In the middle of the Kembla Grange site being looked at as the potential home of a maximum-security jail lies a near-200-year-old cemetery.
The possibility the West Dapto Catholic Cemetery – which spans about 1.3 hectares – could be consumed by a jail has no doubt left those with loved ones there, and others who have purchased plots, concerned.
Now, the cemetery’s owner has revealed it wasn’t aware of the prison proposal prior to Monday morning’s public announcement and has sought government answers.
A Catholic Diocese of Wollongong spokesman said its office was first approached by a Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) representative – via a voicemail message – about the proposal on Monday afternoon.
“The parish that owns the cemetery contacted them back on Tuesday asking that they put in writing any correspondence in relation to the proposed plan,” he said.
The spokesman said, in an email received on Wednesday morning, CSNSW stated “although the land identified sits on either side of the road used to access the cemetery and around the cemetery, the project does not take any of the road or the cemetery”.
“Nevertheless, the representative did acknowledge that our parish and family members of those resting in the cemetery may have some concerns and may raise matters with us,” he said.
The cemetery was created circa 1830 and the earliest inscription is dated 1831.
It comprises an “old cemetery”, a more recent monumental area and a modern lawn cemetery, in which the parish still allocates plots.
An ashes garden has also recently been completed.
A CSNSW spokeswoman reiterated the investigations were preliminary and no decision had been made.
“We recognise that the cemetery is an important emotional, historical and cultural site and can assure the community that any development would be absolutely respectful of this,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dapto Leagues boss David Hiscox said his club, too, wasn’t consulted. Part of the club’s Kembla Grange golf course land sits in the proposed site.
Mr Hiscox said he first read about the plan, and saw a map of the proposed site, on the Mercury’s website about lunch time on Monday.
A call from CSNSW came a couple of hours later, he said, and a meeting followed at 11am on Tuesday.
“It just seemed a bit weird that … politicians are in the paper saying varying things whether it’s good or not good and making an announcement of a potential facility, but all the people talking about it don’t actually own any of the land,” he said.
“To me, it’s like saying I’m moving into your house before I’ve bought it.”
The CSNSW spokeswoman said relevant landowners had been contacted, but it “would be inappropriate to release details of those private discussions.”