Image for A Grave Matter in Ross

*Pic: Image from here ~ Ross-Mel-Steph-Meredith - home

Is it right to bury the heritage values of the Old Burial Ground in Ross with modern buildings?

The mysterious carved art on the Ross Bridge attracts many visitors to ponder on what this stone art is attempting to say across the centuries from another age.

The maker of the stone art on the Ross Bridge, Daniel Herbert, remained in Ross after the completion of the bridge to live by the Macquarie River in a small cottage with his wife Mary, which can still be seen in Badajos Street.

Herbert’s memorial can also be found in Ross, at the Old Burial Ground on the hill.

If going there on foot, head south from the bridge to the sheep gate and follow the path around the hill and the grand stone church above, to the Female Factory.

Sheep will often be watching and may sometimes all start singing a sheep opera, which is delightful and humorous.

Looking to the east and up the hill, there is a path across the railway track along an old stone wall, then across Park Street and on to the Old Burial Ground, where a stone table with a stone urn can be found.

This is Daniel Herbert’s memorial.

The old weathered stone urn went missing once, was later returned and can be seen in the Tasmanian Wool Centre in Ross.

The stone urn at the burial ground is a replacement, which is why it looks so new, made by Les Kulinski from an original design drawn by Daniel Herbert, which can also be seen in the Wool Centre.

Looking out from Daniel Herbert’s grave over the old tombstones, a panoramic view is gained across the Macquarie River to the distant hills beneath an ever-shifting sky.

Just down the slope to the north a new house has been built with colorbond walls, which doesn’t impact on the view from the hill.

Ross is a living town and people have a right to build homes on their land, with Council approval.

There is a block of land between the Old Burial Ground and Park Street which has been vacant forever and being zoned rural, for some reason many believed it would not be built on, could not be built on.

This land was once included in the heritage protection zone for Ross, but was removed from the heritage zone a few years ago.

It is possible to build a house on a small rural lot, with Council permission, which involves a variation on how far the house must be located from the boundary.

For a year or more this small rural lot was advertised for sale by Harcourts, with humorous reference to its location between two graveyards, but with spectacular views for a house. [1]

The land eventually sold and when the new owner applied to build, this was advertised for comment.

When first advertised there were no comments from the public, but the development proposal had to be advertised a second time, due to a fault in the original plan.

It was with the second exhibition that some people in Ross went on the warpath and became furious that this development was being proposed next to the heritage listed Old Burial Ground.

A number of representations were lodged, strongly objecting to a modern design colorbond building and garage being parked up against the Old Burial Ground.

On Monday 16 November a Council meeting went to the wire, with one Councillor having to leave the room because of vested interests, three Councillors voting against the development and four in favour, which carried the vote in favour of the house and garage being built.

Having checked with the Land Use Planning and Appeals Tribunal, I have been informed that an appeal against the Council decision has been lodged and a preliminary hearing is to happen on December 16th.

Appeals to the Tribunal can be quite expensive, involving lawyers, planners and expert witnesses, with the prospect of costs being awarded.

If there is to be an alternative future for this land, it may need to be purchased by the Tasmanian Government, but in the light of the State currently shrinking the heritage portfolio, including removing heritage listing from land, this may not happen.

If the owner wins the appeal, they will be able to build, unless there is an even more expensive appeal to the Supreme Court.

If there was ever to be another way forward with this land, the heritage zoning should have been retained, or the land zoned back again as heritage, or purchased by a heritage minded person willing to help protect the heritage values of the Old Burial Ground.

In terms of heritage and development, the Council approval appears to be a no-win situation, which could prove bad for the tourist dollar and troublesome for the owner seeking a development approval.

The vegetation screen included in the Council approval will not hide any new buildings very well, but will hide more of the view from the Old Burial Ground.

A freestone wall might be built along the boundary, which could better break the view-line of the new buildings.

The Old Burial Ground could certainly use interpretation about what is there and who lies beneath, as there is none at present.

A public interest project may help heal the conflicts caused by neglecting the zoning and finding the real world suddenly arrives as Ross starts to grow again as a town.

The tragedy of losing the panorama from the Old Burial Ground, should this be the outcome of a Tribunal appeal, might also be relieved, when it becomes known that the Old Burial Ground heritage listed land has a hidden half to the east.

My wife and I purchased land east of the Old Burial Ground recently, which is zoned rural.

We were surprised to discover that the eastern fence of the Old Burial Ground runs through the middle of the heritage site.

The eastern half of the Old Burial Ground has no fence along our boundary and looks like it never has been fenced off from our land.

There is no tombstone or sign of any grave on this land and it remains a mystery as to why it was fenced incorrectly.

Perhaps there was consideration of a church being built on top of the hill one day, next to the Old Burial Ground, but this never happened.

There was a stone church built across Park Street and above the railway line once, but when this began to fall down, it was demolished.

All three churches in Ross are now located along Church Street, with one of the most photographed buildings in Tasmania being located in views of the Ross Bridge on the hill behind.

Though there is a lot less church-going in modern Australia as the nation diversifies, the stories found in old churches and cemeteries are absolutely vital for a healthy tourist economy.

Imagine what visitors to Tasmania would think if every gravestone on the island suddenly vanished?

Many denizens of the island may shudder at the thought of driving through the countryside past the sight of naked graveyards.

The sad fact is, gravestones are weathering away, falling, breaking and turning to rubble and dust all the time.

Some memorials, like Daniel Herbert’s, are cared for, preserved and restored.

When I found a fallen grave in the yard of St Matthews in Rokeby, telling the story of fifteen year-old Susannah Musk, who drowned in Ralphs Bay in a maritime tragedy in Van Diemen’s Land, which also took the lives of five others, I was moved to see this grave restored and research and write the story. [2]

Funds were raised for the work, a heritage plan obtained from the Tasmanian Heritage Council and the stonemason who had worked on Herbert’s memorial, Les Kulinski, engaged to restore Susannah’s memorial with its angel on top.

Attracting over a million visitors a year, the tourist dollar is a powerful argument for preserving our heritage.

Should we do more to preserve the graves and know their stories?

It might be asked, for every grave that is saved and preserved, how many dollars are rung into the Tasmanian economy?

I therefore wonder if a special project could happen on the heritage land over the eastern fence of the Old Burial Ground in Ross.

This could take the form of a memorial to the pioneers and their gravesites around the island, a place to reflect on the stories of our ancestors on a hill in the heart of Tasmania.

People interested in such a project might gather to discuss what is possible and what could be created.

The land exists, it is empty, it is publicly owned and it is heritage listed.

From a hill in Ross, a project could grow that cares for old gravestones and burial grounds in Tasmania, beginning with the Old Burial Ground in Ross and slowly extending to gravesites and grounds of significance around the island State.

Beginning with volunteers, people could later be employed to do the work, creating much needed employment in Tasmania and enhancing the quality of the visitor experience.

This project would build on much work already done, caring for graves and capturing the stories found in the stones.

Not all graves can be saved, as wind, rain and vandals are not our friends, but as more keen folk join in, more will be achieved and every grave that can be saved is saved and at the very least, the memory of fallen gravestones can be preserved for students, researchers and tourists.

A 3-dimensional digital image could be made of every gravestone and burial ground in Tasmania, so lost memorials could be remade in the future, or presented in a website or virtual world.

I began an investigation into the art found on old graves, as a way to gain a better understanding of the carved art on the Ross Bridge and as part of examining all carved art of the era.

My search began with winged effigies, like the grumpy cherub found on Susannah’s memorial and I was surprised to find that every winged effigy that I saw carved in stone from across a century and from Salt Water River to Campbell Town, was different.

This was unlike other gravestone symbols, which were frequently repeated with little or no variation, so I wondered what was going on; a mystery that still remains.

The Tasmanian gravestone project would build an understanding of the meaning of all carved art found on the stones.

There is an amazing wealth of stories found in the carved art, as well as the inscriptions and taken together, the carved art on all the gravestones must be the largest body of carved art in Tasmania.

If the project at the Old Burial Ground on the hill in Ross proceeds, there might be a sheep gate opening onto our land, as we plan to develop a project to understand and practice colonial skills, including the carving of stone.

This was a vision held by the late Tasmanian sculptor Stephen Walker, who for some years worked to see this created at the old School House in Ross as a stone art academy, taking inspiration from the carved art of Daniel Herbert on the Ross Bridge.

The southeast corner of our land is diagonally opposite one of the old quarries in Ross, where there has been talk for many years of opening it up to the public, to see how the stone that built Ross and its beautiful bridge was quarried.

All going well, the heritage trail from the Ross Bridge to the old quarry could become quite a fascinating trek through time and history.

The visitor to the burial ground at the southern end of Campbell Town will find an unexpected sign, in the form of an information board telling all who read it, that there are native grasses located there.

Native grasses have been lost from heavily worked farmlands and so, burial grounds have become a refuge for these remnant species.

Who would think that caring for burial grounds could also become a vital landcare activity.

One day when visiting the Old Burial Ground, an echidna walked past in front of me in Park Street, so fragile, even with all its spikes.

I hope there is still room for echidnas, as Ross grows new houses.

Caring for heritage values often goes hand in hand with caring for the natural world, the vegetation and the animals.

The heritage values of the Old Burial Ground in Ross may be buried by a modern building at 41 Park Street, but with the discovery that the ground is twice as large as anyone thought, new vistas are created into future history.

Such are the growing pains of a heritage town with a tourist economy.


NOTE ~

In discussion about the Old Burial Ground it has been claimed that it is located on the highest hill in Ross. This is not so, as the highest hill within the old town boundary of Ross is located to the southeast and is above the old quarry at the corner of Wellington and Waterloo Streets.


REFERENCES ~

[1]  For Sale and Sold
41 Park Street, Ross
realestate.com.au
http://www.realestate.com.au/property-residential+land-tas-ross-200040941

[2]  ‘Susannah’s Angel’
Kim Peart, 4 January 2012, Tasmanian Times
http://www.tasmaniantimes.com.au/index.php/article/susannahs-angel-