Visitors from as far as Australia attended the Pukerau Cemetery upgrade celebration on Sunday.
For the past six years, the Pukerau Cemetery Support Group Trust has been overseeing a $65,000 makeover of the facilities and grounds at the cemetery.
The project included removing trees, building a kiosk with information panels and erecting a new fence around the Catholic section of the cemetery.
The people buried in 43 unmarked graves in the area have been identified and memorial stones installed.
The celebration started at the Catholic block of the cemetery with a karakia by Hokonui Runanga cultural adviser Matu-Taera Coleman-Clarke.
The Reverend Michael Welsh, now of Fairlie, who spent holidays in Pukerau, blessed the cemetery, and the previously unmarked graves had new headstones unveiled.
The group then went to the main block of the cemetery where more karakia were said, new headstones unveiled by descendants and trust members and the Reverend Ross Scott, now of Wellington, who grew up in Pukerau, blessed the kiosk.
Former New Zealand prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley, whose father, the late Len Robson, was a former Pukerau Presbyterian Church minister, cut the ribbon to open the information kiosk.
The Last Post was played by Gore resident Vic Herring.
Guests then went to the Pukerau Community Centre where speeches by guests, including former Gore mayor Tracy Hicks, Southland MP Joseph Mooney and Gore and Districts Memorial RSA padre Bruce Cavanagh, were given and afternoon tea was served.
Trust chairman John Falconer said after six years it was good to be able to celebrate the work completed at the cemetery.
‘‘How special has it been to have people come from Australia, to come from . . . all around New Zealand.’’
It was especially good to have descendants at the event from those who had been buried in the previously unmarked graves, Mr Falconer said.
Dame Jenny said she was impressed by the upgrade.
‘‘I think it’s a reflection of the Pukerau community and its strengths.’’
The kiosk commemorating those who served their country and the early history of the area was ‘‘beautiful’’, she said.
Her father’s first appointment had been in Pukerau and the family had a strong connection to the area.
‘‘It’s fun to be back to celebrate.’’