Sustainable after Death by Nettie Hulme

A bush burial, painting by Frederick McCubbin. 1890, oil on canvas, 122.5 x 224.5cm. Geelong Gallery Collection.


Kicking the bucket. Pushing up daisies. Join the choir invisible. Shuffle off this mortal coil. Six feet under. Or my current favourite: taking a dirt nap.

All different ways of saying that one day we will all die. 100% guaranteed that no-one is getting out of this alive.

If you have taken care to live your life in an environmentally sustainable way, chances are you will want to carry that principle to the very end. Dust to dust.

There is a growing interest in eco-friendly funeral options which covers all aspects following death from the treatment of the body, disposal options and ceremony planning.

In Victoria the management and operation of cemeteries and crematoria is governed by the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003 and Cemeteries and Crematoria Regulations 2015.

You cannot be buried on your own land without permission from the Department of Health and Human Services which is rarely given. Government regulations stipulate that you must be buried in a designated cemetery.

In the Otways there are many small cemeteries run by volunteer cemetery trusts. While not operated as natural burial sites they are often located in a bush setting. While countries such as United Kingdom, USA and Canada have embraced the concept of woodland cemeteries or natural burial grounds, the situation is slow to change in Australia.

The recently formed Natural Death Advocacy Network is in indication of the growing level of interest in natural funeral alternatives and their aims as stated on their website include the following:

While there are some natural burial options around Australia (ie: NB sections within traditional cemeteries), at present there are no dedicated Natural Burial Grounds in Victoria. It is one of NDAN’s core objectives to legislate for this increasingly popular method of interment.

Yaugher cemetery near Forrest

In Victoria, the closest we get to a woodland cemetery is Upright Burials in Derrinulum. Kurweeton Road Cemetery is located in the Corangamite Shire southwest of Mt. Elephant, an extinct volcano that is a prominent geographic feature of the western Victorian plains. The cemetery is a peaceful, pastoral setting that is purposefully left in a natural state to minimise the impact of burial activity on the environment. The name of the deceased person is recorded in perpetuity on a memorial wall, and the next of kin can receive an exact location of the individual grave site. For every person buried a tree is planted at Mt. Elephant. This planting program contributes to offsetting the carbon emissions produced in the holding, transportation, and burial process.

You can read more about the actual process here:

Cape Otway Cemetery

Did you know that anyone can conduct a funeral service and you can hold a funeral anywhere? Most people arrange for a funeral company to take care of the body and death registration procedures as at the time of death friends and relatives are busy with family matters and bereavement. There is an increasing trend for funerals to be held in the natural environment, most often a place of significance for the deceased person. Beaches, parks, beauty spots, anywhere. Sometimes with the deceased in a casket, other times a scattering of the cremated remains.

McCrindle was commissioned in 2014 by the Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA) to gain an understanding of Australian perceptions towards funerals and deliver a statistical snapshot of death in Australia.

One interesting fact is that 2 in 3 Australians (66%) prefer cremation over burial when planning their own funeral. This choice may be due to costs as the report showed that cost is the biggest influencer when planning a funeral with 2 in 3 (66%) Australians stating it is extremely or significantly influential. Cost is considered more important than both religion or life philosophy (31%) and culture and family traditions (27%).

There is a debate about which has the lesser environmental impact, burials or cremation, which involves many variables including greenhouse gas emissions and the energy used in everything from the building of caskets to the number of cars used by attendees, flowers and food preparation.

It remains a controversial discussion.

Burial at sea may seem like an easy, ecological solution. Feeding the fishes. In Australia burials at sea are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, which is administered by the Department of the Environment and thus you are required to apply for a ‘sea dumping permit’ which comes with many restrictions making this a very expensive option.

Whatever your preferences may be, it is important that you discuss your wishes with family and and/or friends and put it in writing. Knowing what options are available may make your final exit be more true to the values you live by…

And in the meantime, carpe diem and live this precious life to the fullest!

Further reading, useful links and references:  (Natural Death Advocacy Network)



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