people such as Anthony Hordern, who helped bring the railway and pioneers to the south coast in the 1870s, among headstones of war casualties, church leaders and settlers.

Many are more than 120 years old.

Many graves have fallen apart.
Camera IconMany graves have fallen apart. Credit: Toby Hussey

Ms Biglin said with increased support and relaxed rules, her dream would be to see the site renovated and recognised as a major landmark, linked with other historical sites in the region.

“The City of Albany I believe are looking at putting a fence around it, which I hope will help,” she said.

“I would love to see (more signage), I’d love to see a fence around it (and) I’d love to see it watered and have green grass but that’s not going to be possible because of the heritage listing.

“I would love to see some of the graves redone but again we’ve got our hands tied.”

Her board is preparing to launch a program this year to attract people including retirees like herself to assist with the park’s upkeep. She said a few extra hands could make a big difference to the park’s appearance.

Many graves have fallen apart.
Camera IconMany graves have fallen apart. Credit: Toby Hussey

Friends of the Cemetery chairman Alan Hortin said for him, getting involved with the board grew from having a lot of free time in retirement and a fascination with cemeteries.

He hoped the Friends program would attract others like him to pitch in.

“Hopefully we can get some community interest,” he said.

“(People who would) be prepared to get out and get their hands dirty, do a little weeding and care for the place.”

This broken grave stone is dated to 1898.
Camera IconThis broken grave stone is dated to 1898. Credit: Toby Hussey

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