Here at Tales from the Grave, just as the name suggests, we largely depend on grave stones, plaques and other forms of memorial to help us tell the stories of our forebears. However, a new phrase that has entered our lexicon, called Cemetery Renewal, may make that an impossibility.
Cemetery Renewal is the process that removes headstones and grave markers to make way for new graves, created in between the old, after a lease has expired. While the new graves will have headstones, nothing remains as a memorial for the graves that were remembered before.
This is what has happened to Private James Hill Stobo, a Great War veteran who was buried in Karrakatta cemetery in Western Australia, when he died in 1934.
Originally born in Scotland, he came out to Australia at 33 years old in 1905. Stobo enlisted in the war in 1916 at Blackboy Hill in Western Australia when he was 45 years old. He was a smelter worker and unmarried. He was shipped to France, via England then eventually returned to Australia in 1919 after being discharged. He received his medals for his participation in the war.
If one group has its way, however, cemetery renewal will stop.
The headstone of Private James Hill Stobo in Karrakatta Cemetery which no longer marks where his body lies. Used with permission.
"In May 2017, Carolyn Trigwell founded the Saving Family Headstones at Karrakatta (SFHAK) Facebook group," the website of the above-named group states. "Six years on, we now have more than 6,300 members and continue to mount an active campaign against the redevelopment process at Karrakatta."
While the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, which runs the cemetery renewal program in Karrakatta Cemetery, says it is transparent in all its processes, including community consultation long before a grave is 'renewed', it begs the question of what happens to the memory of the previous grave?
Members of SFHAK stand by the grave of Private James Hill Stobo, which has since been redeveloped. Photo with permission.
"We work with great respect to ensure families are consulted ahead of any renewal works," advises the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website.
"Prior to any works, we consult with a committee comprised of historians, genealogists, architects and a representative of the Office of Australian War Graves. An extensive, 12-month community consultation is undertaken, which includes prominent signage, letters to registered families, press advertising, and consideration of public submissions.
"We also take a comprehensive photographic record of the existing plot to ensure families have a lasting memory of the location and create a special Memorial Book for each renewed section."
Members of SFHAK gave Private Stobo a fitting memorial day, only days before his headstone was removed and placed on a limestone wall with other headstones that have also been removed from graves. The wall itself is built on top of other graves.
According to SFHAK 45 sections at Karrakatta Cemetery have been cleared with dozens more on the waiting list.
'Saving Family headstones at Karrakatta', Facebook, accessed 21st July, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/groups/savingfamilyheadstonesatkarrakatta/
'Why death is forever but your grave may not be', nine.com.au, accessed 3rd August, 2023, https://www.9news.com.au/national/reusing-graves-australian-cemeteries-running-out-of-space/91e0d7b0-0c65-484f-be31-ee173b8c9132
'Cemetery Renewal', Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, accessed 3rd August, 2023, https://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/research-renew/cemetery-renewal/
'James Hill Stobo', Ancestry, accessed 4th August, 2023, www.ancestry.com.au
'James Hill Stobo', National Archives of Australia, accessed 4th August, 2023, naa.gov.au