At war with the Catholic Church

Undeterred: Jacqui Kirkby and Peter Gibbs at the Varroville on their Varroville property in 2013, not long after the fight against the cemetery began. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale
Undeterred: Jacqui Kirkby and Peter Gibbs at the Varroville on their Varroville property in 2013, not long after the fight against the cemetery began. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale

In terms of opponents, they don’t get much bigger than the Catholic Church.

But Jacqui Kirkby doesn’t care.

The owner of Varroville House – a heritage-listed cottage set among the rolling green hills in Macarthur’s Scenic Hills – didn’t pick the fight with the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese, but she “sure as hell” won’t back down.

For years Ms Kirkby, her husband Peter Gibbs, nearby residents, local MPs and the Campbelltown Council have led the fight against a 136,000-plot cemetery in the hills which would effectively surround her quiet rural property.

It would also permanently change the landscape of the hills which act as a natural border between Campbelltown and Camden.

This week, Ms Kirkby was dealt a major blow after the applicant for the cemetery – the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust – successfully had the land rezoned to accommodate the proposal.

The blow may have floored Ms Kirkby, but in typical fashion, she got straight back up.

“We feel like we’ve been flattened and knocked down – but we haven’t been knocked out,” Ms Kirkby said.

“We may have lost the battle but we sure as hell won’t lose the war.

“We are certainly not giving up the fight.”

In many respects it’s unfair fight.

When it comes to size, the Catholic Church are the heavy weight champions.

And when it comes to dollars, Ms Kirby can’t compete with the church’s coffers.

Still, she remained undeterred.

“It is daunting taking on the Catholic Church, but they are counting on us feeling that way,” she said.

“I think we should stand up to them.

“People think we are mad but we don’t have any choice.”

It’s not only the church that Ms Kirkby is fighting with, she also has the state government firmly in her sights.

The trust, while run by the church, operates on behalf of the state government.

And it’s the planning process, put in place by that same government, that Mrs Kirkby has taken a exception to.

“We had legal advice that said we had made a case for the cemetery not to go ahead,” she said.

“But it was clear the process was corrupted.

“No one can avoid that conclusion.

“This decision has serious implications for the democratic process … and it’s totally undermined any confidence in the state government.

“(People) must have a room temperature IQ to think this proposal is OK.”

Ms Kirkby said there were several legal options she could explore to appeal the decision, however, they were limited.

A development application for the cemetery will still need to be given the tick of approval despite the rezoning’s approval.

There is no indication when or if that has been lodged.