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Byron Shire
May 30, 2024

Byron Council didn’t listen on Natural Burial Ground

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The Bushland Cemetery at Goonellabah is a natural burial ground – a welcome addition to the Lismore community. Photo Tree Faerie.

The news that the Natural Burial Ground (NBG) on the Vallances Road site had been rejected by Council at their last meeting came as a complete shock and surprise to everyone in the community who has been working hard to make this happen, including our NBG steering group.

We were not informed by anyone at Council that this was on the agenda so were given no opportunity to address the issues or have a voice in public access. 

This was going to be the first ‘stand alone’ NBG in NSW, that is, one not connected to a cemetery where the death aesthetic is all-pervading and undesirable. This is one of the reasons why the uptake at the Lismore NBG has not been great. It is why the Clunes and Mullumbimby sites were originally rejected by Michael Matthews when he was head of Open Spaces at BSC. Mullumbimby cemetery was rejected because of limited space and the cost of restoring the site – it’s full of camphors.

I know the sites well. I’ve walked and talked them with Council staff and our local experts for a year before Vallences Road was seen to be the most ideal.

Soil condition

With community donations we purchased from Rebecca Lyons (Natural Death Advocacy Network) – the national expert on all legal and technical aspects of preparing an NBG site from scratch – a Policy and Procedure and Operating Manual as a guide for Council to work with so they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

I don’t think Council has ever opened it. If they had they would realise that their soil expert was working from a false premise. The testing sites that they dug were 2.2m. An NBG plot is between 1.2 and 1.5m, depending on whether it is a shroud or casket burial with a 900ml clearance above it. Lo and behold they hit clay and subsequently gave a negative report to Council. 

They talked about the poor condition of the soil, difficulty in digging the holes that deep, limited topsoil and limited root penetration of vegetation cover. 

What are we talking about here? A degraded useless site? Nothing could be further from the truth. This site is a rare and recognised biodiversity hotspot within the Shire, supporting more than 150 bird species with important habitat planting along the river and in the gullies. 

The proposed burial area has been covered in exotic pasture grasses for decades that have poor root growth and offer little opportunity for the build-up of organic matter. In spite of that, it thrives – the birds, butterflies and insects love it. 


With the help of local environmental and geoscience experts we were proposing a plan to regenerate the site with better soil-penetrating native grasses and wildflowers in the burial areas, and ultimately a nature reserve in perpetuity – enhancing its bio-diverse importance and increased carbon capture. 

Limited space for burials? Council does not know this because they did not take our advice, when they were doing the survey at Vallances Road, to do a contour grid referencing. That approach would have plotted all of the suitable burial site potential based on contour, slope and flooding. Guidelines from the experts state that, on a site like this, it is usually 500–600 per hectare of the suitable land. 

NBGs allow for burials on sloping sites that would not normally be possible in a conventional cemetery. The irony, and some intense pain, was not lost on me that news of Council’s rejection of the NBG site at Valances Road came on the second anniversary of my husband’s death. He is buried on a steep slope in Mullumbimby Cemetery in a hole of solid clay that was extremely difficult to dig.

The Vallances Road, Coolamon Scenic Drive turnoff is a potentially dangerous corner. It always has been and will be. So fix it. Don’t use it as an excuse to dump the NBG.

I get regular phone calls from people, who are nearing the end of their life, and wanting to book a spot in the NBG. It’s heartbreaking talking to them and I am most upset about letting them down and all of the other 513 people in the queue. This is not a want in our community, it’s a need.

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  1. It is so sad to hear that the NBG has been dealt a death blow by Council. According to Ms Hart, there was a lack of understanding on Council’s part when they did their “feasibility studies” of the site. If the “experts” BSC used got it so wrong… we really need to have the decision reviewed, corrected studies done and get on with creating it.
    It doesn’t sound like there is too much “wrong” with Valances Road. IS there some other considered use for the site that is bending BSC towards a refusal?
    We need this NBG to happen. Please, lets make it a reality in 2023!


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