Les Wong (left), a Dunedin resident active in Chinese grave restoration, and Stewart Harvey, who chairs the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand, look at Chinese graves in the Dunedin Southern Cemetery. New granite gravestones bearing Chinese inscriptions can be seen beside an older gravestone. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The future is looking brighter for more Chinese graves in
Dunedin's Southern Cemetery after a painstaking restoration
project has largely overcome previous ''wilderness years'' of
vandalism and neglect.
The outcome of the restoration project, which started in 2007
and is now largely completed, will be celebrated in a public
function at the cemetery at 2pm on April 7.
The project has been co-ordinated by the Historic Cemeteries
Conservation Trust of New Zealand, working closely with many
people and organisations, including the Dunedin City Council,
the Dunedin Chinese community and the Chinese Poll Tax
Conservation trust chairman Stewart Harvey said the outcome
''It's been a great success and it's been teamwork from day
one,'' he said.
The cemetery's Chinese graves constitute the largest historic
Chinese grave site in the country. Conservation volunteers
initially faced what Mr Harvey terms ''a bomb site''.
Vandals had overturned some of the heavier gravestones in the
200sq m Chinese section and smashed some of the thinner
headstones into many pieces.
It was ''a large jigsaw puzzle in marble pieces'', he said.
But, now, with the project largely completed, new granite
grave stones, appropriately relettered, stand beside existing
older stones, and damaged sarcophaguses have been restored.
Les Wong, who has been actively involved in the restoration,
is also pleased with progress and says the graves constitute
a ''spiritual link'' between different parts of Dunedin's
The restoration work also showed ''two cultures working
together, European and Chinese'', both ultimately ''part of
the community of Dunedin'', Mr Wong said.
When the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, led by Ngaire
Ockwell, transcribed the Chinese gravestones in the 1980s,
they found 114 headstones representing burials carried out
between 1877 and 1920.
It is thought there may be up to 200 burials in this area,
but few signs of earlier burials remain.