Richmond Valley Council's, Peter Cotterill, pictured with one of the many gravestones that have been destroyed by vandals at the West Street Cemetery in Casino.
Richmond Valley Council's, Peter Cotterill, pictured with one of the many gravestones that have been destroyed by vandals at the West Street Cemetery in Casino. Brenden Allen

No respect for the dead

"MAY their souls rest in peace" reads an inscription on the grave of a father and daughter buried in 1923 at Casino's West Street Cemetery.

It was a simple wish, but it meant nothing to the group of vandals who, about 9pm last Friday, knocked over the cross resting on top of the grave and destroyed about a dozen other headstones.

Noel Ball, who has lived behind the heritage-listed cemetery for 25 years, said that as soon as he heard the breaking of concrete and his dog barking wildly on Friday night he knew what was going on - he'd heard it all before.

During the past few years, the cemetery, which has gravestones from as early as the 1800s and as late as 2003, has been attacked several times by vandals.

The worst attack so far was in January, 2004, when more than $200,000 worth of damage was done.

As hard as it was to imagine, Mr Ball said the vandalism at the cemetery had become so regular it had begun to seem normal - almost.

"It's just terrible," Mr Ball said.

"It's a lot worse than just smashing a window because there is just so much significance to a gravestone."

Mr Ball - whose grandparents, Stephen and Miria Ball, are buried in the cemetery - said he could understand the distress families of those buried there would feel when they next visited to find crosses broken and headstones knocked over.

"My grandparents' headstones haven't been touched, but that doesn't matter," he said. "I mean, it's just awful for those who have had damage done."

Richmond Valley Council environmental health and regulatory control officer, Peter Cotterill, said a preliminary survey of the site counted 12 graves damaged by the vandals in last Friday night's attack.

"It's extremely disheartening," Mr Cotterill said.

"I just don't understand how people could find that kind of vandalism entertaining.

"People find going to a cemetery hard enough, but seeing all this damage when you visit will just make it harder."

Richmond Local Area Command duty officer Inspector Scott Bingham said damaging headstones was a serious offence and anyone caught in the act would face a charge of malicious damage.

"It's not only a serious offence, it's also morally reprehensible," he said.

Last year, in a bid to prevent further acts of vandalism, Richmond Valley Council demolished an old storage shed in the middle of the cemetery to prevent people loitering at night.

The council also increased the level of maintenance in the cemetery to encourage 'community ownership' of the site.

While Mr Ball said this did prevent groups hanging around, more had to be done to protect the gravestones and preserve what history the town had left.

Mr Ball said one solution was building a fence around the site, to prevent it being used as a thoroughfare.

Mr Cotterill said about four years ago the council had looked into fencing the cemetery, as well as installing lighting, but concluded it would not be economically viable. The lighting alone would have cost the council more than $100,000.

"After the latest attack, the council will be revisiting some of these ideas," he said. "A few years ago, we introduced a new fee for the families of those buried at cemeteries in the area for their perpetual maintenance and once this fund builds, building a fence could become a viable option."

In the meantime, Mr Cotterill said the best solution was for the community to keep their eyes out for any suspicious activity at the cemetery.

"These aren't just acts of vandalism. We're losing important parts of the town's history," he said.


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