This natural burial site at Traralgon Cemetery is ready to host its first burial (ABC Gippsland: Emma Hellings)
At the risk of sounding like an insurance ad, what do you want to happen to you when you die?
- In eco burials, a person’s body is placed in an untreated timber coffin, or even a shroud without a coffin
- A natural burial site would look like any park or bushland, with no statues or tombstones
- Traralgon Cemetery manager Dennis Seymour says eco burials are a more environmentally friendly way to be sent off
Most of us plan to be buried the traditional way — in a coffin or cremated and scattered into the abyss — but a Gippsland cemetery wants us to think differently about death.
Gippsland Memorial Park in Traralgon is one of the first cemeteries to offer natural burials in regional Victoria.
Traralgon Cemetery manager, Dennis Seymour, said a natural or eco burial was a more environmentally friendly way to be sent off, without a traditional coffin or a tombstone.
Traralgon Cemetery Manager Dennis Seymour says natural burials are becoming more common as people opt for more simple funerals. (ABC Gippsland: Emmah Hellings)
“With a natural burial … your body goes back into the environment again a lot quicker at a lower depth,” Mr Seymour said.
“For an eco burial, the person’s body is placed in an untreated pine, or untreated timber coffin … or even a shroud without a coffin.”
No statues or tombstones
A natural burial site would look like any natural park or bushland, with no statues or tombstones, and families visit their loved ones’ graves by using a map.
“There’ll be a rock … a big rock at the entry way,” Mr Seymour said.
People can be buried in an untreated wood coffin that breaks down in the environment, or they can be wrapped in a shroud (ABC Gippsland: Emmah Hellings)
“There’ll be some minor plaques to show where the burial is taking place and they’ll be able to literally pace out the ground and place some natural flowers on their loved one’s grave.”
Trish Hannon signed up as the cemetery’s first customer interested in being buried naturally.
“It would be a long way off, there are a lot of things I haven’t done yet,” Ms Hannon said.
The 74-year-old is full of life, but has already planned her burial at her local cemetery.
“I’ve already chosen my site right underneath that big 400-year-old tree,” Ms Hannon said.
“What appeals to me about the eco burials is that you are returning to the earth quickly, helping that old gum tree along.
“I’m not frightened of death. I find it a very comforting idea to be buried the way I would like to be buried.”
Trish Hannon, 74, has plenty of living left to do, but when she does die, she has her ‘natural’ burial all planned. (ABC Gippsland: Emmah Hellings)
Although the back-to-basics approach to death benefits the environment, it still comes at a cost.
“It’s not necessarily cheaper, it can sometimes even cost more money,” Ms Hannon said.
Despite not needing to pay for a traditional coffin, the cost of preparing the body and buying a plot of land still adds up, but a non-for-profit group is offering a cheaper way to be buried.
New sites near Melbourne
Earth Funerals Project director Kevin Hartley is set to announce two locations on the outskirts of Melbourne, which, if approved, would be the first stand-alone natural burial grounds in Victoria.
“We’ve been offered two 15-hectare sites west of the city, so beginning just after Easter we’ll begin the assessment of those sites,” Mr Hartley said.
“The project we’re developing on donated land and run as a not-for-profit, will give people the option to have a natural burial complete service for about the price of a normal cremation.
“You can pay up to $7,000 just for a [cemetery] site here in Melbourne … and that’s just way too much for the average person to embrace something that’s just so logical.
“Death is a natural part of life and to put someone back into the life cycle of the planet in a genuine way that’s sustainable, benefits the environment, and doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money — it’s a no-brainer.”
Mr Seymour said he believed natural burials would inevitably become more common.
“I think natural burials will increase over time, especially when we start running out of land,” Mr Seymour said.
But before you start making plans to naturally bury a relative yourself, put the shovel down, because you cannot — not easily anyway.
“Oh no, you couldn’t bury someone in your backyard,” Mr Seymour said.
“There are cases where someone has had a farm in their family for generations and they make an application to the Department for that. But that can still take years.”