THERE will be some difficulties in planning Stage One of the redevelopment of Bega High School because it was once the Bega Cemetery, but those problems are not insurmountable, a public meeting at the school on Monday night was told.
The project manager for the redevelopment, Mr Gene Ransom, of Public Works, said he had never built on a cemetery before but working with Mr Peter Douglas, a consultant from Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions, he felt sure that any problems arising from the cemetery site issue could be overcome, although it might cost a little more.
The public meeting was held so that the community could hear what progress was being made Stage One of the redevelopment and the issues arising from the fact that Bega High School was built on what had been the Bega Cemetery.
Mr Mark Fraser, the manager of the Properties School Services unit, said that funds had been allocated for Stage One and he and Mr Ransom had submitted a development application for the entire project.
Because this involved the closure of High Street between Auckland and Eden Streets, Mr Fraser and Mr Ransom were still discussing details with council officers and a meeting with the traffic committee had been scheduled for December 6.
The closing of High Street had been agreed to in principle some time ago.
Stage One of the project would include the building of the gymnasium, change rooms and a new canteen, Mr Ransom told the meeting.
Other public buildings such as Central Railway Station and the Victorian markets had been built over cemeteries, and it appeared that building “over” could be one of the solutions because it was preferable not to disturb any graves that were on the site.
‘This is not impossible, just unusual,” Mr Ransom said.
Mr Douglas said he had been working on trying to find out as much as he could about the old Bega Cemetery, but much material was lacking.
He appealed to anyone who has information, particularly photographs of the old cemetery, to leave them at the Family Museum for him to study.
The material will be returned.
Mr Douglas has a plan of where the known graves were, but even with the help of former gravedigger, Kevin Williams, he is unable to accurately determine where all the graves were, especially those of paupers and suicides.
The suicides would have been buried in unconsecrated ground but nobody is sure where that might be, and little care was taken with paupers, many of whom may have been buried without anyone knowing who they were.
The Bega Cemetery on that site was dedicated in 1963, although there were burials there from 1857.
It was subdivided into various denominations, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Presbyterian, Wesleyan Methodists, Independents and others.
The cemetery contained the remains of the majority of people who died in the Bega area between 1857 and circa 1910.
According to Mr Douglas, this included not only the Christian European pioneers of the Bega township and district, but also a number of Chinese, Jews and possibly some Aborigines.
No comprehensive burial register or plan of burials was compiled, but from court records and historical accounts it is believed that the actual number of internments in the cemetery was between 479 and 668.
In 1902 the present cemetery was consecrated and opened and from 1910 burials in the old cemetery were banned.
However some families did continue to bury their dead in family plots.
From the 1920s to the 1940s the cemetery remained disused and was not maintained.
It was used to graze livestock and for the illegal dumping of garbage.
The Department of Main Road resumed half an acre of the Wesleyan section in 1938, and this also contained the former Chinese burial section.
In 1943 the Commonwealth Government resumed the remainder of the site under the Bega Cemetery Act.
This act outlined the procedures required prior to the clearance of the cemetery and the construction of the school.
By 1947 all denominations had agreed to the removal of grave markers and the relocation of these to the new cemetery.
Bega High School was opened in 1952.
PICTURE:At the Bega High School redevelopment meeting on Monday night, Peter Douglas from Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions, Mark Fraser, manager of the Properties School Services unit, the principal of Bega High School, Pam Wellham, and Gene Ransom, Public Works project manager for the Bega High School redevelopment.