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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Natural burial ground back on the agenda for Byron

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Have you every thought that, rather than being buried in a fancy lacquered coffin, or contributing to carbon emissions through cremation, you’d prefer to be buried naturally and help to nourish the bushes and trees?

Well this may become a realistic option in the Byron Shire in the next few years.

The bushland cemetery site in the Lismore LGA. Image Lismore Bushland Cemetery

The council will discuss setting the wheels in motion to establish the Shire’s first Natural Burial Ground at tomorrow’s full council meeting (November 28).

A motion put forward by Greens Councillors Michael Lyon and Jeanette Martin, proposes looking for a suitable parcel of council or privately owned land to create a natural burial ground.

‘We are all just the stuff of stars…it’s a shame to waste it by sending it up a chimney or burying it deep in the ground,’ says Diane Hart, a member of the Natural Burial Ground for Byron Shire Community Group.

‘Our bodies are a valuable resource should be returned to the earth to continue the cycle of life.’

Long-term locals may remember that this concept has been discussed within the community for at least two decades.

During this time, natural burial grounds have been established in Lismore and the Gold Coast.

Ms Hart said the latest push for a similar area in the Byron Shire began in 2016 when former Greens councillor Duncan Dey put expressions of interest out to private land owners on behalf of the community.

In 2017 fellow Green and current Mayor Simon Richardson reportedly indicated his support for the idea.

The urgency presented by the challenge of climate change has now brought renewed energy to the project.

‘It has now become apparent that the way our bodies are disposed of has also become a critical point of discussion,’ Ms Hart said.

‘Current cremation and traditional burial practices are unsustainable. This is coupled with the fact that we are running out of space in our cemeteries for traditional burials. Now is not too soon for Council to be seeking better options.’

Cremations

Currently, about 80 per cent of people in Australia are cremated.  Often this is the preferred option because of cost and lack of choice.

However, a normal cremation will produce about 160kg of carbon into the atmosphere according to a report from the South Australian Centennial Park Authority – the majority from burning the coffin, but also other toxic substances such as dioxins and heavy metals like mercury.

Burials

Cemetery burials potentially have an even greater impact on the environment than cremations.

The process of embalming the body involve the use of formaldehyde – a known carcinogen that seeps into groundwater and the atmosphere.

The wooden coffin is usually lacquered, plastic lined and held together with toxic glues.

Furthermore, most modern headstones are made from granite shipped from China.  In addition is the added environmental impact of the construction of roads and infrastructure in cemeteries and the ongoing maintenance of the site. (UN study 2007).

Complications 

But setting up a natural burial ground is not without its challenges.

As the council staff report accompanying the motion notes, the process of being buried in this way currently requires permission from multiple authorities.

‘A person who wishes to bury the body of a deceased person without a coffin or casket in a general case or in a particular case must seek the approval of the Chief Health Officer or delegates including the Director Health Protection or the Public Health Unit Director or Public Health Officer of the Public Health Unit of the Local Health District,’ the report notes.

‘Wrapping of the body must be in at least four layers of cotton/linen sheeting which is able to prevent the leakage of any body exudates or substances.

‘The body must be contained in a coffin until the body is placed into a grave.’

‘The body of a deceased person who is known or is reasonably believed to be infected with a prescribed infectious disease must be buried in a coffin for public health reasons.’

‘The body must be prepared in a mortuary registered with the NSW Ministry of Health.’


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11 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderful idea! I just hope it won’t cost a lot of money! My aunt in Switzerland was buried legally but anonymously in a forest over there.

  2. Very few people are embalmed for burial.
    More so for above ground, vault or crypts, none of which are in any Cemeteries on the north Coast.
    I am a Monumental Mason working in Byron Shire and I use Australian granites.
    A few materials, like a good black granite, come from China because the quarries in Australia producing black granite had problems with the colour lightening and fissures as they worked further into the resource.
    Stone has always been used as nothing lasts like stone. If you consider the usable lifespan of the material it starts to look very cost effective.

  3. Yes. I know of a farmer who has wanted to set this up on his land in the hills. It has been part of my plan. I am aware that Muslims are allowed to be buried in a shroud but a couple of feet deeper. I always thought this was a health safety issue to prevent bacteria release and also to avoid being dug up by dogs. This whole coffin thing is such a waste. Burning it is unnecessary. I guess people pay for it (can be thousands) and want to choose a nice one to honour their loved one and do not like the thought of it being just hired and relined with new fabrics for the next one. Yes reused. Some of the wood is beautiful. Mahogany cherry walnut oak maple poplar pecan and pine. What a waste burning it. Locally we had coffin making workshops in Lismore. Simple wood or cardboard. Decorated artistically and colorfully in the way of doing things differently of our local non conformist expressive culture. One couple chopped the wood from their own land for the workshop and made two wardrobes to be used as their coffins when the time came. How humble home grown ecologically sound and imaginative is that? I definitely am interested in peacefully turning into compost within the arms of the fecund earth. Japan years ago started burying people standing up, I mean the coffins were placed such as to save space. Altho one would think cremation would be compulsory in situations of crowding. I guess beliefs and choices must be respected. As for formaldehyde I guess that defeats the purpose of being nice natural compost wrapped in a few layers of colourful sarongs. Resin preserves but is a longer process.

  4. I think it is a great idea as long as your “plot” doesn’t cost as much as the rest of Byron Shire Real Estate! I can imagine council/land owner making a fortune to “Naturally” bury people in the now overblown Byron Shire Bubble of New Aged cliched B.S.! Surely less lacquer, chemicals and all normal costs etc would make it cheaper wouldn’t it?

  5. Nancy Falcone says: “[…] the now overblown Byron Shire Bubble of New Aged cliched B.S.!”

    Hammer! Nail! Head! :-0

  6. Please thermophilicly compost me . It is quick and natural and leaves no deadly pathogens. In 12 months the ground can be dug up and safely used as compost. And really, all our sewerage should also be treated this way any-case.

  7. We were told some years ago that we can be buried on our own land ( if more than ten acres) in this region with the proviso that public access by interested persons is guaranteed in perpetuity.
    We love this idea and would be very interested in pursuing it before the time comes as there would obviously be hoops to jump through!
    i rather like the idea of making this option available to others- why not share the land?
    Great to hope it might happen in our lifetimes.

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