Dot McCulloch, patron saint of headstones, talks life, passion and friends

Dot McCulloch

Some may have heard about the 80 or so headstones that were unearthed and re-erected at Makaraka cemetery last year. In the wake of it all we sat down for a chat with Dot McCulloch, one of the key individuals responsible for having the headstones returned to their rightful places. This is what Dot had to say.

You’re a busy woman Dot. You’ve recently had a book published For Those Who Lie Beneath. You’re active in a number of local groups, notably the Friends of Makaraka Cemetery Trust group.

What else do you have on the go? What motivates you to be so active within the community?

I am also actively involved in the Te Hapara Garden and Floral Art Club, the Gisborne Floral Art Club, the Gisborne Care & Craft Centre and Gisborne Sister Cities. I collect knitted garments and such for premature babies at Middlemore Hospital. I collect fish and chip singlets and beanies for other places in the world where they are needed.

I also have a keen interest in genealogy, I’ve been helping people to locate and identify their family for many years. This interest has culminated in the production of the book that you mention.

I like helping the needy and I like helping with those things that I am able to help with.

Who are the Friends of Makaraka Cemetery Trust group and what do they do?

Our aim in starting the Trust was to look after the cemetery beyond what the council do, it being a closed one, but having been abused in the past. It is now looking lovely with the tender loving care we have given it.

We have regular clean up sessions, washing the headstones, cleaning debris from around them and general tidying up. We will be holding regular tours of the cemetery with special emphasis on the once buried headstones. Themes like those buried there who were involved in the Suffragette Movement. Soldiers, etc will also be addressed. We also answer a lot of queries on-line, emails and phone calls.

What have you and the friends of Makaraka Cemetery achieved? What hurdles have you faced along the way?

Having the Trust basis enabled us to petition the Gisborne District Council very often to get the 88 once buried headstones out of the ground and placed on the appropriate graves. This we achieved after 13 years of hard slog. The headstones were uplifted over three days between April 30th and May 2nd 2018.

We have sold the books ‘For Those Who Lie Beneath’ to give us funds to do things at the cemetery if the Council will let us. Book two is almost ready to be published.

Can anyone become a Friend of Makaraka Cemetery? How does one join the group?

I am the Chairperson of the Friends of Makaraka Cemetery Trust. There is a small governing Board, and we have not opened to other members yet but will probably do so in the future. This will be decided at a future Board meeting.

Is there anything that you’d like to say to others interested in local heritage and genealogy?

If you are interested in local heritage and genealogy, become involved. Papers past, H.B.Williams Memorial Library, (they have good research facilities – microfische on BDM’s electoral rolls, shipping) books, advice, the local L.D.S. Family Research Centre, the local family history group which meets at the Library and such are good starting points. Ask questions, and ask more, and enjoy yourself while you are doing it.


For those of you who are interested in local history and genealogy Dot has a follow up book to For Those Who Lie Beneath in production. The funds from which will be used for various projects within Makaraka cemetery.

Details on where you can pick up a copy will be posted once orders are open.