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Varroville cemetery fast-tracked with end to NSW Government stand-off

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Photo: Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust CEO Lauren Hargrave and stakeholders, including Minister Steve Kamper, at the Varroville site. Photo: CMCT
Photo: Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust CEO Lauren Hargrave and stakeholders, including Minister Steve Kamper, at the Varroville site. Photo: CMCT

Construction of Sydney’s newest cemetery will resume after the NSW Labor Government resolved a stand-off between its Catholic operator and the previous government.

Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper signed the letter of appointment on 16 June for Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust to run the new Macarthur Memorial Park at Varroville in south-west Sydney.

Completion of the cemetery will be fast-tracked and is expected to be completed in February 2025.

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With 136,000 burial plots over 113 hectares it will help to solve the critical shortage of cemetery space across Sydney, with cemeteries such as Rookwood, Liverpool, and Woronora almost full.

“The former government’s indecision and infighting left the cemeteries sector in crisis,” a spokesperson for Mr Kamper said.

“Within three months of taking office, we have provided certainty to the sector with our commitment to the two-operator model, we have appointed a new administrator through a merit-based approach, and we have unlocked future burial sites to deal with the shortage crisis.

“We are getting on with fixing the mess.”

The new cemetery is supported by other faith groups including the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Muslim Cemeteries Board.

It ends a dispute with the previous NSW Government which in 2021 sought to dismantle the Catholic cemeteries trust and merge it with four underperforming trusts into one government-operated entity called One Crown—now renamed to Metropolitan Memorial Parklands.

Nearly 20,000 people signed the Save Our Graves petition to the NSW Legislative Assembly, which deputy CEO of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria said “showed the former government loud and clear that religious groups have a role to play in honouring the dead and caring for those who’ve lost a loved one.”

Mr Furlong told The Catholic Weekly that the “hesitant and divisive” approach of the past has given way to a more collaborative approach, and that he welcomed the appointment of new Metropolitan Memorial Parklands administrator Ken Morrison.

He said the two-operator model made commercial sense, especially for faiths that prefer burials as opposed to cremations, seeing as cremations make up 80 per cent of other operators’ services.

“But this path wasn’t easy,” Mr Furlong said.

“We were accused of greed and misuse of funds despite being acknowledged as ‘best in show.’

“Unlike many of our bureaucrats and a number of our politicians who should have known better, it’s startling how much sectarian bias we encountered.

“So we applaud this new beginning with new-century attitudes from Minister Kamper and look forward to creating good working relationships with all.”

Current chief executive officer Lauren Hardgrove said that with walking tracks, lakes, a cafe, sculpture park, community lawns and boardwalks Macarthur Memorial Park Varroville will be an “innovative, sustainable multi-denominational” destination.

“There will be modern function spaces to accommodate both intimate gatherings and larger groups surrounded by scenic open landscape,” she said.

She told media that the organisation has been sensitive to site neighbours’ concerns about the impact on the Campbelltown scenic hills region.

“It’s not a Victorian-style cemetery, it’s going to look like a peaceful botanical parkland,” she said.

CMCT board member Danny Casey told The Catholic Weekly that the occasion showed a “victory for common sense” and that it was particularly pleasing as the recently-departed former CEO Peter O’Meara worked “so hard for many, many years to see this day come”.

Mr Kamper likewise paid tribute to Mr O’Meara, saying he was a fierce campaigner who “never shied away from providing his honest opinion.”

“Peter was determined in his advocacy to deliver burial services for all faiths. His presence, candour and heartfelt advocacy will be sorely missed,” Mr Kamper’s spokesperson said.

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