Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council officers undertake damage assessment at Auburn cemetery

The process of assessing full damage costs at the Auburn cemetery has started today, with the assistance of local monumental masons.

Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council Mayor Allan Aughey met with administration staff and acting chief executive John Coombe this morning to establish a practical working plan going forward.

He had also had discussions with local police.

Mr Aughey said they had worked out “a lot of the technicalities” and decided their best role was to coordinate and administrate restoration efforts and make contact with next of kin for affected sites.

“Our first step is to coordinate the identification of all 46 sites and establish whether there is a next of kin,” he said.

“We are going to work with local monumental masons to quantify the full extent and cost of damages – in fact, our officers should be out there now conducting a detailed assessment.”

Locals clean up damage to their relatives' graves.

Locals clean up damage to their relatives' graves.

The next step would be to coordinate the “many calls” council had coming in from relatives checking to see if their relevant sites had been affected.

Mr Aughey said the cost of repair works would vary from small damages to extensive rebuilds.

Initial police estimates were between $200,000 to $300,000 – but others had speculated the cost could be closer to $500,000.

“The scale of cost will be very wide,” he said.

“This process needs the expertise of our local masons to quantify that – that will give us a more accurate estimate.

“We’ve had a very practical and valuable meeting this morning.

“It’s going to take time to reach a final cost. We want to resolve this as quickly as possible, but it needs to be done lawfully and empathetically.”

Some graves were so old that their 99-year leases had been completed and identifying next of kin could prove very difficult, which would pose further challenges as council worked to retain the heritage and significance of these historical graves.

The headstone of James Dunlop, who died in 1880, was one of the many to be puched over and smashed.

The headstone of James Dunlop, who died in 1880, was one of the many to be puched over and smashed.

“As a community we need to recognise the importance (of these sites) as aesthetic historical pieces,” Mr Aughey said.

“This is where we need to work with our local masons to assess if we can restore them, would it be possible to reproduce them, and what are the comparative costs.

“Cemeteries are more than just a resting place. They have a historical significance to our communities and to visitors who come here searching for their relatives.

“Our aim is to get it done as efficiently and respectfully as we can.”

Premier Jay Weatherill has promised “significant financial support” from the state government to assist with repairs and restoration.