TIME FOR A CHANGE: Outgoing Merbein Cemetery Trust secretary Chris Knight with former president, Elizabeth Maffei.

By JOHN DOOLEY

IN 1991, when Mildura’s Chris Knight took on the role of secretary of the Merbein Cemetery Trust, new governance regulations were introduced and the records and administrative matters relating to the cemetery were in need of updating on a large scale. 

Now, after more than 21 years of service, Mrs Knight is calling it a day, hoping to put her feet up a little, and when the COVID-19 restrictions ease doing some more travel.

Apart from updating records and ensuring compliance in governance, Mrs Knight said the most important issue she and the Trust have had to deal with was a loss of some of their land.

“The biggest issue since I’ve been here was when the Department of Sustainability and Environment decided that we had some endangered flora in the grounds of the cemetery, and they ‘removed’ several acres of our land from us, which is now fenced off,” she said. 

“This caused great angst in our community. We’re now going through the process of obtaining some further land on the other side of the cemetery, but that has been an ongoing issue since 2005. 

“It has now finally reached the Victorian Government’s Solicitor’s office, who are going to advocate on our behalf.

“We’re hopeful that we will have sufficient land to look after our needs into the future.”

Mrs Knight’s role involved her in every aspect of the cemetery’s activities, importantly the arrangements for funerals and burials, a responsibility which saw her on call 24/7.

“I was the ‘go-to’ person for people wishing to choose a plot in the cemetery, the funeral directors dealt with me directly to arrange all of the funerals, and I would organise contractors, keep all the records and pay the bills,” Mrs Knight said.

“I have basically worked from my home office, but we are hoping to set up an office at the cemetery – that’s on the books for this year.

“When I commenced, I faced a situation where a lot of our records were lost in a fire at a former secretary’s home, and so I was keen to get an office at the cemetery. However, we now have a fire-proof filling cabinet for our records.”

Mrs Knight said that she, and the Mildura and District Genealogical Society and their former president Lyn Grant, had worked for five years to research the cemetery’s history.

“Lyn and I spent hours, for years out here on the ground, looking at every single grave, the earliest of which dates back to 1914,” she said. 

All positions associated with the Merbein Cemetery Trust are voluntary, with the secretary granted an honorarium to offset out-of-pocket costs.

“Gina Monteleone, who has stepped in when I have been on leave, will now fill my role permanently,” Mrs Knight said.

Long-time Merbein resident, Elizabeth Maffei 88, retired as president of the cemetery trust almost three years ago and is now stepping down from her role as a trustee.

“I decided that after 29 years it was time to step down from my role which I have enjoyed immensely,” Elizabeth said.

“I first came to Mildura to work as an announcer at Radio 3MA in 1954, so I have been here for 66 years – I’m almost a local!”

Mrs Maffei paid tribute to Mrs Knight’s invaluable commitment and contribution to the community.

“Chris has been a wonderful secretary and the community can be proud of her contribution,” she said.

“We are going to miss Chris enormously, and they’re going to be big shoes to fill, but Gina will do an excellent job.”