Cemetery restoration begins
“These are our people, tread lightly as you go.”
That was the message from Councillor Craig Ferguson to contractors about to begin the painstaking work to restore Queenstown Cemetery.
Ferg, speaking at a whakawātea ceremony on Friday, said there were many old friends of everyone resting at the sacred site, such as Queenstown rafting guide Keith Haare, known as Chief, and body piercer Dave van der Camp.
“Today, we start to put your house in order,” he said.
Some 207 of the 1,643 plots at the cemetery were damaged during a storm on 21 September, when substantial rainfall brought a torrent of water and debris down from the Ben Lomond Reserve.
Much of the debris was from recent forestry work to clear a path for Skyline’s new gondola and for a fire break.
Ferg told the audience of families, contractors, dignitaries and council staff that it had been a complex task to get to this stage, where workers could begin on site, while ensuring their safety.
“I’ve seen firsthand the mahi, the work of QLDC staff since this emotional event occurred. Thanks to you all for the care and dignity you’ve all shown and will continue to show.”
Over the past month, the risk on the hills above the cemetery, off Brecon Street, has been mitigated.
Work now beings preparing the larger debris for removal, followed by silt and smaller debris removal later this month. Then, in December and January, detailed cleaning and restoration of the headstones and monuments themselves will begin. All the damage is above ground.
QLDC parks officer for cemeteries and heritage, Tarsy Koentges, told Lakes Weekly Bulletin the contractors will clear different parts of the site in different ways.
“We’ve marked out the area with stakes. In some places, they will be able to bring in small diggers, the same that would be used to prepare plots so not something you wouldn’t usually have in that space. We’ve marked safe passageways for them.
“But in other areas, which are marked out, we have hand clearance only.”
The preparation work has been greatly aided by the fact the cemetery has been GPS mapped beforehand, including ground penetrating radar, providing a detailed diagram of where the plots were located, even unmarked graves.
Once the majority of the debris has been removed, Koentges says the council would like families and the community to be able to help with detailed cleaning and restoration. She plans to keep everyone informed all the way through.
She told the audience, being part of the restoration work has been “a moving and humbling experience” and in the face of the devastation there has been “beautiful moments of gratitude and connection”, through the graciousness of the families and the commitment of councillors and staff to make things right.
Kāi Tahu’s Paulette Tamati-Elliffee led Friday’s ceremony, which included the signing of some beautiful waiata, while Wakaktipu Community Presbyterian Church minister Ian Guy and Anglican Parish of Wakatipu vicar the Rev’d Dr Michael Godfrey also gave heartfelt speeches.