The tranquil surroundings of the 45-acre Purewa Cemetery are a source of pride for the dedicated team of ground staff under the direction of sexton Jason Walton.
It is the team’s job to maintain the cemetery, its extensive lawns, paths and berms to the highest standard – part of the charter of park administrators, the Purewa Cemetery Trust Board.
There have been sextons in the UK for at least 700 years; in fact the word has older derivations – ‘segrestein’ from Anglo-Norman French and ‘sacristanus’ from Medieval Latin. In the middle English of the 13th century a sexton was ‘custodian of sacred objects’. Over time the description came to mean the foreman overseeing a graveyard, as it is today.
Being in charge of the lawn cemetery grounds and graves, including grave digging and dressing and attending burials, Jason and his team are out in all weathers – and there has been plenty of weather recently!
‘‘The recent big storm took two weeks of cleaning up,’’ he says, ‘‘clearing trees, branches and road blockages, recovering vases, pots and flowers. There were leaves everywhere, headstones blown over, an implement shed wall blew in and the roof popped out.
‘‘But whatever the weather, for the safety of the public and the dignity of people’s resting places, there is always plenty to do.’’
Jason says the ground staff are hand picked for their experience and dedication. ‘‘Combined with the best practices developed we ensure the cemetery is more than a place of natural beauty; nothing detracts from it being a place of reflection.’’
There is also a personal aspect to burials, with ground staff keen to meet requests from grieving families in terms of graves or ash plot sites, particularly with respect to cultural practices.
Purewa is one of very few cemeteries in Auckland not run by Auckland City Council, having been established by the Anglican Church in 1889 and now administered by the Purewa Cemetery Trust Board.
‘‘We’re meticulous about how we maintain the grounds,’’ Jason says. ‘‘We don’t spray berm edges, all weeding and edging is done by hand to keep a high standard of presentation. Our work is a privilege, part of the whole Purewa experience.’’