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Volunteers breathe life into Echuca cemetery

By Brayden May

NOT MANY people are aware, but a dedicated team of volunteers are continuing to breathe new life into the Echuca cemetery.

With just one full-time staff member on site, it is up to the cemetery’s eight trusty trustees to do everything from record keeping to mowing the lawns.

And with their combined years of experience, there have been plenty of stories to tell along the way.

Perhaps the most bizarre was when police arrived and told the volunteers a séance had taken place.

Or the time, there were reports of a barking grave – it turned out that a dog had dug underneath one of the cemetery’s monuments.

The Riv sat down with several of the volunteers to learn about their involvement at the cemetery.

Heather Rendle

By her own admission, Heather loves the quiet side of her role as secretary – being able to work in the office.

But it is anything but quiet as she finds herself on site at least five days a week.

As part of her role she is in constant contact with government departments to ensure protocols are meeting met.

While she also works alongside families to ensure everything can run smoothly in tributes to their loved ones.

“I’ve been a trustee for over 20 years and it’s something I enjoy doing,” Heather said.

“It’s great to be able to do our part for the community and look after an area of Echuca which is very important.

Heather Rendle has been an Echuca cemetery trustee for over 20 years.

“If we are going to take care of the future, we also need to make sure we are looking after the past in the right way.

“A lot has changed throughout the years, but I think we’ve always done a good job of managing to keep on top of everything.”

While Heather may have seen several people come and go during time as a cemetery trustee, one thing that has never changed is the support she has received.

“People are always appreciative of the work we do as a team,” she said.

“Sometimes we do have outside groups come in and do some jobs for us and we are grateful for the support they give us.

“Any people who are willing to give up their time will always be welcome to give us a hand.”

David Jones

When David joined the cemetery trust 23 years ago, it was just the latest in a string of community projects in which he was involved.

But this project was something he had been leaning towards for several years.

“I always had a strong interest in the industry, and I thought it would be a good way to get involved,” David explained.

“I’m currently the chairman of the trust and my role is to work in with the other trustees and ensure everything is running smoothly.

“Having a terrific team working together certainly makes my job a lot easier.

“As a whole, we have a well-rounded group of skills.”

Throughout the years, David has seen the cemetery continue to grow and he said he was proud to have been a part of it.

“I think we’ve been able to change the direction of the cemetery for the better,” he said.

“Sometimes we are limited in what we are able to do but we’re giving it our best shot.

“We get a lot of satisfaction from what we are doing behind the scenes and I’m confident that will be able to continue for a long time.”

Alan Gamble

Alan’s time with the cemetery has seen him go from full-time employee to retired to volunteer.

In 1988, he was employed as the groundsman and then when the grave digger broke down, Alan thought it was time to pick up the shovel.

And despite his retirement, the other trustees managed to get him back out on site.

“I’m the longest serving person here who isn’t dead, and I’ve never lost a customer,” he joked.

“In the end, it was just too hard to stay away. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better place to work.”

While Alan’s role sees him complete a lot of maintenance, he is also the cemetery’s personal walking encyclopedia.

“He is our go-to man when we have a question,” Heather said.

“If you need to know where someone is buried, he has the answer more often than not.

“He’s an extremely valuable member of our team.”

Anita Bartlett

For the past 15 years, Anita has almost become the cemetery’s self-appointed digital guru.

She stumbled on the role after seeing an ad in the paper and with volunteer work already a large part of her life, Anita just knew she had to get involved.

“I knew nothing about cemeteries, and I wanted to try something different,” she said.

“I’ve put all of our records onto our computer system and that was made much easier by the fact that we had some of our original records.

“I do some work for the other cemeteries in Campaspe and because they don’t have originals it can make the job a lot easier.”

Back in 2010, armed with her trusty phone Anita decided it was time to take photos throughout the cemetery.

Anita Bartlett and Janice Smith.

That included a photo of every burial and monument – over 15,000 in total.

“The entire process took me about two years,” she said.

“During that time, technology improved so much, and it meant I had to take some of the photos again.

“By the time I was finished, I took close to 25,000 photos.

“It was actually a process I enjoyed because I love learning about the history of the community.”

Janice Smith

Despite being the newest trust member, Janice still plays an active role for the group.

Like Anita, an ad in the paper caught Janice’s attention.

“I’m also a family history group volunteer so I thought joining the cemetery trust was a great way to expand my knowledge,” she said.

“I have a lot of family who are buried here so it’s great that I am able to continue that connection.”

Janice spends a lot of time in the garden when she is at the cemetery, often working on the rose bushes with Anita.

“Gardening is something that I do enjoy,” she said.

“Our goal is to make sure the cemetery is always looking good for visitors. It can sometimes be difficult to maintain but I think we do a good job.”

John Little

John is not officially a trust member, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting involved at the cemetery.

He arrives early in the morning to do odd jobs; including raking leaves and cleaning the entrance.

He said the involvement of his partner Janice encouraged him to get involved.

“It’s nice we’re able to do something together,” he said.

“I just started coming out because I wanted something to do. I’m glad that I can give back to the community.

And his efforts certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by members of the trust.

“You see a big difference when people like John are involved,” Heather said.

Anita added: “We’re grateful to have someone strong on the shovel.”

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