As a child, Leeanne Campbell never knew why the Bylong Valley was a favourite destination for her father’s Sunday drives with his family.
It was only when her aunt told her of proposals to relocate the bodies of her great-grandparents and great-uncle from the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Cemetery to make way for KEPCO’s proposed open cut coal mine that she discovered her family’s connection with the area.
The discovery sent Leanne’s daughter Kimberley Coward on a search for her family roots in the area, resulting in their visit to Bylong on Saturday.
Leeanne and Kimberley planned to visit the graves of Leeanne’s great-grandparents Hugh and Susan Cobrey, and great- uncle Gerard Cobrey at the cemetery, as well as showing their support for the Battle of Bylong.
Kimberley and Leeanne said discovering the family connection to the Bylong Valley at the point where it was about to be lost was “bitter sweet”.
“It’s beautiful – too beautiful a place for a coal mine,” Leeanne said.
Kimberley said the proposal to exhume bodies to make way for the mine was “morally wrong”.
“How can you dig up people’s graves?” she said. “Rest in Peace is meant to be Rest in Peace for ever, not Rest In Peace until you get dug up.
“They worked here on the land to shape the community and now they are going to be removed from it.”
Michael Cobrey and Marie Vangelov (nee Cobrey), the grandchildren of Hugh Francis and Susan Cobrey, were also visiting Bylong on Saturday.
Michael and Marie, who grew up in the Bylong Valley and attended Upper Bylong School, returned from their homes near Newcastle to make what they expected would be their final visit to the graves of their grandparents and cousins at the cemetery as well as the Cobrey’s former property “Innisfail”.
The Cobreys said they were shocked and surprised to learn about the proposal to relocate the graves in the cemetery.
“We would prefer that they stay buried in Bylong, even if they are moved,” Michael said.
The church was sold by the Catholic Diocese in 2008 and changed hands a number of times before being bought by KEPCO.
KEPCO has commissioned an expert to investigate and assess the heritage of the burials within the grounds of the former church and to gather information regarding the identity of any unmarked burials and the names of relatives and descendants of the deceased.
KEPCO Bylong Australia’s chief operating officer, Bill Vatovec told the Mudgee Guardian earlier this year that KEPCO has been consulting directly with the descendants and will continue to do so throughout the assessment of the Development Application for the project.