Unsafe Headstones – Restoration of memorials

At Last nights National Trust(NSW) Cemeteries Committee Meeting (Monday 16 June 2003) the topic of headstone restoration and relevant standards that can/should apply to monuments of heritage significance were discussed.

The meeting was attended by representatives with backgrounds in Heritage Architecture, Local Authority Heritage Advice, Rural Heritage Consultants and Advice, Monumental Stone Masonry, Geology, Cemetery Operations and Management, Structural E

The “Burra Charter” heritage document was explained to the meeting and an example of how this can be used in conjunction with the existent Australian Standards for Headstone & Monument construction (AS 4204-94).

Across the board there was agreement to the large variance between site managed ‘operational’ and in this instance metropolitan cemeteries and the expected work practices (compliance with legislation and acts, etc), work quality and site regulation and that of the council controlled rural cemetery or burial ground seldom used, if at all still considered operational.

Discussed were the current restoration benchmarks expected at state recognised locations like Waverley Cemetery and The Necropolis at Rookwood (specifically Anglican & General Cemeteries). In these locations full rebuilds are recommended and encouraged including new internal drilling/pinning of all existing elements, with replacement in exact replica of missing or unsalvageable elements that are then set on modern foundation work (below ground) that meets and where possible exceeds the current Australian Standard (AS4204– 94) to avoid future vandal damage. This was viewed by many rural representatives as a prohibitively expensive process when used in conjunction with heritage advisers and consultants and the documentation process required by places like the Heritage Commission and other grant issuing entities that many rural applicants would not consider. Education of clients and contractors by the site managers or administrators was an example of overcoming this type of preconception of work necessarily being too expensive in consideration of the end result. There was not always the need to include the use of consultants and advisers depending on the site management, this is certainly not an automatic process for the metropolitan cemeteries.

Monumental Masons illustrated examples of what were referred to as acceptable levels of restoration and contrasted with visually substandard levels of restoration work that clearly compromised the existing integrity of the memorial design.

Underpinning was discussed with regard to any work where modern compliant equipment can not access the memorial; location. Issues of OH&S; Safety were also high on the discussion topics.

The important consideration of the history of monuments being ‘modernised’ was also raised and the need to recognise that this was a regular practice for families as they were able to afford a more appropriate commemoration.

The general resolution was made that if any work is done it must meet or where possible exceed the current standard, with reference to site interpretations by the location owner. Manager, or administrative controller. And it was the responsibility of these site officers to establish a management regime as a first and unavoidably necessary step.

Those in attendance were requested to provide a written ‘wish list’ of general direction or guidelines for monument assessment and matrix for work on heritage items and have this returned to the NT committee meeting before 21 July 2003 for further committee discussion.

This important aspect of cemetery management (even closed ‘historic’ cemetery sites or burial grounds need management principles to be followed) and important future preservation of heritage relics seems like a good workshop for the National Trust and any relevant industry associations to explore in the near future.