Trust impressed by restoration of Chinese graves

Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust trustee George Sue (left), of Levin, views restored Chinese...
Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust trustee George Sue (left), of Levin, views restored Chinese graves at Dunedin's Southern Cemetery yesterday, with Chinese community members (from left) Eva Ng, of Dunedin, Shirley Sue, of Levin, Rose Luey, of Auckland, and Arthur Leong, of Hamilton. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Representatives from the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust say they are impressed with the restoration of Chinese graves in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery.

About 60 of 114 damaged and weathered Chinese graves at the cemetery have been either repaired or replaced in the past two years, at a cost of about $35,000.

The project has been co-ordinated by the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand, headed by chairman Stewart Harvey, of Dunedin. It was paid for by two grants from the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust.

Eight of the heritage trust's representatives were in Dunedin yesterday to inspect the work as part of a tour of Southern gold-mining areas frequented by early Chinese migrants. The tour also included Lawrence, Cromwell, Queenstown and Arrowtown.

Debbie Sew Hoy, a fifth-generation Chinese New Zealander, of Dunedin - who is also a trustee of the heritage trust - said the work was very important, linking today's Chinese community with the hardships experienced by earlier generations.

"You have got to remember what's gone on before to appreciate what goes on now," Ms Sew Hoy said.

Fellow trustee David Wong Hop, of Auckland, said the project was "unique" in New Zealand.

"This [Dunedin] was one of the main entry points into New Zealand for Chinese gold-miners," he said.

The trust and a Chinese Poll Tax Fund was formed after the Government's 2002 apology to the Chinese people for their treatment, when they were forced to pay a poll tax to enter New Zealand during the early days of the New Zealand colony.

In the past five years, the trust has distributed about $1 million from the $5 million fund to community organisations to support projects with links to the Chinese community, such as that undertaken by the cemeteries conservation trust.

Mr Harvey said Chinese graves in the Southern Cemetery had been in "an absolute shambles" before the restoration project. About 10% of the headstones had still been standing.

"It was a mess," he said.

The heritage trust's second grant, of $10,000 last year, was allowing work to continue.

It was hoped a further grant, bringing the total spend to about $50,000, would enable his organisation to finish restoring the graves.

An information panel, explaining the graves' significance, would also be built once the project was completed, hopefully by the end of the year, he said.


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