Call for action as Cook Islands graveyard washes away
Graves are being washed away from a cemetery on the coast of the Cook Islands main island of Rarotonga and the government is yet to act.
Graves are being washed away from a cemetery on the coast of the Cook Islands' main island of Rarotonga and the government is yet to act. The so-called Brychyard is named after the disgraced cancer therapist, Milan Brych, who moved to Rarotonga in the 1970s after being labelled a fraud in both New Zealand and Australia.
As Don Wiseman reports many patients followed him there and some were buried in the cemetery.
PHILIPPA WEBB: The bank that is supposed to protect the burial site, which holds about 74 graves, is eroding and falling away, taking with it a number of headstones and so far they think about nine have been lost out at sea.
That is Cook Islands News journalist Phillipa Webb.
Australian Cate Walker's mother was one of Brych's patients and is buried in the cemetery after dying on Rarotonga in 1978. She has regularly visited the Brychyard since.
CATE WALKER: Well they believe that about ten graves by now have washed away and I would say another, look, ten there - they haven't actually washed away, but they are significantly damaged. And there's headstones strewn throughout the cemetery, so yeah, there's a lot of damage.
Cate Walker says the most threatened graves should be moved and she says there are plans for the construction of a rock wall to combat the storm surges.
CATE WALKER: That would be the minimal thing that needs to done, but what also needs to be done is that the Cook Islands government needs to accept and maintain this cemetery, this foreigners' cemetery, where tourists and foreigners are buried, and maintain it to an adequate level.
Cate Walker says her mother's grave is not among those currently threatened. Phillipa Webb says the graves of former soldiers are also affected, and a local RSA member, Henry Wichman, has been doing what he can to stem the erosion but about US$48,000 is needed to build the retaining walls..
PHILIPPA WEBB: The Cook Islands Investment Corporation is saying they are interested in helping Wichman to fund this, but for decades the Brychyard Cemetery has been at the bottom of the national priority list. Cemeteries have never really been at the top.
The Secretary of Internal Affairs, Bredina Drollet, says it is a complicated matter. She says while it is crown land, the care of the graves and the surrounds had initially been handled by the families of the deceased. But Ms Drollet says she will take the matter to the government for consideration.
BREDINA DROLLET: There is some public responsibility that the government should look at how they may address the erosion along the beach front where the Brychyard is located.
But Ms Drollet says moving the cemetery is a sensitive issue.
BREDINA DROLLET: Because of the way that land is owned in the Cook Islands, I am not sure what the willingness of government to relocate graves from the coastal front. They may attempt to protect the beachfront through coastal erosion protection mechanisms, coastal wall or so, but I know that that particular area has suffered quite a bit of coastal erosion - not just at the Brychyard but all along the beachfront.
Bredina Drollet would not be drawn on whether the government should act quickly but she says it is a matter that needs to be handled sensitively. Meanwhile Cate Walker has been seeking help from politicians in Australia, so far without success.
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