Historian bemoans grave situation at Gladstone Cemetery
WILLIAM GLADSTONE once said: "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals."
Paulette Flint of the Gladstone Genealogical Society isn't very impressed with the condition of many graves in the Gladstone Cemetery.
But there is one monument she is particularly concerned about - the grave of of Gladstone's first mayor Richard Hetherington.
"The sandstone is wearing away quite badly," she said.
"Someone has painted it in the past but it's all peeled and flaking off now."
Paulette said Gladstone Cemetery was one of the oldest in Queensland and Richard Hetherington's grave was an important part of Gladstone's history.
"He was not only the mayor but the postmaster as well," she said.
"He died one night in 1870 while delivering mail to a ship and fell through an open hatch in the darkness.
"This monument was erected by the people of Port Curtis because they loved him and wanted to honour him."
Paulette also has concerns about another grave which is leaning over precariously.
"This one belongs to Muriel, a little girl who died in 1936 and I'm worried it will topple over soon," she said.
Traditionally families will look after grave sites in cemeteries like Gladstone's.
But what happens if that person's family is no longer alive, or has left town?
A Gladstone Regional Council spokesperson said the council undertakes general maintenance of cemetery grounds and maintains the site for safety reasons, but it is " not responsible for the maintenance of old grave sites."
Paulette said the Genealogical Society have done a lot of work to preserve the memories of the people buried in Gladstone's cemeteries by cataloguing and photographing all the graves.
"It looks like there's a lot of empty spaces here, but it's actually quite full," she said.
"Many of the timber crosses and grave surrounds have perished over the years."
It's the physical work required on many of the existing graves that is beyond the society's skills - but Paulette has a simple suggestion.
"Perhaps Gladstone could have a friends of the cemetery group like they do in other towns?" she said.
"People who are physically able to get in and fix some of the graves in conjunction with other community groups like the Men's Shed?"
Paulette is not fond of modern cemeteries, which only allow a small brass plaque to be placed over the graves.
"I have a lot of feeling for these old headstones and the meanings behind them, like the unfinished column which indicates a life cut short," she said.
"The bigger the monument, the more important the person was or how well liked they were."
"It's the way they remembered people in those days. They're gone but not forgotten."