Information about the Slovenian Lawn 2 in Rookwood Cemetery

Report by Olga Lah

On Friday, 23rd January  2015, a delegation representing the Slovenian community in NSW –      Father Darko Žnidaršič, Mr. Alfred Brežnik, Mr Mark Stariha and Mrs Olga Lah, met with three administrators of the Rookwood Catholic Office and Regional Cemetery Services:
Ms Lauren Hardgrove, Mr. Jason Kelly and Mr. John Sweeney.    
The outcome of this meeting was very positive.

Background

Recently, it came to the notice of members of our Slovenian community, that a large portion, almost half of what we had accepted as the Slovenian Lawn 2, was reallocated to the Filipino community. The plot of land to the south of the existing pathway was no longer available to Slovenians. This change was not communicated to, nor negotiated with, the Slovenian community.

Father Darko’s  first knowledge of this change was just before Christmas,  at which time he raised the matter with Catholic Cemeteries and was advised nothing could be done apart from allocating a new Lawn 3 to the Slovenian Community,  and they would meet with him in late January to discuss. In mid- January, Joe Žele sought to raise the matter also through Catholic Cemeteries, the government department responsible for Cemeteries NSW, and the NSW government minister responsible for cemeteries, the Hon. Karina Hodgkinson, MP.  Failing to get any satisfactory response, Joe contacted Alfred Brežnik,   who then circulated the information to community leaders, the result of which was a mountain of complaints directed to Catholic Cemeteries, Cemeteries NSW and the Hon. Karina Hodgkinson, MP.

The outrage… the shock in the community was such as has never been seen before. Could it be true that only 20 - 30 plots for burial remain for our community? There was an urgency to meet with the administrators of Rookwood Cemetery, find out what had happened and find a solution to the disaster that had befallen our community. Catholic Cemeteries, under pressure from the volume of complaints, brought forward the proposed late January meeting with Father Darko to Friday 23/1/2015 so a report and proposal could be presented to the Slovenian Community at Sunday Mass in an attempt to calm our community.

Meeting

We discovered that the Slovenian community did not have a formal agreement nor contract for the part of land in question. Although a formal contract existed for the Slovenian Lawn 2, it only covered the part which was currently being used.  The original arrangement several decades ago for the ‘unused’ part of Slovenian Lawn 2, was a sort of gentleman’s agreement between the Catholic Office and Father Valerijan Jenko and had never been formalised. Nevertheless, even the maps of Rookwood designated the whole land, down to the Crypts on the south side, as “Slovenian Lawn 2”.  In the secure knowledge that this was the Slovenian plot of land, our community had raised funds for the landscaping, erection of an altar, cross, chapel and seating in the whole section. This is documented in Rookwood records.

The Filipino Community has in fact, signed a formal contract for the land in dispute. Although no burials have been had as yet, plots have already been sold to them.

The representatives from Rookwood admitted that there was insufficient communication with the Slovenian community and that the existing agreement with Father Valerijan had been overlooked or perhaps not known by current officers.  We accepted responsibility for not formalising the agreement by contract. The time was upon us for negotiating an outcome that would be acceptable to all.

Outcome

After much discussion….it became evident that the administrators understood our concerns and were eager to negotiate a solution. We acknowledge at this opportunity their professionalism and cooperative attitude towards the negotiation.

Physically walking the grounds and discussing all options, we have accepted 2 possible outcomes. Both, we believe will be accepted by our community. The chosen option will be fully documented and under contract.

Option 1
(We have made it clear that this is our preferred option):

That the Filipino Community be relocated to another site and the contracts signed be transferred to a new area. We were warned that unless the Filipino community agree, this option could be unlikely.

Option 2

That the number of graves in the existing Slovenian lawn 2, be increased by another 20 - 30 plots….taking the current total still available to about 60 plots.

Then in the following 12 – 18 months, Rookwood admin. has agreed it would :

Rip up the existing service road which separates the existing Slovenian Lawn 2 with the area on which our Slovenians used to park their cars. Our grave allocation would then increase to the east in a seamless way by another 500 graves.The Rookwood representatives agreed to incur the cost of landscaping so that the site mirrors what already exists. The pathway will be continued to the east, as will the tree planting.If we wish, they will reposition the altar and cross to the new centre of the site. (probably close to where the service road is now).

If Option 2 becomes the chosen option, the Rookwood representatives agreed to produce a detailed drawing of the extension to Slovenian Lawn 2 and make it available for viewing at our church in 3-4 weeks. The new extension would still be called the Slovenian Lawn 2 (although it was suggested we may want to rename Lawn 1 and Lawn 2 by patron Saint names). This drawing would describe the landscaping and physical attributes of the extended Slovenian site.

* The successful option will be known in the coming weeks.*

Conclusion

I think the community will understand the difficult position for all parties involved. However, it is evident that care, compassion and mutual understanding can result in a positive outcome.

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