Perth, Western Australia
Nov 1, 2001
In four distinct manoeuvres, over a twenty year period, control of the East Perth Cemeteries complex was handed over to the Western Australian branch of the National Trust of Australia.
Firstly, in 1973, the East Perth Cemeteries and St. Bartholomew's Church were classified by the National Trust, and later, in 1978, they were entered on the Register of the National Estate.
Next, on December 17, 1975, St. Bartholomew's Chapel and its driveway were officially vested in the National Trust.
In 1991, the Department of Conservation and Land management (CALM) approached the National Trust and asked it to take over the responsibility for the East Perth Cemeteries.
Finally, in 1994, the cemeteries were vested in the National Trust, giving it total control over the cemeteries and the tiny church that resided within.
It would almost seem just that the National Trust ended up in control of the site, as way back in 1952, when the fate of the cemeteries was being debated, one visionary, who could have been excused for being forty years ahead of his time, penned the following excerpt:
[The West Australian June 21, 1952]
In fact, in 1959, such a body was incorporated by an Act of Parliament and was called the National Trust.
Today it is affiliated with similar organisations throughout Australia, but maintains its own autonomy.
From the outset, the Trust was a voluntary and community based organisation and was founded in Western Australia as a result of the efforts of a number of private citizens.
Membership of the Trust has always been open to all, and for many years it has sought to educate members of the public about lands and buildings of historic and architectural interest and about the flora and fauna of Western Australia.
By promoting public knowledge and encouraging interest, it has aimed to ensure the conservation of those places while fighting to retain Australia's rapidly disappearing heritage buildings and sites.
Over time, the National Trust has come to recognise that children will play a vital role in the future of conservation and most recently it has developed a series of heritage education packages to introduce students to the treasures of the past and to empower them to become actively involved in conserving their heritage.
The educational programmes introduce both primary and secondary students and teachers to Western Australia's heritage by making National Trust properties accessible as a major educational resource. Needless to say, the historic East Perth Cemeteries play a major part.
Over the forty years since it was formed, the National Trust has had to adapt its aims to a continually changing environment and its current aims and directives are best derived from its own website.
After gaining official control over St. Bartholomew's Church in 1975, the National Trust very quickly swung into action and was asked to oversee the restoration of the church. The project was mainly funded by a $15,000 grant from the National Estate Programme with an additional $1500 donation from the Perth City Council. The historical society and the East Perth Rotary Club were involved in the project and on its completion the tiny Anglican church was re-dedicated as a place of worship by the Assistant Bishop of Perth.
The Trust was just as quick to act in 1991 when it was asked to take charge of the cemeteries, although little physical work was done on the site before it was officially vested in the Trust in 1994.
In 1991 a steering committee was established to devise a management control and conservation plan for the East Perth Cemeteries and St. Bartholomew's Church.
The Heritage Council pledged $10,000 a year over three years for the Cemeteries and the money helped finance the development of conservation plans and other programmes for the site.
At the same time, the East Perth Redevelopment Authority assisted by funding a landscape conservation study which was prepared in July 1991. Later, an enhancement and management proposal based on the guidelines contained in the conservation study was commissioned.
In 1992 the National Trust established the East Perth Cemeteries Management Committee which was chaired by conservation architect, Mr Ron Bodycoat. A conservation plan was commissioned and East Perth resident, Miss Thelma Jones, was appointed Honorary Warden of the cemeteries.
From 1992 to 1993, funds provided by the East Perth Redevelopment Authority were used to undertake the first stage of the landscape enhancement plan. This was carried out with assistance from the Westrek Foundation and 15 young people, and from the LEAP (Landcare Environment Action) programme with another 30 people.
In April, 1993 the History Teachers' Association of Western Australia published a fieldwork article and assignment kit in its Hindsight magazine. The material was designed for use in the classroom and by school groups visiting the cemetery.
[Can You Help? The West Australian March 13, 1999]
Between 1993 and 1994 the Trust began an on-going programme to train teams of volunteer guides and after the cemeteries were officially vested in the National Trust in 1994, they were opened to the public on a regular basis with guided tours.
On October 8, 1995, the National Trust launched its East Perth Cemeteries conservation appeal. At the same time a 'Friends of the East Perth Cemeteries' group was launched.
Between 1998 and 2000 a series of minor works projects were carried out in the cemeteries by the National Trust, the East Perth Redevelopment Authority and the State Government.
In 1999, primary and secondary school resource kits were produced by the National Trust and the History Teachers' Association of WA. Financial assistance was provided by Federal and State heritage funds and the material was used in the classroom and by school groups visiting the cemeteries.
When the National Trust launched a conservation appeal for its heritage properties on October 8, 1995, the West Australian published an inciteful article on the cemeteries in its Big Weekend supplement.
The article was based on interviews held with many leading authorities from the conservation and heritage fields. Tom Perrigo, the National Trust's chief executive officer, and Ron Bodycoat, the conservation architect who prepared the conservation plan for the cemeteries in 1992 and who chaired its site's management committee, were among those interviewed.
Their comments provide an insight into what the National Trust envisaged for the cemeteries in East Perth. Speaking generally about the National Trust in Western Australia, and more specifically about the East Perth Cemeteries, Mr. Perrigo said:
To elaborate on plans for the cemeteries, the reporter sought out Mr. Bodycoat:
Finally, to put things into perspective, high finance was discussed:
Four years later, in October 1999, with the year 2000 rapidly approaching, it was debatable whether Mr. Perrigo's dream of 'National Trust properties being financially self-sufficient' was realised, but it was most certain that Mr. Bodycoat's predictions had fallen well short of their mark.
Granted, the cemeteries were still intact and were looking clean and tidy, and, yes, work was being done on the site, but the cemeteries were nothing like he envisaged they would be.
A small and dedicated group of guides still only opened the cemeteries for special pre-arranged visits and for a regular two hour session each Sunday; the future of the 'Friends of the East Perth Cemeteries' group hung in the balance; and nowhere were to be seen the predicted interpretation centre, computerised archives, toilets, coffee shop and book shop.
The Historical Society still held its annual Pioneer Memorial ceremony in the first week of June and some of the recommendations outlined in the conservation plan for the site had been carried out.
In late 1999, the East Perth Redevelopment Corporation had set aside a small section of the original Hebrew Cemetery and allowed the few remaining Jewish headstones to be refurbished and relocated to the site of their original burial ground. The completed project was officially opened on Sunday, March 25, 2001.
One would hope that this was one of the projects that was planned in the series of minor works projects which were to be carried out in the cemeteries by the National Trust, East Perth Redevelopment Authority and State Government between 1998 and 2000.
Hopefully, in later years, more projects will be forthcoming, especially after redevelopment work has come to an end in the East Perth precinct and the Government's attention has moved elsewhere.
[Can You Help? The West Australian June 1, 1998]
On rare occasions the newspapers carry advertisements placed by descendants of pioneers buried in the cemetery. They are evidence of attempts to finance the restoration of ancestral gravesites, but in most cases, the casual observer would be excused for thinking that day-to-day maintenance work was all that was happening in the East Perth Cemeteries today.