Grave carer row upsets

FAR from being "heartless", the Kandanga cemetery committee is full of heart and emotion and feeling for its community, an advocate for the committee said yesterday.

Kandanga cemetery management came under heavy fire last week from grieving Dagun dad Wally Johnson, whose son Alex drowned six months ago and was buried there.

The Johnsons believed they were treated poorly by the committee, which asked them to clean up Alex's gravesite, where a number of toys and keepsakes and a small fence were erected.

Last month, the Johnsons were distressed to discover the toys and keepsakes had been removed.

They have since been given permission to keep a Tonka truck there.

Gympie Regional councillor and former Mary Valley resident Graham Engeman knew the Kandanga cemetery committee well and yesterday strenuously defended its 15 volunteers.

He said they had made the cemetery one of the best-maintained and prettiest in the region while saving ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars through volunteer labour.

The council was trustee of the cemetery, which was administered and maintained by the incorporated committee.

"These folk who are being pilloried are the ones who will be looking after that little child's grave for years and years to come," Cr Engeman said.

The whole issue had been caused by a problem with another grave - that of a middle-aged man - which some unknown person had started building a substantial memorial on without the permission or knowledge of the man's family, he said.

The committee had to take action and the Johnsons "and a number of others" got caught up in it.

Such memorials in the lawn section of the cemetery created workplace health and safety issues and did not comply with council bylaws, he said.

"They had to do something to address this other grave. Far from being 'heartless' they made the effort with compassion and care for the Johnsons."

Cr Engeman said volunteers on the committee were now questioning whether they should be involved.

"If this is where we are going, no wonder you can't get anyone to do anything these days," he said.

Committee member Bruce Bull said the committee worked tirelessly to make the Kandanga cemetery a beautiful place and tried its best to be sensitive to the family's feelings.

He said the decision to ask the Johnsons to clean up the gravesite hadn't been easy and there had been special meetings of the committee and with the council.

"Absolutely nobody from the committee has moved any toys," he said. "Nobody minds the toys being there. The letters were about the picket fence."

Cr Engeman said it was nonsensical to suggest a volunteer had removed the toys. "The cemetery is open. It could have been anyone," he said.

At the time of Alex's burial the Johnsons were not charged any of the usual costs and the committee had "bent over backwards" to help them, Cr Engeman said.

"If there is anywhere I would want to be buried it would be in the Kandanga cemetery, and I would want these folk looking after me and my loved ones."

Gympie Times

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