Organised by the Nicholas family and Australian Catherine Walker whose mother is buried in the cemetery, the project aims to reinstate graves that have sustained major damage over the years.
Bobby Nicholas of Auckland, New Zealand said the project is an ongoing one and the group is encouraging the public to support them with their initiative.
The graveyard contains the remains of mostly New Zealand and Australian cancer-sufferers who died after being treated by disbarred New Zealand doctor Milan Brych back in the mid-1970s. A neighbouring section also contains the graves of Cook Islands soldiers who fought in World War One.
Nicholas said he promised his father, the late Manavaroa Mataiapo George Nicholas, that he would do something about the semi-abandoned graveyard where his great grandfather was buried.
Nicholas says his great grandfather was one of 500 Cook Islands soldiers who fought in World War One.
“My father never met his grandfather,” Nicholas said.
“For about 100 years that man (Nicholas’ great grandfather) has been underneath those trees and we did not even know about it.
“I promised my father that I would go there, clean up the grave, re-frame it, beautify it and re-paint it.”
He said they were fortunate to have met Katherine Walker and Paula Paniani who had joined the restoration project after hearing about his plans.
“We did a scavenger hunt on Friday just to make sure that we have all the materials we are going to need for our work.
“There are a lot of people who are buried there who are various nationalities. The whole project is aimed at creating more awareness of that graveyard.”
Catherine Walker said they needed people’s support and assistance in beautifying the graveyards.
“We hope to see as many smiling, kind and caring Cook Islanders over these four days,” she said.
“Many hands make light work! We want the Rarotonga Government Cemetery opposite the International Airport to be a beautiful sight, and we promise that you will see a major transformation over the four days.”
Meanwhile, a long-time Rarotonga resident says former Minister of Health Dr Joe Williams, who now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, should have known when he gave permission for disbarred and disgraced New Zealand doctor Milan Brych to set up his controversial cancer clinic in Rarotonga back in 1974, that foreign patients would die here.
“There wasn’t a mortuary on the island, so it was obvious from the start that there was no option but to bury patients who died, here.
The resident, who did not want to be named, said health authorities on the island had obviously thought they would “make a mint” out of the deal.
“If the public end up having to pay for repairs to the cemetery and a wall along the seafront, they will be paying for the mistakes of an earlier Cook Islands government.
“It was clear right from the start that the families of the Brych patients who died wouldn’t be able to take the bodies of their loved ones back to their own countries.
“Everyone was just lucky that the RSA fronted up and voluntarily maintained the cemetery as best they could, because no-one else was going to do it.”
- Atasa Bosevakaturaga/CS