Grave restorers in need of some help

Friday April 21, 2017 Written by Published in Local
Paula Paniani from the National Archives smooths off new concrete on a grave at Nikao Cemetery. 7042010 Paula Paniani from the National Archives smooths off new concrete on a grave at Nikao Cemetery. 7042010

With Anzac Day just next week, volunteers are being sought to help the stalwarts of the Nikao Cemetery Restoration Project finish cleaning up the area surrounding the graves of World War One soldiers.


The small group has valiantly battled jungle-like growth throughout the old cemetery area and has transformed the area markedly.

But with the big day on Tuesday, they need more volunteers to come and help out for the final big effort.

Australian businesswoman Cate Walker and Bobby Nicholas have been leading the work, with help from friends, relatives and dedicated locals such as Paula Paniani from the National Archives.

Unfortunately a family death has forced Nicholas and his extended family to go to New Zealand.

Walker said the tragedy hit hard all working on the cemetery project and she wished her friend and colleague and his family well. “We send our deepest condolences to them all.”

And there is now a big gap in the restoration workforce.

Paniani said they probably needed about 50 people to get the job done.

So far, she said: “It has been the same old people. The Nicholas boys, my brother, and at times having volunteers like the boy scouts and Bank of South Pacific staff.”

Walker added: “We need concreters, plasterers and people good with wheelbarrows.”

Paniani said it would be good to have help from the relatives of those in the cemetery. “It would be nice for them to come on board. To make it look nice we need these people to come and help.

“The cemetery is looking good. If only we had more people, especially the families of who are here.”

Walker said: “Our main focus at this stage is to have the Cook Islands WWI Anzac graves fully restored and looking respectable for Anzac Day.

“So now we’ve lost family we really do need extra help with plastering – in particular- and rubbish removal and raking up as these boys continue on chain-sawing down the overgrowth and clearing the weeds.”

In the hot weather the job has been tough.

“We find it worse up until 3pm, then it cools down and you are right to work up to 6 o’clock.”

Walker says she is proud of what the restoration team has achieved.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback. People come in here and you start telling them stories and they are amazed.

“This section here was completely overgrown and now we can show them the largest group of Cook Islands WWI NZEF Anzacs buried in the Cook Islands.

“To me cemetery preservation is not to make them perfect.  I’m not going to go in there and paint up all of these graves that are old.

“Some of them are 100 years old; there are no headstones so we don’t know who they are.

“It’s nice to leave some of the history there, as it is. I don’t want it to look pristine. It’s a cemetery that’s had a rough time … if we have nice pathways, plantings – getting a landscaper, nice plantings that are cemetery-friendly.

“Not these trees that are so invasive. The coconut trees have damaged so many graves; some have even grown up through the old graves.

“A cemetery can be beautiful … it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can see these graves are not perfect here, but it looks nice.”

Walker was gratified recently by the generosity of the nearby ITM hardware store.

“We needed a drill so we went up to the ITM hardware store. We went in and asked if he had cordless drills and he said ‘yes’. It was $1000.

“I explained we needed to borrow one and I told him we were up at the Nikao cemetery and we need to put name plaques on and can we rent a drill from somewhere.

“He said ‘just a minute’ and he came back and lent us a drill and a tape measure so we could centre the plaques.

“It’s beautiful … that’s the way the world should be.

“I’m so grateful he did that. I don’t know his name, but I want to send out a thank-you. It’s just awesome.”

(Walker has since discovered the generous person was Jason Matara.)        

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