The long-forgotten Waterfall General Cemetery should be managed by Wollongong City Council and restored as a bush cemetery, despite high costs associated with conserving the tuberculosis burial ground.
These are the findings of a report into future management options for the overgrown site, also known as Garrawarra, which contains more than 2000 graves.
Council staff have proposed a raft of strategies for conserving the historic cemetery, saying it should be formally recognised by the NSW Heritage Council and partially funded by the NSW government because of its statewide significance.
They also proposed the council make the site accessible for regular public open days, by clearing the central driveway to allow maintenance vehicles, removing dead wood to reduce trip and fire hazards and removing trees that pose a safety risk or could damage the remaining graves.
The cost of these works would likely be more than $200,000, followed by ongoing annual costs starting at $20,000, the report said.
Despite this "burden", staff strongly recommended councillors vote to keep the cemetery under council control, rather than trying to hand it back to the NSW government.
They said the "overwhelming result" of community feedback was for the site to remain in the council's hands.
"The community has ... expressed concern about the likelihood of the state government implementing the [conservation] recommendations," the report said.
"In addition, a hand-back, after a period of 47 years of council custodianship without maintenance, is likely to result in criticism and concern from the community and stakeholders."
A Friends of Waterfall General Cemetery Group could also be established, and the council should write to several NSW ministers to seek funding due to the site's statewide importance, staff recommended.
Located about one kilometre south of Garrawarra Centre aged care facility - once NSW's only state-run tuberculosis sanatorium - the isolated site has been officially under the council's care since 1967 but was only rediscovered in 2011.
In an apparent bureaucratic bungle, it became lost after it was handed over along with four other cemeteries. There is no evidence the council ever took up an active role in maintaining the site and the state health department did not pass on burial records, council staff said.
Since its rediscovery, the council has spent more than two years working with conservation groups and relatives of some of those buried there to decide how to best manage the graveyard's future.
Councillors are due to debate the recommendations on Monday.