News | 2 November 2023
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Meet the team caring for Wellington’s cemeteries

From being tough enough to operate a chain saw and a digger to having the softness needed to comfort and support families in grief – our Cemetery Technicians rely on a spectrum of skills.

Taylor and Jayden stand in their green polo shirt uniforms under the trees in a cemetery.

A team of six Wellington City Council kaimahi (staff) is responsible for looking after and maintaining the grounds of four cemeteries, in Karori, Mākara, Tawa and Bolton Street.

This small team also conducts all the burials and cremations and supports the funeral and memorial services that take place across these sites.

Jayden Hamilton, who’s worked as a Wellington Cemetery Technician since April 2022, says it’s a unique job – a mix of working with your hands in solitude in nature, and being there to support the needs of people who are saying their goodbyes to loved ones.

“You take little moments from it. At a recent burial, the family wanted to backfill. The dad started with the shovel, and his son, who was two or three years old, came along with his little dump truck toy and started helping. It was pretty special. It’s really nice when whānau can be hands-on with the process.”

Jayden says a typical day for the Cemetery Technicians begins with a team meeting where they lay out all the tasks that need doing.

“Mainly at Mākara we’re dealing with burials. So we’re digging the graves, preparing for the services, and making sure the space looks good for the family and funeral director. Mākara is quite hilly and being able to carry a casket safely can need a bit of forethought.”

A young man looks at the camera as he crouches down on the dirt floor among grave stones in a cemetery. He is wearing work clothes and gloves for pulling weeds.
Jayden Hamilton, tidying up at Karori Cemetery.

The team will suss out the site and note the safest path for the pallbearers to take, and then set up flat boards around the grave for attendees to walk on.

“There’s occasions when there’s a small family and you’ll have to step in and help with pallbearing,” says Jayden, a father of two young children.

Mākara is the newest and largest of the Wellington cemeteries, at 84 hectares, and is the first New Zealand cemetery to offer natural burials.

Jayden explains that in a natural burial, a person is buried in a fairly shallow plot and a native tree is planted on top – creating a section of the cemetery that is becoming a self-sustaining native forest.

At Karori Cemetery – New Zealand's second largest burial ground covering nearly 40 hectares – there’s a lot of maintenance work needed to keep the grounds looking tidy for its many visitors.

Jayden says this includes mowing, weed eating, and thinning out trees and shrubs to lighten areas up, which improves the safety for people who use the space.

A young woman wearing a green polo shirt and work boots crouches in the grass among gravestone, holding a tablet, on a sunny day.
Taylor Fulford says there are strict processes in place to ensure everything is done correctly and to a high standard.

Taylor Fulford, who has a background in horticulture, only joined the team as a Cemetery Technician a few months ago. She’s already learning to operate the digger, which is used for digging out the graves. Mastering the chainsaw may be next on the cards for her.

“Probably the biggest challenge for me is the physical work. I’m usually pretty exhausted at the end of the day.”

She says working among the graves and reading the stories about those buried beneath is intriguing, and it’s a privilege learning about the lives they led.

“You get to see a little of what people were like in life, by looking at their graves.”

Karori Cemetery was established in 1891 to replace the overcrowded Bolton Street Cemetery. It hosts a wealth of Wellington history as it is the final resting place for about 83,000 people, including people involved in the Tangiwai disaster and Shackleton expedition.

Karori Cemetery’s crematorium was New Zealand's first crematorium, opening in 1909. The team carries out about 450 cremations a year.

A young man and woman wearing green polo shirt uniforms smile as they stand on a concrete road, with autumn-coloured trees surrounding them.

Taylor says, for all the different duties, there are strict processes the team follows, to ensure everything is done correctly and to a high standard.

Jayden says they will also ensure all the services hosted in the chapel run smoothly.

“We’ll help out the funeral director as needed. For the most part, we set up for the service or prepare the site for burial. We provide the space to do it and we step back and let loved ones have their own grieving process. And then we’ll pack up afterwards.”

Jayden and Taylor say every family and individual says their goodbyes differently with their own unique process, and it’s an honour to be there to support people through these challenging times.

Jayden, who has a degree in design, sums it up like this: “We like to say good design is design you don’t notice. Our job is just like that – to make sure everything goes smoothly for whānau without anyone noticing us.”