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A 12-year-old who started scrubbing headstones eight years ago to overcome her fear of ghosts says it’s her dream job and wants to clean graves ‘forever and ever’.
Tj Kleeman and her family moved to a home that backed onto a cemetery with more than 3,500 graves in Tweed Heads, in north-east New South Wales, in 2012.
The then four-year-old and her little brother Dash were terrified of phantoms lurking in the shadows, so their mother Tabetha took them on walks through the graveyard to help put their minds at ease.
When the mother-of-two suggested they give a few dirty headstones a good scrub, Tj knew she had found her life’s passion.
‘When we first moved here I was like “oh my gosh”, I was so scared, but then mum suggested we start cleaning the graves and I felt better,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I like cleaning graves because there’s this feeling – it’s not even a word – it’s a great feeling that I get, and I want to do it forever and ever.’
Mrs Kleeman said her daughter heads to the cemetery two or three times a week, when she doesn’t have homework, while her parents walk Scooby-Doo – the family dog.
‘We don’t leave her alone in there or anything, we’re always nearby while she spends about an hour cleaning. It makes her heart feel good,’ she said,
The Year 8 student clears any dead flowers from the site, sweeps the leaves away and scours the dirt and grime from the concrete and tiles with a brush and soapy water.
She pays particular attention to the sites that don’t get visited because she feels as as though she’s helping people in need.
By the time she’s finished scrubbing the thousands of graves in the cemetery, which takes about a year, it’s time to go back to the beginning and start all over again.
But instead of feeling downtrodden, knowing the wind and the rain will always mess up her hard labour, Tj is happy to keep going.
‘She knows it’s an endless task that will always need doing, but she’s fine with that,’ Mrs Kleeman said.
‘We’ve talked about it and I’ve explained that some people don’t have families or people who visit them, so it makes her feel good to know she’s helping.’
Tj has a number of goals for the future, including starting a community volunteer day where everyone gathers to clean the whole cemetery.
She also wants to get a generator to pressure hose headstones that are stained with moss and dirt, and is thinking about starting a business tending to the burial sites of people whose families are unable to visit.
Despite her unusual ambition, Tj hasn’t mentioned it to any of her friends because ‘graveyards don’t come up in conversation’.
Because she doesn’t talk about it, Tj was surprised to receive the Tweed Shire’s 2020 Young Achiever in Community Service on Australia Day.
She hopes to inspire people to find a form of community service they love.
‘You can do this too,’ she said.
‘It doesn’t need to be at a cemetery, just to help people put and help others. I want everyone to feel how great it is.’