Providing peace of mind

Published on 20 September 2022

Gerringong Cemetery with Aly Hodgekiss and Guy Stearn

Kiama Council operates three cemeteries – Kiama (Bombo), Gerringong and Jamberoo. Last financial year we had around 100 burials and ash placements.

Our team handles enquiries and bookings for plots, niches and burials, updating records in cemeteries as well as opening and closing of the graves and maintaining the cemeteries. We spoke to Alyson Hodgekiss – Executive Assistant to the Director of Engineering and Works, who manages our three cemeteries – and our Parks & Gardens Coordinator Guy Stearn about the work they do.

What’s your role in cemetery management?

Alyson: I respond to all cemetery enquiries, including sales of burial plots, ash plots and niches, and helping people locate existing and historical plots.

I liaise with funeral directors, families and our Parks & Gardens Coordinator for burial bookings, and organise plaques for families for modular niches. I also conduct assessment of headstone and monument permits.

I update the cemetery administrative records, including ash placements done by the crematorium, and keep our cemetery maps and plans up to date.

Planning new beams and ash placement areas is also an important part of my role.

What does the outdoor team do?  

Guy: People usually book with Aly seven to ten days in advance, which gives us time to inspect the plot and organise the resources. Aly does an excellent job and her attention to detail makes our lives easier operationally and gives us confidence we are digging in the right place.

How do you assign jobs?  

Guy: Because we’re a small council, it’s the same team doing parks & gardens maintenance and cemeteries. For example, the same machine and operator that digs graves also excavates road drainage and performs clean up after bad weather. However, burials take priority over any other maintenance work and Council recently invested in a second excavator, which certainly makes the juggle a little easier.

What’s the process for obtaining a burial plot or niche?

Alyson: Normally, if a full burial plot is required, the funeral director will organise it, but families can also come to us direct. 

To reserve or purchase a plot or niche, people can call or email Council, or book a face-to-face appointment with me at our Administration Centre.

I will then chat with people to establish what kind of plot they would like, at which cemetery, the preferred location in the cemetery (eg: near existing family or friends), and their budget.

Once I’ve given people the options and a map of the cemetery clearly showing the available spots, I always encourage them to visit and take a look for themselves.

Do people generally book in advance?

Alyson: At Kiama and Jamberoo Cemeteries, most of our burials and ash placements are for people who have purchased and/or reserved in advance.

At Gerringong, we can only sell full burial plots on an ‘at needs’ basis because it is nearing full capacity.

What do you find challenging about the role?

Alyson: It’s hard seeing people hurting and missing their loved ones.

Also, this year there has been a lot of inclement weather, which meant some burials were delayed due to sodden ground that was unsafe to excavate, particularly at Kiama’s sea-level Bombo Cemetery.

It is very unfortunate when this happens and we appreciate families’ patience and understanding. Thankfully, we have always managed to find suitable outcomes for everyone involved.

You’re in touch with people during an emotional time. How do you manage that?

Alyson: We all recognise that people booking a plot or niche are usually going through quite a hard time. They are often grief stricken, and it is difficult to think straight and take in information when we lose a loved one.

I do my best to guide and help families by giving them their options as clearly and simply as I can. It is very important to me to have clear paths of communication with the family, be understanding and maintain empathy.

 It is also important to have good levels of communication with the outdoor cemetery crew and funeral director. We have an excellent outdoor crew at Kiama Council, they are very experienced and do an awesome job.

Guy: We are the team behind the scenes making a difficult time possible for families in grief.  It’s important to us to ensure that when families visit their loved ones in the cemetery, the place is as well-presented as possible.

Alyson: For me, knowing that I have helped families in their time of need is heart warming, and families are always grateful for my help.

Photo: Alyson Hodgekiss with Guy Stearn at Gerringong Cemetery

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