Thursday, 12 September 2013

Geneahulk Coming Through

I've always been prone to being an angry person. My ethnic origin is Celtic (cue bad temper running rampant through the family tree), I work in a school and I have young children so I am chronically in a state of frazzled over-tiredness. However, this has really tipped me over the edge and turned me into the little-known Geneahulk.

A great many people in my family tree are buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery, SA. Half of my great-grandparents are in there, just for starters.

Luckily it's over the road from Bunnings, which is handy when I need more glue to re-attach the lettering!

South Australian readers will know that our metropolitan cemeteries here are without a doubt some of the biggest bastards out when it comes to redeveloping plots about thirty seconds after the ever-decreasing lease period has passed. Consequently it's no surprise that a large number of my family's plots have been redeveloped, or are currently adorned with the genealogical equivalent of the Black Spot, the 'about to be redeveloped' sticker. That hurts me. Not quite as badly as the time I turned up to Alberton to find the entire cemetery had been redeveloped, but nearly.

Even Success Kid likes headstones

I've often been prone to fits of moaning and bitching about the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, the body charged with looking after the Cheltenham, over one grave in particular. The oldest Sykes to emigrate to Australia, the first Alberton Station Master, John Sykes, is buried in the Cheltenham, after somewhat ironically being disinterred from the Alberton Cemetery by his son-in-law who was worried the graves weren't being properly cared for. By a stroke of good fortune, his great-grandson Mervyn White, son of J E White, is buried in the plot and as such someone in the family extended the lease. That meant was still current when that section of the cemetery was last up for redevelopment. However, this has now expired. The ACA have said they haven't heard from any family members in years and are quite happy to hand over rights for renewal etc. to us provided that:

1) We take on responsibility for all three plots which share a common stone
2) We get the leaseholder's oldest descendant (who we think is still alive, but neither we or the ACA have been able to find out where to contact her) to sign a form giving us permission to take on the lease
3) We pay the thousands of dollars of fees to bring the lease up to date to now and then extend it.

Of all the cemeteries I have ever dealt with, this approach is by so far the most legalistic, profit-driven and painful I have encountered. They would seriously rather dig up our ancestors and bury total strangers in their plot than let us buy the remaining space in it and join our family when the time comes.  

The subject of my usual Cheltenham Cemetery frustrations!

Like most genealogists, and most Gen Xers, I'm no millionaire, so in reality I'm very unlikely ever to be able to afford to extend the lease. I've always consoled myself by thinking that maybe, just maybe, given the ACA know how much we want this (and how little anyone else does) that perhaps, when the awful time comes and the plot is redeveloped, perhaps they might let us take the headstone. After all, what else would they do with it, right?

Yesterday I saw a picture which not only answered the "What else would they do with it, right?" but also sent me into a towering rage. I may have even used the C word a time or seven. I am so, so, very pissed off about this I don't even know where to start!

Photo taken this week at Cheltenham Cemetery by Lee-Ann Hamilton

So, my choice is pay thousands of dollars to the ACA, or face the absolute knowledge that my ancestors will be dug up or moved and their headstones put in the rubbish bin.

I am fucking pissed off.

If you, like me, are keen to see SA's metropolitan cemeteries start treating our ancestors with greater respect, or even cut down on the red-tape so that it's easier for us to help maintain our ancestors' resting places, then check out Saving Graves for the latest news and information. There's a Facebook group too.

Meanwhile, ACA, this one's for you (language warning): 


  1. Great post and thanks for including a link to the Saving Graves Australia website. I'm a genealogist who started before turning 40 :-) and yes I often find myself in the minority!

    Kylie :-)

  2. Brilliant. Keep the rage. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you vent. Bastard governmental departments shit me to tears too!
    Kim from

  3. Thanks Kim! Joining the Saving Graves FB etc. helps, as do critical letters to the ACA!

  4. Big thanks from me too Jan... I sent it out to the various genea facebook groups to help spread the word... as well as my personal blog. My children, also GeneaXers loved it :-)
    I've just started a new blog titled "South Australian Graves Under Threat" because my original blog was getting filled up with posts on this "Grave matter". Here's the link, if you want to check it out. Cheers... Catherine.

  5. I too saw that head stone in the bin at Cheltenham, took photo's and sent them to someone at ACA asking why it was there. Maybe if you had also done that instead of being blinded by the fact that you dislike them so much you would have found that the headstone was placed in the bin by a memorial company who were replacing it with a big shiney new one. I went and saw it with my own eyes but chose not to take photo's because what the family of that man do to the plot is none of our business.
    You will also find that ACA don't care who pays the lease on a plot, only if you wish to be buried in it do you have to change the lease.

  6. I'm pleased to hear in this particular instance that the stone was simply being replaced Michelle. That's great for that family. Not so great for those of us whose family's graves are being reused... where do those stones end up? I'm betting 9.99 times out of ten it's exactly the same fate. :(

    Yeah, they're quite happy to take our money with no paperwork to extend the lease. As I alluded to though, there are three plots. We can't afford to take on all three, but they've said it's three or nothing while they have common monumentation (which we can't modify without the relevant paperwork). Also, if somehow we were to pay, we could pay for say the next 50 years, only to have some other descendant march up in year 49 and say 'oh, you've paid all the back fees and renewed the lease all the this time? well, we'll be taking it back now. 'k thx bai' and there's nothing we can do. This is the type of saga I was referring to with the use of 'etc' after rights of renewal. If we're going to pay for this thing, we ant to know we can then get a proper say in what happens to it (and the two empty spots in it as well). At this point we wouldn't even be permitted to keep the headstone if the site were reused.
    The thing I find frustrating here is that if they were buried elsewhere, say North Road, this wouldn't be an issue. The last time I contacted North Road about an expired plot, they outright offered the transfer of burial rights for my 3xgreat-grandparents. They took the logic that if a living person is the first one you have heard from in decades, and they have an interest in a site and are willing to stump the cash, then why not let them take on the whole thing? After all, as far as I know there's no great issue with people running around paying megabucks to save century old graves for personal gain and profit!

  7. I notified a cousin of his GG Grandparents grave's renewal at Cheltenham. It took two years for them to exhaust all other avenues re: descendants but he now has the headstone in his garden. They won't hand it over unless you can prove you have a right to it...that's fair enough.
    My Morris family have many graves in Cheltenham, my Great Grandparents lease expired in 1998 and the ACA now have me as the person to contact should they decide to renew that area. When the time comes the family will just have to band together to pay the fees, none of us want to use it, just save it and when we are gone I guess we just have to have faith that the remaining family will do the same. Yes many smaller cemeteries don't ask for renewal fees but many are also very run down because they don't have the cash to look after them. There must be some way to find a middle ground...the ACA need the money for the upkeep of the cemetery (not the monumental work, that is the responsibility of the family) so where do they get it if people don't pay for their "rent"
    Also if your man was important to the area contact the records team at ACA and see if they will add it to their heritage/historical listings. There are several others covered by this policy, most notably George James Alexander Anderson who died fighting the fire on the City of Singapore at Port Adelaide and Charles Joseph Shields-Macgowan who died when the lighthouse at Wonga Shore was his by a ship and destroyed.
    Sometimes we just have to think outside the square instead of getting angry! My G Grandparents owned the land that Arndale is now on so I'm hoping that bit of local info might save them when the time comes. Contact the council too they have a local heritage register...