Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Opening of Old Cemetery Kiosk

The old Otautau Cemetery was looking better today than it had in years. Gone were the unsightly overgrown grasses and ragged iron fencing. Something new graced the landscape - a heritage kiosk.

But let's look back a few years...
The photo above, taken just two years ago, shows weeds growing in the concrete graves and sheep deployed to keep the grass down.

The cemetery was opened in 1879 and closed in 1947. It has had its share of problems as well as its glories. A century ago, the sexton, under the auspices of the Cemetery Trust battled gorse, weeds and drays being driven over the graves. Then came the planting of the trees in the 1930s. Decades later, their harvest seemingly left the cemetery in ruins. Iron fencing was mangled and stumps littered the final resting place of the pioneers. There were attempts to clean up the place but ultimately it was not sustained.

Over the last three years, not only have the grounds been restored, but the Otautau Lions initiated a kiosk project to honour in detail, the men, women and children buried there. The Southland District Council took over the kiosk project and have researched the burial information as extensively as they can. They have produced a beautiful heritage panel which not only details names and ages but also the layout of the sections to make graves easier to find.

Today, the kiosk was officially opened to a small crowd of locals as well as descendants from as far away as Christchurch.

David Adamson, SDC Chief Executive Officer opened the ceremony.

Peter Ayson then gave some background on how the renovation and kiosk came about and the players involved.

SDC Mayor Cardno had a few encouraging words about taking pride in heritage.
And then the kiosk was opened by Fred Dalley and Jenni Ritchie (Otautau Lions Club).
Otautau Lions Club members: Vic Keen, Roy Burnett, Jenni Ritchie, Peter Ayson and Fred Dalley. Fred had the idea for the kiosk and did a lot of the initial research on who was buried there. Jenni put the information on computer and did more research through PapersPast.
SDC staff: Donna Hawkins (Graphic Designer), Louise Pagan (Communications Manager), Greg Erskine (Area Engineer), Gloria Eno (Graphic Assistant) and Libby Frampton (Communications Assistant). Louise did the liaising with Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Privacy Commission to allow Jenni and Donna to go to Wellington and research the records. Greg has been very proactive in tidying up the cemetery and will continue to improve the condition of it. Gloria has helped with proofing and comparing the three lists of names. She has also covered on other projects to free up Donna's time to concentrate on the research and design. Libby helped write the history and helped sort through the three lists.
Rowena Baird and Judith Day pointing to a section on the kiosk.
Alythia Larsen of Christchurch (left) and family talk to Mayor Cardno. Alythia is a descendant of relatives buried in the old cemetery. In 2006, she found their graves and wanted to lay a plaque in their honour, however the state of the cemetery was so bad that she felt the District Council was not looking after it. In 2007, she spearheaded a campaign to bring the cemetery out of its state of neglect to its rightful glory. She first sent a submission to the Wallace Community Board, then to the Southland District Council's draft annual plan. In total, twenty-three submissions were made by Alythia, locals and the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust, and this galvanised the process toward restoration.
After the ceremony, people walked the grounds, reflecting on their ancestors. Later, they had refreshments at the SDC Otautau office.

The restoration is heartening. There is still more work to do but the cemetery is now in good enough condition that descendants can feel better about restoring their ancestors' graves as well as installing new plaques for unmarked graves.

The old cemetery is now something to be proud of thanks to the work of SDC staff and contractors, the Otautau Lions Club, and the activism of Alythia Larsen and the local community.

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