Home About Us News & Events History Issues - Cemetery
small picture
About Us
News & Events
Issues - Cemetery
Join Us
 If you have any feedback on how we can make our new website better please do contact us. We would like to hear from you. 

[Note: This page was updated on 5th November 2019]


Outrage over Varroville Crown Cemetery (aka Macarthur Memorial Park)

To the dismay of local and NSW heritage communities, on 15 July 2019 the 'Independent' Planning Commission (IPC) directed the Sydney Western City Planning Panel (SWCPP) to approve a development application (DA) for a 136,000-grave Crown Cemetery at  Varroville in Campbelltown's Scenic Hills Environmental Protection Area to address a shortfall of burial space in Sydney. The cemetery is being managed by the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) with 45% of the space reserved for Catholics (though this did not appear in the DA). In justifying its decision, the IPC ignored community claims that a 2017 government report showed that there was no burial shortfall in Sydney's West, South West OR in the Macarthur Area as claimed, but rather in Sydney's Eastern, Northern and Central Districts. 

See report (p.39): Metropolitan Sydney Cemetery Capacity Report November 2017

There has been local outcry over this injustice. An information search shows there was plenty of Crown land elsewhere to cater for cemeteries, yet the Berejiklian Government has instead allowed the CMCT, supported by other vested interests, to destroy an inconic greenspace that has been preserved in state planning (including in the recent Greater Sydney Commission District Plans) for 45 years.

Federal MP for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander spoke in the Federation Chamber of Parliament on 24 July expressing his 'disgust' at the collusion between the NSW state government and its 'developer mates' at the 'big end of town'.

MP for Macarthur speaks in Parliament: Varroville Cemetery

Dr. Freelander was supported in his outrage by Campbelltown's Mayor and state MPs for Macquarie Fields and Campbelltown.

ABC News 16 July 2019: Outrage over Campbelltown Cemetery approval

Sydney Morning Herald: 'Green space buffer': Sydney Cemetery approved as Penrith plan halted

The Australian 16 July 2019: Cemetery plan eases religious worries

More media:

ABC News 16 July 2019: NSW Independent Planning Commission orders approval of Campbelltown's Varroville cemetery

Macarthur Advertiser:
Editorial - Scenic Hills Betrayed

South West Voice 16 July 2019: There goes the Scenic Hills

Destruction of state heritage

There has also been outcry from state heritage organisations as the cemetery surrounds state heritage listed Varro Ville Homestead sitting on eight acres in the middle of the cemetery land (and privately owned). The heritage signficance of the Homestead relies on the surrounding land which the cemetery intends to destroy.  The NSW Heritage Council (NSWHC) opposed the cemetery when it was first proposed in 2013 and again in 2016 when the land was being rezoned, but was ignored. Then in 2017, after a lengthy community consultation that included four state heritage organisations, it recommended that most of the cemetery land be listed on the State Heritage Register.  This recommendation was endorsed by a separate panel of the IPC in Feburary this year.

See IPC review panel report confirming the Heritage Council's recommendation to list the land on the State Heritage Register: 
Commission Review for Minister for Heritage 22 February 2019

The Heritage Minister was required by law to make the decision within 14 days of receiving each recommendation. Yet, despite representations from state heritage organisations and from the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (acting for the Varro Ville Homestead owners) and despite their legal obligations under the NSW Heritage Act 1977, successive Heritage Ministers have ignored the recommendations  - allowing the cemetery to progress through the planning system unimpeded by a heritage listing.

See submission of the National Trust of Australia (NSW): State Significant Varroville property threatened by cemetery development

We note the IPC protected itself legally in this. In its 'Direction' it stated that if there was a change in the heritage status of the land before the approval authority (SWCPP) signed it off, then the Heritage Council would have the right to amend or refuse the DA. The IPC allowed 60 days for the SWCPP to sign off, giving ample time for the Heritage Minister to consider the unanimous advice of both the Heritage Council and the IPC that most of the cemetery land should be listed as an extended curtilage (heritage boundary) for the Homestead. 

See IPC 'Conclusions' pp.34-35 of its Determination on the DA: Varroville Crown Cemetery Development Final_Direction

Astonishingly, FOUR DAYS LATER on the 19 July 2019, the SWCPP approved the DA, locking the Heritage Council out of the statutory approval process, thus ensuring most of the state signficance of the surrounding landscape will now be destroyed, and putting the state listing of the Homestead at risk.

See SWCPP approval: Panel Decision 166-176 St Andrews Road Varrovile

We now know that the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust lobbied the Premier to intervene, to ensure the land was not listed before approval of its cemetery plans. It was supported in this stance by other religious groups who made submissions to the IPC's curtilage review. They felt their need for burial space should take precedence over heritage. After the DA was approved, a consultant for the Jewish community specifically thanked the Premier in the media saying 'The first time there was a realistic prospect of this moving forward was last year under the Berejilian government and she has made this possible'...

Australian Jewish News 24 October 2019: New cemetery gets green light

The Scenic Hills Association's Position:

Only a third of Sydney's population continues the practice of burial, and we are aware that not all individuals within these cultural groups support their leaders' views. We support minority cultural practices (providing they are ethical and lawful)...
but not at the expense of Australia's cultural heritage or highly valued community assets.

This outcome disrespects our community and the state's heritage.

[Please return at a later date for an update on this issue]

Scenic Hills Association's submissions - Varroville Cemetery DA:

(1) Original SHA Submission 22 March 2018: Click here

(2) SHA Presentation to Public Meeting 25 March 2019:
Click here

(3) SHA Further Submission to IPC 4 April 2019:
Click here

(4) Letter to Panel Chair 15 April 2019:
Click here

Also see Independent Planning Commission website: Crown Cemetery Development Varroville

The Legality of the Decision

In 2013 when the CMCT took out an option on the Varroville land, it was lobbying the Minister for Primary Industries to ensure that as a Crown Cemetery operator, under new legislation, its development application (DA) would be assessed as a Crown Application - even though the land was not yet 'Crown Land'. The NSW government thus shielded the CMCT's poor choice of site from proper scrutiny because this means that we cannot challenge the quality of the decision in the Land and Environment Court (LEC) through a 'merit appeal'.

We note that in 2012, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) advised the government to expand the scope of third party merit appeals to the LEC, stating that:

'Merit appeals provide a safeguard against biased decision-making by consent authorities and enhance the accountability of these authorities. The extension of third party merit appeals acts as a disincentive for corrupt decision-making by consent authorities.'

See report: Anti-corruption Safeguards and the NSW Planning System February 2012

We do not know if the decison was corrupt, only that it was a bad one based on the evidence. The IPC's 'Direction' did not discuss key issues raised by the community. The DA's non-compliance with the Campbelltown Local Environment Plan 2015 (inlcuding the zoning objectives), the quality of its heritage assessment, water and land stability impacts, social and economic impacts and the conduct of the Department of Planning's assessment should be subject to review. So should the IPC's mangement of this matter.

Failure of the 'Independent' Planning Commission

The outcry by local MPs, Campbelltown Council, community associations and those most affected by the decision, shows that the IPC failed to deliver a critical part of its misssion, expressed in its 'Values' on its website:

'We will build the community’s confidence and trust in the Commission’s independence by ensuring our processes are open and transparent, and encouraging and promoting greater community participation throughout the assessment and determination process.'

The Public Meeting held on 25 March 2019, and subsequent events, contribute to the perception of bias favouring vested minority interests:

  • It was held on the Monday immediately after the State election, criticised by both the SHA and the MP for Macquarie Fields, Anoulack Chanthivong at the Hearing.
  • It was held during the day when 60% of Campbelltonians work outside the area and were thus unable to attend,
  • The IPC made a last minute change to the venue and failed to ensure that those who had made submissions were notified in time. Submitters received advice of this the day AFTER the meeting was held,
  • The Panel Chair constantly interrupted, then gaged one of the owners of Varro Ville Homestead on the apparent direction of the CMCT's lawyer and despite vocal protests from community attendees,
  • The speaking list was reissued to allow a developer speaking for the cemetery to be included after the list was closed,
  • That same speaker was permitted to defame the owners of Varro Homestead without being censured (but his comments were later removed from the transcript as if it never happened).
  • Cemetery supporters were allowed, without interruption, to jeer a community representative trying to speak for those who use and need the Carmelite Retreat Centre without the disquiet of a cemetery across the road...
Following the Public Meeting...

The Homestead owners had understood the IPC would make another site visit to the Homestead so that their heritage consultant could be present. Short notice of a prior visit had prevented this. Campbelltown Council had also understood that it would have input into the Schedule of Conditions if the cemetery was to be approved (recorded in the transcripts of its meeting with the IPC). Neither was further contacted. The Cemetery Conditions were largely unchanged from the Department of Planning's assessment, despite expressed concerns about these.

Then we learnt that in June, before the release of the IPC 'Direction', senior executives of the CMCT (CEO Peter O'Meara, the Chair Greg Smith) were granted a 'behind closed doors' meeting with the IPC Chair, Professor Mary O'Kane...for which there were (according to the IPC Secretariat) NO transcipts and NO notes taken, despite the IPC legal counsel being present at the meeting!

A lawyer who doesn't take notes in a meeting? We don't think so.

We note that our Association requested a meeting with Professor O'Kane at the beginning of this project, but it was denied.

[Please return soon for an update on this issue]

A Tale of two cemeteries...and political 'interference'

There were two Catholic Cemeteries Trust cemetery proposals being considered by the same IPC panel at the same time: one at Varroville (on deemed state heritage land) and one at the Wallacia Golf Course in Mulgoa - both ludicrous and insensitive locations. The Liberal MP for Mulgoa, Tanya Davies, was threateneing to resign over the proposal in her electorate.Facing a potential loss at the NSW election, Premier Gladys Berejiklian met with Ms Davies, the Mayor of Penrith and representatives of the Wallacia Progress Association. At that meeting the Premier apparently promised to ask the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) to conduct a review of site suitablity for cemeteries and copy the letter to the IPC - arguably interferring with the IPC's  'independence':

See letter to GSC (copied to IPC):
Copy of Premier's Letter to GSC

See IPC letter to Department of Planning:
IPC letter to DoP re Premier's Request

See DOP response:
Letter from DoP re Premier's Request

In case anyone was still confused, just before the election and before the cemetery decisions were made, the Premier allowed herself to be photographed with Wallacia residents opposed to the cemetery, sending a clear signal via the media about the outcome she wanted.


Tanya Davies, Mayor Ross Fowler, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Wallacia Progress Association President Jane McLuckie, Wallacia Progress Association Committee Members Debra Jeffree and Darrell Bell

See media article and photo here: Premier confirms review

The Premier got what she wanted...

In July,  the IPC refused the Wallacia Cemetery on social grounds, but approved the Varroville Cemetery on the basis of a need for burial space in Sydney, rewarding lobbyists in Liberal electorates, but leaving a Labor electorate to take the overflow of Sydney's dead at the expense of its environmental heritage. The reasons for refusing Wallacia equally applied at Varroville, just as the reason for approving Varroville equally applied at Wallacia. Claims about better transport connections at Varroville are a nonsense - the site is 'landlocked'. It is accessed by a no-through rural road bordered by sensitive land uses (two schools, two monasteries and a church), approached through local suburbs and road intersections that Campbelltown Council says will fail.

The inconsistencies in the decisions raise issues around the competence, integrity and true independence of the IPC.

IPC media release on Wallacia Cemetery DA:
Wallacia Crown Cemetery

IPC media release on VarrovilleCemetery DA:
Varroville Crown Cemetery

SHA media release:
Varroville Cemetery

A tale of two state heritage properties

That the Varroville decision was politically motivated is further highlighted by comparing it with what happened at Mulgoa a year earlier. M
ost of the site at Varroville (in the Labor electorate of Macquarie Fields) was recommended for listing on the State Heritage Register...but successive Berejiklian Heritage Ministers have been deferring the decision for two years, allowing the cemetery to progress uninhibited by a state heritage listing, and apparently in response
to lobbying by certain religious groups.

Yet a year earlier the same Berejiklian Government, with the pressure of a looming election, stopped another Crown cemetery proceeding on Liberal Mulgoa's historic Fernhill estate...

See Domain 16 March 2018: NSW Government buys historic Fernhill

See media release 15 March 2018: NSW Government secures historic Fernhill


A Final Note:

It seems that some religious practices are more important than others. The Carmelite Retreat Centre, located opposite the cemetery site, provides much needed services to the living. It submitted that it would be forced to close if this cemetery proceeds. The IPC 'Direction' did not even acknowledge its plight:

Carmelite Friars Submission: Click here

Similarly the Carmelite Nuns, located adjacent to the cemetery, also pleaded with the IPC to protect the Retreat Centre and preserve the site's beauty and heritage, but again their submission was not even acknowledged in the IPC's 'Direction' :

Carmelite Nuns' presentation at the Publ
ic Hearing:
Click here

Carmelite Nuns' original submission:
Click here


Send a letter to the Editor, Macarthur Advertiser: rdickins@austcommunitymedia.com.au

To contact the Premier: Click here

To contact the Minister for Planning:
Click here

To contact the Heritage Minister: This position was abolished by the Premier after the last election!

To contact the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (Chairman Greg Smith): Click here

To contact the Jewish Board of Deputies:
Click here

Also see our news page for more information:
News & Events


Brief History of the Varroville Cemetery


MPs Laurie Ferguson (Werriwa), Anoulack Chantivong (Macquarie Fields) and Greg Warren (Campbelltown) stand with local residents against the proposed Varrovillle Cemetery in the Scenic Hills Environmental Protection Area.

In 2013 the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) decided to buy the land surrounding state-heritage-listed Varro Ville Homestead (VVH) in the Scenic Hills, and applied for a ‘spot’ rezoning of the land to permit cemeteries. The land is in an Environmental Protection Area (zoned E3 - Environmental Management) where cemeteries and other intensive development and subdivision is prohibited. In 2014 Campbelltown Council voted against the rezoning (by 11 Councillors out of 13)...but the CMCT got the NSW Government to override Council and rezone it nevertheless. The SHA remains committed to a formal investigation of this process.

See Macarthur Advertiser 21 July 2015: Hills Fight On Again

In 2015 the Homestead owners commissioned a heritage report from the highly respected firm of Orwell & Peter Phillips. Based largely on this report, on 31 October 2017 the NSW Heritage Council (which advises the Heritage Minister) recommended to the Minister that a large portion of the proposed cemetery land be placed on the State Heritage Register as a curtilage extension for Varro Ville Homestead & Estate.

See recommended curtilage map: Varro Ville recommended curtilage

Under s34(1) of the NSW Heritage Act, the Heritage Minister must make the decision within 14 days of receiving the recommendation or refer it to the Independent Planning Commission. Successive  Heritage Ministers have now sat on the recommendation for more than two years, in breach of the NSW Heritage Act 1977, allowing the cemetery proposal to proceed unimpeded by a state heritage listing.

For more information about the Nomination, click here:
Varro Ville Homestead & Estate Nomination Information


Varro Ville Homestead in its landscape setting, Scenic Hills - photo by Geoffrey Britton,
Curtilage Study, Varro Ville, May 2016 by Orwell & Peter Phillips

In October 2017 the CMCT lodged its Varroville Cemetery (aka Macarthur Memorial Park) DA with Campbelltown Council, which was to manage the DA assessment for the Sydney Western City Planning Panel (regional). The intensity of the development was devastating: six buildings, graves to within 10 metres of the Homestead boundary including digging up most of the early vineyard trenching...


Agricultural trenching put in by Dr Robert Townson pre-1827 - photo by Geoffrey Britton, Curtilage Study, Varro Ville, May 2016 by Orwell & Peter Phillips

...graves with headstones and monuments, family crypts (for up to nine bodies each), eleven concrete/asphalt roads allowing parking all along them and separating the Homestead from its outbuildings, redevelopment or removal of early 19th (Thomas Wills and Charles Sturt) dams, removal of only remaining 19th century driveway (erroneously marked as 20th century).

'Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
To put up a parking lot...'

Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1970

Compare the above photos with the CMCT's Landscape Masterplan: Varroville Cemetery Landscape Plans - burial types and extent

Frustrated with the progress of its DA, in May last year, the CMCT asked the Planning Minister to take it away from Council & the regional panel and make the decision. The Minister decided to send it to the Independent Planning Commission instead and the Department of Planning took over the assessment for the Commission.

See: Minister's delegation to IPC

Macarthur Advertiser:
Region's burial space is adequate

The SHA said in a later media release (7 March 2019):

'It's clear that the CMCT didn't like where the assessment was going. Council had sent it a letter detailing its concerns. We understand the CMCT never responded. It ran to the Minister asking him to take it away and then went to the media slamming local councils for getting in the way of development.'

See Sydney Morning Herald 21 June 2018: Two contentious cemeteries get taken out of council hands

The SHA further stated:

'The CMCT is a developer for the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese. There's a lot of money in cemeteries and this arrogant behaviour is part of the way it operates...A government report issued in 2017 shows there's no shortage of cemetery space in the South West. This cemetery is to take the overflow from other parts of Sydney. If we don't speak out, Campbelltown will continue to be dumped on and we'll lose our Scenic Hills and our heritage.'

See p.39 of government report,: Metropolitan Sydney Cemetery Capacity Report, November 2017

See Campbelltown Council letter to CMCT:
Council request for more information

Then came a significant breach of public trust...

In its 'spot' rezoning application (planning proposal) the CMCT stated it would support the larger curtilage extension on the state heritage register and preserve Varro Ville's ‘colonial landscape’. It continued to support this during the Heritage Council's curtilage investigations and subsequent recommendation to the Minister. Then, with its DA pending last year, it withdrew its support, and on 12 October 2018 the Heritage Minister sent it to the Independent Planning Commission for a review. This referral was outside the time in which the Minister could do this under the Heritage Act, but the Commission accepted the review. We wrote to both Planning and Heritage Ministers, and copied the Commission, expressing concerns that the review further delayed the heritage listing decision and effectively gave the CMCT a 'second bite of the cherrry' to reverse its prior decision. It was a matter of 'whole of government' integrity. The Ministers referred us back to the Commission.

See Independent Planning Commission website: Varro Ville curtilage review

The Commission finally gave the Heritage Minister its advice on the curtilage on 22 February 2019...however we did not know what the Commission advised as this was withheld pending the Minister making a decision and the Minister had still not made the decision when the NSW Government went into Caretaker Mode on 1 March 2019 for the 2019 NSW Election - yet another breach of the Heritage Act.

The Homestead owners and the SHA wrote to the IPC asking it to defer the DA decision until the curtilage extension process had been concluded, but the Commission declined. It proceed to consider the DA without state heritage protections in place.

See the Homestead owner's letter
: Letter to IPC Chair

See Commission response:
Commission Chair response to VVH owners

See Homestead owners' media release:
Catholic Cemeteries reneges on support for curtilage extension

The IPC eventually released its report on the curtilage expansion, but only after public submissions on the DA had closed. The report confirmed that the Heritage Council had done nothing wrong and that the recommended curtilage expansion was 'appropriate'.


Council Elections 2016

We congratulate all those councillors who were elected on their promises and past actions in a open and honest manner. Unfortunately no one knew that Cr Paul Lake had secretly voted on the JRPP - just a day before the elections - to rezone land in the Scenic Hills for a massive cemetery. If he'd thought it was a vote-winner he'd have told us. 'Community First'? We don't think so.

Cr Paul Lake with Premier Baird at the Ingleburn Chamber of Commerce
(Source: South West Voice)


ABC News 11th September 2016: NSW Council Elections: swings against Liberals blamed on Baird

Site Map