Loved ones ‘cranky as hell’ over threat to West Dapto cemetery

West Wollongong woman Judith Conran, 84, has the ashes of her husband, Edward, interred at the West Dapto Catholic Cemetery. She is upset with the government wanting to build a jail in the area. Picture: Adam McLean
West Wollongong woman Judith Conran, 84, has the ashes of her husband, Edward, interred at the West Dapto Catholic Cemetery. She is upset with the government wanting to build a jail in the area. Picture: Adam McLean

An elderly, widowed West Wollongong woman has been left distraught after finding out the cemetery containing her husband’s ashes was right in the middle of the land at Kembla Grange being looked at for a prison.

Judith Conran, 83, and her daughter, Alison Potter, have reacted angrily to this week’s news the state government was exploring land around the historic West Dapto Catholic Cemetery as the potential site for a new maximum-security jail.

An indicative map released by Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) on Monday, showed the proposed site – which covers about 2.4 square kilometres and has an 8km perimeter – had the near-200-year-old burial site within its boundaries. 

The Kembla Grange site where it's proposed a new correctional facility will be built. Picture: supplied.

The Kembla Grange site where it's proposed a new correctional facility will be built. Picture: supplied.

Mrs Conran was left distressed when she saw the map published in the Mercury. Although she can’t visit the cemetery often, due to her age and the fact she no longer drives, it holds a special place in her heart.

Mrs Conran’s husband, Edward, or “Ted” as he was more commonly known, died in 2014, aged 82.

It was Mr Conran’s final wish to be laid to rest at the West Dapto cemetery, alongside his mother.

His ashes were buried in a twin plot in the cemetery’s rose garden in November and, when the time comes, Mrs Conran would like to join in him.

“You don’t know what’s going on,” she said of the limited detail surrounding the prison proposal.

“I’m just worried, very worried.”

Ms Potter said she was “cranky as hell” when she saw the prison site included the cemetery land.

“It’s unbelievable that a cemetery that can still be having people laid to rest in it has just been basically put into this proposal without even asking the people who have family buried in there that they’re okay with it,” she said.

Ms Potter even went as far as labelling the government “grave robbers”.

She also cited the new homes being built in the area.

“If you do the crime, you do the time; but you don’t have to do it in a built-up area,” she said.

The historic Catholic church-owned cemetery occupies one of five pieces of land within the proposed jail site.

The pieces of land belong to three separate landholders, the others being BlueScope Steel and the Dapto Leagues Club. 

All landholders have said they weren’t aware of the prison plan prior to Monday’s public announcement.

Asked about the cemetery this week, a CSNSW spokeswoman reiterated no decision had been made.

She said CSNSW recognised the cemetery was an important site and “any development would be absolutely respectful of this”.

A Catholic Diocese of Wollongong spokesman said CSNSW had told the church that although the cemetery sat within the land, the project “does not take any of the road or the cemetery”.

Read more