Damaged graves may not be repaired, expert says

Last updated 05:00 18/05/2011
FALLEN MEMORIALS: Headstones and gravesites at the Barbadoes St cemetery have been extensively damaged in the quakes.
FALLEN MEMORIALS: Headstones and gravesites at the Barbadoes St cemetery have been extensively damaged in the quakes.

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Cracked and toppled tombstones in historic Christchurch cemeteries may not be fixed because no-one will pay for them.

Memorials crumbled, obelisks snapped in half and hundreds of headstones across the city crashed to the ground in February's earthquake.

Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust chairman Stewart Harvey said the earthquake wreaked havoc across cemeteries in Canterbury.

However, no-one would take responsibility for restoration because each headstone was privately owned and not the liability of the Christchurch City Council, he said.

The council, which has nine operational cemeteries and three historic cemeteries, said headstones were commissioned by families and therefore their responsiblity.

However, Harvey said some of the headstones dated back 150 years and the chances of finding a relative in Christchurch who was willing to fund the restoration were minimal.

"Cemeteries are always at the bottom of the pit because dead people can't vote, but they are part of the community's history."

The city's cemeteries hold a direct link to the past, he said.

The historic Barbadoes St cemetery sustained serious damage in the quake. Scores of headstones now lie cracked in grave plots, sinking into silt caused by liquefaction.

Established in 1851, the cemetery was the first in Christchurch and is the final resting place for thousands of residents, including many of the city's leading figures.

The cemetery had been vandalised before the September quake, but now the damage was "almost irreparable", Harvey said.

"They will just sit there and grow over and that will be the fate of a lot of cemeteries ... An engraved obelisk holds a family's history, but a pile of stones is nothing," he said.

Friends of Barbadoes St Cemetery volunteer Adrian Ryswyk agreed with Harvey and said the cemetery would never be restored to its former glory.

"The headstones will lie down in the place that they have fallen over forever. Nobody is going to take responsibility."

Friends of Linwood Cemetery chairwoman Anne Holloway agreed.

They were a "low priority" in Christchurch before the earthquake and had no hope of restoration now the city had been torn apart.

"There is a huge, huge amount of damage. We lost hundreds of memorials and many are still teetering on tipping over. I can't see them being fixed in my lifetime or longer."

Some of the headstones fell face down, leaving the graves nameless, and Holloway said the lack of respect for the dead was disheartening.

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Cemetery tour guide, historian and displaced Christchurch librarian Richard Greenaway has ancestors buried in the Barbadoes St Cemetery, but said it was likely he would never restore their headstones.

"I would like to see the cemeteries fixed, because historically they are very important, but there are more important things than cemeteries right now."

It was sad his relatives' headstones had crumbled, but "it's also sad that my house is in such a bad state after the quake", he said.

- The Press

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