Natural burial

from Anne Wharton & Nadia McLaren

Twenty four of us collected at Twelftree Reserve, Hackney on 20 December to hear a presentation on Natural Burial by Rodney van den Brink of Signature Funerals. We gathered under a canopy as we would have done had it been a genuine funeral! Two hearses were parked on the street.

Rodney worked with Kevin Hartley a few years ago to design a ‘transporter’ for taking a body, wrapped in a shroud only, to a burial site. At present, the only natural burial site in SA is Wirra Wonga at Enfield Cemetery. For natural burial, a body is buried in a shallow grave (3 feet deep) which facilitates decomposition much faster than when the body is buried ‘6 feet under’. Wirra Wonga has been cultivated using native plants from the adjacent Folland Park.

Traditionally natural burial means that the body is buried on a neglected piece of land. The remains act as a fertilizer and the land is revegetated with native vegetation. Natural burial is thriving in the UK where it has been happening for some years. There are 200 Natural Burial sites dotted around the UK and 8% of deaths involve natural burial. In Australia, there are natural burial sites in SA, WA, Victoria, Tasmania & NSW.

There were moves a few years ago to create a natural burial site at Aldinga. Given repeated positive indications from State and Local Governments, there was confidence of a positive outcome. Unfortunately Onkaparinga Council elected not to be involved in the project (or any other cemetery development at all) despite the offer of the land from State Government and the general shortage of burial space in the South of Adelaide.

One of the hearses contained a coffin used for a ‘green’ cremation – the coffin made out of recycled materials. By law it has to be lined with plastic for transportation.

Cremation is a significant polluter, emitting 160kg of CO2 to the atmosphere for each cremation, equivalent to 10 million kg per year for Australia. But conventional burial contributes even more CO2, given the high ongoing maintenance requirements. In contrast, a natural burial carried out within the confines of a low maintenance natural burial site, will likely contribute less than 30kg of CO2.

Conventional gravesites generally have a 50 year lease in Adelaide, at Wirra Wonga the lease is 99 years. There was considerable discussion around the issue of the length of these leases when soft tissues in a body can break down in 6 months. What was also interesting is the potential of rural cemeteries and private freehold land for natural burials. Regulations for burial in rural areas are much more relaxed.

The presentation generated lots of questions and discussion later over Christmas drinks and eats! We are sure it will be a topic for ongoing discussion.

natural burial
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