The desecration of more than 25 graves at the Happy Valley Pioneer Cemetery has sparked outrage in the community of Port Lincoln.

Warning: Indigenous readers are advised that this article contains the name and image of a person who has died.

Police and the council were alerted to the damage last Monday.

Numerous headstones had been smashed and overturned and restoration work could take years and cost thousands of dollars.

Fourth-generation Port Lincoln resident Michael Young rushed to check on his ancestors’ graves when he heard what had happened.

“I was surprised and offended and really disappointed,” he said.

“I definitely panicked a little bit when I saw it on Facebook.”

Tradespeople tend to the cemetery after the vandalism.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

Mr Young’s ancestors’ graves were untouched, but a headstone nearby had been toppled.

Cemetery ‘left to rot’

Mr Young recently discovered his connection to the cemetery after he found out that his forebears William and Alice Argent were buried there.

Michael Young’s ancestor was William Argent, an early settler of Port Lincoln who died in 1920, aged 74.(Supplied: Michael Young)

The Argents were born in the 1850s and settled in Port Lincoln after migrating from England, where they had 11 children.

Mr Young’s mother is in possession of Ms Argent’s wedding ring and he plans for his young children to inherit the family heirloom.

After discovering the connection, Mr Young developed an interest in preserving the historic graves.

“I visit probably once every six months,” he said.

“I actually clean the graves and I pick all the weeds out of their graves.

“I definitely will be taking my children there and teaching them about the family history and what it means and where we come from.”

Mr Young believed the historic cemetery warranted more investment and preservation as the final resting place of many of Port Lincoln’s important figures.

“This is where the people who built everything we have are buried, and it’s just kind of left to rot,” he said.

Resting place for notable figures

Port Lincoln’s oldest cemetery contains the remains of early settlers and Indigenous people dating back to the 1840s.

Among those whose graves have been desecrated are Ada Watherston, Walter Follett and Charlotte Attick.

The headstone of Ada Watherston, a local resident of Port Lincoln born in 1866, was broken.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

Port Lincoln History Group member Steve Sawyer, himself a fifth generation Port Lincoln local, said many people on Eyre Peninsula would have a connection to the cemetery.

“There’s nearly 3,000 people buried there and 95 per cent of them are locals, some of them from surrounding towns,” he said.

Historian Steve Sawyer said many Eyre Peninsula families will have connections to the cemetery.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

A historic site

Among the notable graves in the cemetery is that of Fanny Agars, also known as “Black Fanny”, an Aboriginal woman much-loved in Port Lincoln during the early 20th century when racial tensions between local Barngarla and Nauo Indigenous groups and white settlers remained high.

Fanny Agars (centre) with members of the armed services and other residents during World War I.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

Known for her sunny disposition and a pack of dogs that would follow her around town, Ms Agars was adopted by a local family after being orphaned by the Elliston massacre, according to Mr Sawyer.

When the well-respected figure died in 1922, former Adelaide newspaper The Register reported that locals donated money for her funeral, and that she was conveyed to her final resting place by motorcade procession.

She also participated in patriotic processions during World War I and had the honour of heading the first Australia Day local procession, The Register reported.

Fanny Agars’ funeral procession moves through the streets of Port Lincoln in 1922.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

Mr Sawyer said about 40 Indigenous people were known to be buried at the Happy Valley cemetery site, some without headstones.

SAPOL is investigating the vandalism and the City of Port Lincoln is considering covering the cost of restoration work itself.

“Such acts of desecration are not only an affront to the memory of those laid to rest but also to the entire community,” Mayor Diana Mislov said.