The once-proud church building at Sandleton may have been demolished, but thanks to the efforts of a team of locals who have been restoring the site, the precious memories there have been preserved.
The church was closed in 1955 and was knocked down in 2016 after years of deterioration. What was a mass of stones and rubble has now been transformed into a welcoming and orderly scene, featuring a striking stone wall constructed with salvaged limestone from the demolished church.
The restoration and preservation of the area has been a passionate family project for Bob Page, whose family connections to the church stretch back generations. Bob’s ancestors, the Frost family, first settled at Sandleton in the 1870s and were part of the original church congregation. Bob was child when he first attended the church in 1950, and several of his family members are buried in the cemetery.
Bob embarked on the project together with his sons, Jamie Page and Pastor Greg Page (Immanuel Lutheran Church, Novar Gardens) and Delton Schiller (Murray Bridge Lutheran Homes). They also had a team of volunteers assist at a number of working bees, at times camping out on site for several days.
It took some time to conceptualise the distinctive stone cemetery wall. The finished product is a labour of love, standing at an impressive 42 linear metres.
“Several generous donations were received toward the project, giving the team scope to consider their options for the cemetery wall,” said Pastor Greg.
The team had pondered a professionally built stone wall, but abandoned the idea when it came in well over the available budget.
“After significant prayer and investigation, a solution was found using gabion wire cages, which are usually used for retaining walls,” said Pastor Greg.
While the gabion cages gave some structure, they were not designed to hold the weight of the limestone being used, so every stone had to be hand-chosen and stacked inside the cages. The nearly 30 tonne of limestone was loaded onto trailers at the church site, transported the one hundred metre distance to the cemetery, offloaded into wheelbarrows and carried to the empty cages, where the volunteer ‘stackers’ then placed them inside. The larger stones had to be broken into smaller pieces with a sledgehammer or trimmed to fit.
“God has undoubtedly blessed this project,” said Pastor Greg. “After months striving to get this wall built from within my own capabilities I finally remembered to hand it over to God – within days we had donations, materials and volunteers. The wall was completed within weeks, and we had fun doing it. The look on Dad’s face says it all, God is good!”
The group also worked to clean up and level the cemetery site and Bob has had name plaques made for every unmarked grave, bringing dignity back to those at risk of being forgotten. The team is now considering further work, including rebuilding the bell tower at the entrance to the cemetery, in memory of the church building.
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