Councillors defer decision on 'sensitive issue' of lawn cemetery

DECISION DEFERRED: Forbes' lawn cemetery has traditionally featured flat bronze plaques, but there's a call to raise them after councillors asked about installing headstones on the beams. Picture: FILE
DECISION DEFERRED: Forbes' lawn cemetery has traditionally featured flat bronze plaques, but there's a call to raise them after councillors asked about installing headstones on the beams. Picture: FILE

Council deliberations on whether or not to allow a choice of monument in the Forbes lawn cemetery continue after the matter came back to the March council meeting - and was deferred for further investigation.

The council last month placed a proposal to allow headstones of up to 600mm by 900mm on public exhibition, asking the community for comment.

After receiving about 100 responses - split 60 per cent to 40 against the proposal - councilllors opened discussions instead looking at the option of placing plaques comparable to current sizing on a slight elevation.

They resolved to investigate having those plaques raised 2cm at the front and 5cm at the back.

The council's staff reported to the meeting that Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW had received a complaint from an interment rights holder on the proposal.

The organisation asked Forbes Shire Council to consider - and seek legal advice - on whether allowing any change to the existing lawn grave section would breach contractual obligations.

The recommendation from council staff was not to allow installation of monuments on the sections of the lawn cemetery that have already been developed.

They suggested councillors receive a design of the southern section that would cater for installation of monuments, and to fast-track development of that southern section.

Councillors voted to defer the decision, to investigate equivalent sized raised plaques of no more than 5cm at the back and 2cm at the front.

They will also investigate the legal implications of allowing retrospective fitting of raised plaques.

Deputy Mayor Chris Roylance, Cr Michele Herbert and Cr Aidan Clarke spoke for the slight elevation of plaques of the current size.

"It was ... to be a small, raised feature just to make it easier to read, so that families could read their plaques and have them not ruined by rain or elements," Cr Herbert said.

"I know there are some people who would like a larger one and I think we should, in keeping with how it looks at the moment, we should allow people who have already got family interred to have that small raised plaque.

"The comments that came in are only about one per cent of our population ... but I'm very sensitive that both sides of what was represented are valid and I think we need to be really sensitive to the needs of those people."

Cr Herbert added that perhaps those who had purchased plots in the sections already developed be allowed to transfer them to new sections if they would like a larger monument.

A community member had earlier addressed the meeting, speaking against allowing headstones but saying that the bore water laid on the flat plaques and caused them to erode.

Cr Roylance agreed existing plaques were starting to fade away, and supported raising them on an angle.

THE STORY SO FAR

Cr Marg Duggan agreed that "it looks great the way it is" as did Cr Brian Mattiske.

"If people want to change and add a monument, there are other areas that are going to (allow) a monument," Cr Duggan suggested.

Mayor Phyllis Miller spoke for change, recalling previous years where council staff would go through the lawn portion of the cemetery throwing out flowers.

"I think it needs to be in tune with the plaques that are there ... but we're 50 years on and we need to make some changes," she said.

"I think we have been very slow making changes, I think this has caught up with us as a council for being so old fashioned with those old fashioned plaques for so long.

"I think we need to be really mindful that we go into that new section that we really do have a think about how we want it to look into the future."

The mayor added that it was disappointing that councillors had not been presented with options after resolving - last October - to allow headstones and receive a report on appropriate sizing.

She spoke for council "taking its time" - and Cr Herbert agreed that was the most respectful way to proceed on such a sensitive matter.

"We need to make sure that we're doing the right thing by everyone," Mayor Miller said.