Friday, 31 January 2014

Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery win an Australia Day Award

Congratulations to the 'Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery', recipients of an Australia Day Award for Cultural Heritage at the Hawkesbury City Council’s Australia Day Awards ceremony on Sunday 26 January 2014.

Jill Vincent, Co-ordinator and driving force of the 'Friends', accepted the Award on behalf of the Group. The Mayor's letter, addressed to Jill, said:
'Since its establishment the Friends of the Wilberforce Cemetery has worked diligently to foster an appreciation of the cultural heritage in the Hawkesbury, and for that our community is thankful. The Group's work at the Wilberforce Cemetery has ensured that important works have been undertaken, ensuring this historical landmark endures the test of time. On behalf of all citizens of the Hawkesbury, please accept my thanks for the outstanding work of your organisation within the Hawkesbury community and pass on my congratulations to all your members.'
Hear, hear! The work of this Group has made it worthwhile embarking upon the restoration of individual gravesites at Wilberforce Cemetery, such as the current project to restore the altar monuments for Second Fleeter Paul Bushell and his father-in-law David Brown. (See BushellBrownGraveProject)

The 'Friends' knew that they'd been nominated for an Australia Day award. Jill Vincent wisely prepared an acceptance speech, just in case she was called upon to speak. Her gracious speech acknowledged the efforts of many people, all anxious to secure, restore and beautify this wonderful Cemetery. She also described how the Group began, and highlighted that yet more work is needed to fulfil Council’s commitment to complete the Cemetery’s Conservation Management Plan.

You will see from the following why Jill received many compliments for her speech.

Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery
Australia Day Awards, 
Richmond, NSW, 26 January 2014
Speech by Jill Vincent

Mayor Ford, Australia Day Ambassador Susanne Gervay, Hawkesbury City Councillors, Council Staff and Distinguished Guests,

Congratulations to all who are present this Australia Day, for your contributions to the Hawkesbury community. You all deserve an award, I am sure.

The Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery feel very humbled and greatly honoured to have been brought to this special occasion because we have been nominated by some person – we don’t know who –for a Community Award. It was a great surprise to all of us. So much good is being done by others.

Our group came into being 11 years ago, when my dear friend Audrey Robinson and I were socialising at a Wilberforce School fete. During this conversation we shared our concerns about the neglected state of our historic Cemetery. We had both heard of many disrespectful things happening there. It was Audrey who put the ball in motion. She knew who to contact, from her experience in other projects. A big thank-you to you, Audrey.

We found some like-minded others, then began a series of meetings with Council staff, where we expressed the need to protect the Cemetery by fencing it. I would like to acknowledge the guidance and great support we received from two other special people – my deceased friend Janet Warnecke (nee Gosper) and Mrs. Mavis Cobcroft, who is still a strong supporter of our group, in spite of her illness. Both of these women urged us to request the metal security fencing which they had seen protecting schools and cemeteries. But at that stage it was hard to convince Council of the need.

A few months after our first meeting, on Fathers Day, 2003, vandals came and smashed 25 grave monuments in the one night. This had happened to one of the oldest, most historic cemeteries in Australia, where at least 34 First, Second and Third Fleeters are buried! Something had to be done to stop this happening again, and to protect any restoration work.

This vandalism put our group in touch with many descendants of families buried there – some of them 6th and 7th generation.

So the Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery grew in numbers and support for what had to be achieved. A big thank-you to those present today (about 30 of us came), and several have travelled a long distance to be here. One of our members in Victoria is Geoff Bowd, (son of the Late Doug Bowd, who many know is a well-known Hawkesbury historian)….. Geoff has been a great help and supporter throughout our endeavours.

As a result of the vandalism and our Group’s many submissions and representations, Council approved a works programme to secure the Cemetery by fencing it and installing floodlighting. It also funded a Conservation Management Plan and approved its implementation in full.

We are very pleased to acknowledge that the Lower Portion of the Cemetery is now enclosed with 2.1 metre (ie 7 feet high) security fencing and it is secured at night. It is also floodlit and looks very beautiful after dark. Because the Cemetery is now secured, many people have had their family monuments restored, and others are wanting to do likewise.

We thank everyone in our group for their continued help and support. No matter how insignificant you think your input has been, I can assure you it has been greatly appreciated. Development of the Cemetery remains a “work-in-progress” so we do need your continued support.

Many people here today may not know where to find Wilberforce General Cemetery. It is above the village, on Old Sackville Road, near Council’s Outdoor Staff Depot. It is a 4-acre property, nestled on the hillside, and retains its country appearance, with some surrounding bushland.

It is one of the oldest cemeteries in Australia, with National and State Heritage listings. Governor Macquarie, in 1810 chose this site so it was above flood level and where people could have a dignified burial. Many burials at that time took place on people’s properties.

Many of the grave headstones are beautifully crafted, and many epitaphs show the strong Christian faith the early settlers had, which upheld them in very tough times.

This Cemetery has been Council’s responsibility since 1968, firstly with Colo Shire Council, then with Hawkesbury City Council since the Amalgamation in 1981. It was closed for burials in 1968 because of a drainage problem.

Two years ago, the Cemetery was re-opened for burials thanks to the work Council has done to fix the drainage problem and other works to beautify it. 700 burial plots are now available.

However, there is still an urgent need to provide better facilities in the Cemetery for cremations. The existing niches are too small for ashes containers that are now used.

Contact Council if you would like a country-style, peaceful resting place in the future.

Council is currently working on the top, unfenced section, which was originally dedicated as a “Wesleyan Cemetery.” It is being prepared as a Place for Reflection, with bushland regeneration work underway.

If anyone has information regarding Methodist families buried in this Top Section, we would like to hear from you. It is worth noting that the road through the Cemetery is also dedicated as burial ground.

Finally, we would like to thank Councillors and Council Staff – past and present - for their input, and Council’s Maintenance Staff for their special manicuring of the Cemetery.

Last year, we received a letter from one lady who visited the Cemetery , who happily stated that Wilberforce Cemetery “now looks loved”. What a difference to when we started!!

Happy Australia Day to all!!

Jill Vincent, Co-ordinator, Friends of Wilberforce Cemetery