Bill’s half century of cemetery service

Bill Henebery at the gates to the old cemetery.

With 50 years of service under his belt, Bill Henebery has stepped down from the Sale Cemetery Trust.

Bill joined the Trust following the death of Ern Ronchi in 1973. In those days, most Trust members represented a religious denomination: these days the Trust members are individuals who have nominated for a position.

Bill recalls he initially made some alternative suggestions but Father Shanahan, who he had gone to school with, persisted, and Bill eventually agreed.

The Trust at the time included a couple of familiar faces – then Chair Rex Castles and later chair and long-serving member Alan MacLachlan. Bill was impressed with his first meeting and soon settled in.

He had an even longer association with the cemetery as his father, although not a Trust member, had long attended working bees – particularly the spring burn – and Bill had often accompanied him, an involvement Bill continued to enjoy while on the Trust.

Bill has seen numerous changes in his time. The modern monumental section began with Ern Ronchi’s burial, and the lawn cemetery was just starting. Today, there’s a second monumental section to the north and the eastern lawn section is nearing capacity.

The new Memorial Park to the north west has the first lawn sections surveyed and the park will also include a children’s area and garden areas for ashes.

Bill has worked with many excellent Trust members and staff, but suggests the grounds have never looked better than they are at present under groundskeeper Jenny Hurley.

“It’ll always be in good condition while she’s here,” Bill said.

“It’s a beautiful cemetery. Wherever we’ve been, I’ve always looked at the different cemeteries. You see a lot of good ones and a lot of pretty ordinary ones, but nothing really to compare with here.”

Reflecting on his time with the Trust, Bill said he’s “enjoyed the stay enormously.”

“I’ve been in a lot of things but the Cemetery Trust was always really interesting and we were able to do things,” he said.

“We’ve had so many good people on the Trust for a few years at a time – some lasted 15 – 20 years. It’s just hard to believe I’ve been here 50 years.”

Bill and his wife Maureen continue to live at ‘Wattlevale’, Kilmany, where Bill was born. His family have been there since around 1921 and Bill eventually took over the farm after his two older brothers chose to move north. These days, he has leased the land but still checks the water and stock regularly.

Although Bill can no longer drive because of a ‘bung’ leg, he gets around the farm for his daily check on a buggy and says his health is great otherwise and he shows an interest in everything he can.

“Life’s been marvellous for me and I’ve got a wonderful wife who’s an outstanding cook – really fantastic. Maureen was a Ruthberg from Boisdale and her mother is still alive and just celebrated her 104th birthday. We have four children, three girls in Sale and a son in Melbourne,” Bill said.

The cemetery is only one of the organisations Bill has served for many years. He jokes that he was ‘born’ to the Agricultural Society, attending shows with his father as a youngster and later as a committee member.

“I’m coming up to my 83rd Sale Show – dad used to say that mum always entered so many things, he can remember taking me in the basket and looking after me while mum did such and such,” he said.

“I’ve never missed a show until 2019 when I was in hospital, and then 2020 and 2021 were abandoned because of COVID and then we were back on it last year.”

Bill Henebery has retired after serving 50 years on Sale Cemetery Trust. Photos: Contributed.

In Kilmany, he was involved in many organisations.

“At one stage we added up that there were 16 different organisations that I could be invited to for a meeting. Not all clubs, but also four sheep breeding organisations as well as Kilmany organisations and the Agricultural Society,” he said.

In the last couple of decades the list has been reduced to four: the Cemetery, the Ag Society. Kilmany Hall committee which he joined soon after he left school, serving 43 years as president, and the Catholic Serra Club which he joined when it formed in 1979.

There were numerous local groups he was involved with at Kilmany. All sports: cricket, tennis, badminton – he recalls the Monday night practice.

“We would get something like 30 or 40 young people there for practice – you’d be lucky to get a hit but it was terrific. The district was full of young people, totally different now.”

One year he and his partner, the late Heather Trembath (nee Hamilton) won the Gippsland title.

Tennis and cricket teams are also much reduced from his days with amalgamations and other changes to keep the games viable.

Bill says he’s sorry in a way that he can’t continue with his involvement with the cemetery but the Trust, as are many other local organisations, is extremely grateful for his long service and valuable contributions over half a century. A well deserved retirement!