The cost of repairs to restore gravesites at the Auburn cemetery could be as much as $500,000 - but Premier Jay Weatherill has promised to provide significant financial support to assist Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council and affected families.
The commitment was welcome news to the connections of the nearly 50 graves which were desecrated sometime between Wednesday, November 1, and Saturday morning (yesterday).
Mr Weatherill made the announcement via Twitter last night, a pledge which was confirmed by Regional Development Minister and local Frome MP Geoff Brock during a visit to the site today.
“The premier’s made a commitment to give financial support to restoring, repairing, whatever we’ve got to do here,” Mr Brock said.
“But that’s not going to change the damage that’s been done to people emotionally.”
In an emotional address to media, Mr Brock said he shared the pain of the families which had had their relatives’ graves desecrated.
“We’ve all lost people, I’ve got my parents in a cemetery at Pirie … my little grandson drowned eight years ago, he was only 18 months old.
“My daughter still goes and visits there, as do we.
“We have people there that actually move stuff out, they might take a toy that they’ve put there or flowers, and I know how she (his daughter) gets, all the rest of the family do too.
“I think I can feel how these people are doing it.”
He apologised for his evident emotion.
“When I first came here this morning I saw people crying and it’s very hard to actually face.”
Mr Brock was visibly angry that such an act could occur.
“These people who have done this really need to be taken to account.
“It’s alright for them to come in here and have a bit of a lark around … (but) I don’t think people understand until they've got somebody here and then someone comes along and decimates or damages it.”
He said if the perpetrators were caught, they would be dealt with in the “most severe way”.
“The premier and the attorney-general (have) already indicated that we’ll make every attempt to make them pay for the damage here,” he said.
“But that’s not the issue, the issue is the emotional trauma that’s happening to these families here … this is supposed to be a place of rest, not a place where people come in and disturb it.”
The cost of repairs was yet to be finalised.
Yesterday, SA Police estimated the damages at between $200,000 to $300,000, but Mr Brock said some had suggested figures between $400,000 to $500,000.
He couldn’t confirm what financial contribution would be made by the state government, but said he was confident the premier would stick to his word and provide a “very substantial portion” to assist council in the clean-up phase.
Mayor Allan Aughey confirmed council would meet first thing on Monday morning to determine its next steps.
“The first thing is to identify those grave sites that have been vandalised and ascertain whether there are any next of kin or friends around who can assist us,” he said.
“As part of the process we’ll be asking for people who know that they have damaged sites here to register with the council - this will speed things up.”
He said his main concern - among many - was for those grave sites which had no living relatives to represent them.
“This is all new territory for our council, we’ve never faced anything like this in the past and so it’s going to take up a lot of time and resources.
“It’s going to be emotionally challenging for our officers who are dealing with it as well, so we need to keep our team together and work as efficiently and empathetically as we can with those who have been affected.”
Since the senseless act had come to light, he said it had affected every member “whether they have someone interred here or not”.
“They all feel very aggrieved by what’s taken place because we’re all human beings, we’re all South Australians, and we’re going to end up in a cemetery somewhere along the line, or our ashes scattered, so this strikes to the very heart of humanity.”
There had been no further information from police as to who had committed the vandalism.
Mr Aughey said there was some speculation but no firm evidence or information thus far.
“My only message is if you are a perpetrator, put your hand up now, because that is the only way in part you will be able to ameliorate what has happened here.
“We’ll never be able to relieve the pain and anguish and the sheer vandalism that has occurred here, and there is a historic cost with the loss of so many historical monuments as well.”