A major restoration of Bairnsdale’s heritage-listed cenotaph moved another step forward last Friday with a de-consecration ceremony held ahead of the beginning of site work.
Minister for Veterans Affairs and local MP, Darren Chester, announced in March the Federal Government would contribute more than $137,000 for the cenotaph to undergo a major restoration, while East Gippsland Shire is funding the first two stages of the three-stage project.
“Unfortunately, the cenotaph is in poor condition due to its age and past attempts to repair the structure. Pieces of stone have fallen away and there are also a number of significant cracks that hint at further structural issues,” Mr Chester said.
The funding for stage three of the restoration was secured through the Federal Government’s Saluting Their Service Commemorative Grants Program. East Gippsland Shire Council is funding the first two stages, allocating $228,000 in its 2019-20 budget to the project.
The Bairnsdale Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial, as it was known, was constructed in 1922. It was paid for by public conscription following a fundraising campaign led by Fawkner Cameron Yeates, son of James Yeates, proprietor of the Bairnsdale Advertiser.
FC Yeates was known in the Bairnsdale community as ‘Sam’ and in his day was a colourful character in the community. During his time at the front in World War I he was wounded three times, and returned to Bairnsdale to later become the president of the Bairnsdale RSL.
A committee was appointed with Archdeacon Young as chairman. Mr TC Inches was appointed architect. The foundation stone was laid by the shire president, Councillor Taylor, on April 3, 1922.
Others present at the service included the Dean of Sydney, Reverend AE Talbot, Archdeacon Young, Reverend GS Brodie, Rector of St John’s Bairnsdale and Captain Norman of the Salvation Army.
During the service, a copper casket was placed in a cavity in the memorial. This contained a parchment listing the names of the Fallen, a service badge, copies of the local and metropolitan daily newspapers, and one of each of the coins of the realm, presented by Mr P. Willis of the Union Bank. The casket was soldered to the memorial by Mr E. Liddle.
Once completed, the memorial was dedicated at a consecration service and ceremony by the Governor General of Australia, Lord Forster, held on October 10, 1922.
Consecration is the setting aside of land, buildings, monuments, and memorials for sacred use in perpetuity. Consecration can only be undertaken by a Bishop.
George Harvard Cranswick, Second Bishop of Gippsland, consecrated the memorial. The committee’s decision to consecrate the memorial cannot have been taken lightly. Archdeacon Young, the chairman, could well have used his influence in this regard.
Consecration is put into effect by a ceremony and prayer held at the structure and by the Bishop signing the sentence (licence) of consecration. A consecrated structure comes under the jurisdiction of the Diocesan Bishop and no alterations may be made without his authority.
While consecration of memorials in the UK is relatively common, the consecration of a memorial in Australia is incredibly rare.
It is believed there are just four. It was done “because no building intended to be used regularly for the celebration of divine service is to be used for that purpose unless the building has been licensed or consecrated by the Church”.
In 1922 it was the intention that a full communion service would be held twice each year (regularly) on ANZAC Sunday and on Remembrance Day. The practice of holding full Anglican services at the cenotaph lapsed during, or shortly after, World War II.
For the restoration project to proceed the consecration of the cenotaph had to be revoked. This can only be undertaken by the Diocesan Bishop, and was duly carried out by the Right Reverend, Dr Richard Treloar, 15th Bishop of Gippsland.
Invited special guests representing the community and church witnessed the de-consecration of the cenotaph by the Right Reverend Dr Richard Treloar, Bishop of Gippsland. The ceremony had to be performed prior to the cenotaph being refurbished.
The official party included secretary of Bairnsdale RSL Sub-branch, David Lewien, president of the RSL, Allan Pappin CVO AM, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personal, Darren Chester, Archdeacon and Rector of St Johns Bairnsdale, Brenda Burney, Right Reverend Bishop of Gippsland, Dr Richard Treloar, East Gippsland Shire mayor, Cr John White, senior vice president of the RSL, Ray Rock, local MP, Tim Bull, RSL vice president, Rick O’Haire, and East Gippsland Shire’s Mark Burnett.
The words ‘The Citizens tribute to honor (sic) the memory of those from Bairnsdale Shire who during the Great War, 1914-18 fell in the cause of Liberty and Justice’, were published on the day of the opening of the cenotaph in 1922.
Mr Chester said there were obvious parallels between the challenging times created by the coronavirus and the recovery from both world wars.
“Our challenge as a community is to keep working together, just like our nation rallied to support the troops during times of conflict,” Mr Chester said.
“We need to have hope and confidence that better days will come, and we need to all work together, to never let our mates down and show the resilience that previous generations have demonstrated.
“These are difficult times but our community has overcome many serious challenges in the past.”
The cenotaph was unveiled in 1922 to remember local people who lost their lives during the Great War. Plaques to commemorate those who died during subsequent conflicts were added over the decades.
The Bairnsdale cenotaph, which is included on the Heritage Council of Victoria’s heritage register, is one of only four cenotaphs in Australia to be consecrated. Friday’s ceremony removed the religious blessing to enable the restoration work to proceed.
“Australia has a proud history of remembering those who have served our nation, their families and those who wear the military uniform today,” Mr Chester said.
“When the restoration project is finished, Bairnsdale’s cenotaph will continue to be a fitting place to remember and honour those locals who served our country, and serve as the focus for local commemorative events such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day for years to come.”
IMAGE: The Bairnsdale heritage-listed cenotaph was de-consecrated at a ceremony held last Friday. PICTURED: Secretary of Bairnsdale RSL Sub-branch, David Lewien, president of the RSL, Allan Pappin CVO AM, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personal, Darren Chester, Archdeacon and Rector of St Johns Bairnsdale, Brenda Burney, Right Reverend Bishop of Gippsland, Dr Richard Treloar, East Gippsland Shire mayor, Cr John White, senior vice president of the RSL, Ray Rock, local MP, Tim Bull, RSL vice president, Rick O’Haire, and East Gippsland Shire’s Mark Burnett. K366-481