Geraldton cemetery stalwart retires

Francesca MannMidwest Times
After 27 years of service, Barbara Sheilds has left the Geraldton Cemetery Board.
Camera IconAfter 27 years of service, Barbara Sheilds has left the Geraldton Cemetery Board. Credit: Francesca Mann, Geraldton Guardian

Barbara Sheilds has always believed the best way to make change is by getting right in the thick of it.

And that’s exactly what she did when she joined the Geraldton Cemetery Board 27 years ago in the hopes of improving the “dreadful” state of the cemetery in Utakarra.

“When I buried my mum here, the cemetery was in such a mess,” she said.

“It wasn’t nice to bury people here ... and it got worse every time you came.

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“The board called for nominations and I thought rather than squeak in the background, I’d get in there and squeak.”

Nearly three decades later, the 80-year-old has officially stepped down from the board.

Earlier this month, the board celebrated Ms Sheilds’ years of dedication and hard work with an intimate afternoon tea.

During her time as a board member, the cemetery has transformed into a tranquil place for people to remember their loved ones and say their final goodbyes.

“It looks damn nice now,” Ms Sheilds said.

“As we improved the cemetery, that encouraged people who have graves here to look after the place.

“It has been quite rewarding.”

The condolence lounge and the cremator have also been upgraded and extended.

But the mother of three’s involvement in the community has not been limited to the cemetery — 21 years ago, Ms Sheilds and her late husband Vaughan saved an old building in Nanson from the wrecking ball and transformed it into a museum.

The grandmother of two also worked with Meals on Wheels for 40 years as a co-ordinator and a driver. In 2013, Ms Sheilds received a Medal of the Order of Australia for her tireless commitment to the Geraldton community.

Geraldton Cemetery Board chairman Max Correy, who joined in 1988, said Ms Sheilds’ extensive experience had helped transform the cemetery and the board.

“You’ve been a mentor and a guiding light and we’re very lucky to have had you,” he said.

“Thank you, Barbara, for the wealth of knowledge, expertise and service you’ve provided.

“What we have now is the flow-on effect of your efforts.”

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