Alberton is a relatively new natural burial ground. There are no headstones or grave markers. A coffin isn’t necessary. And bodies are buried shallower than conventional graves.
Grave depth is important when it comes to returning a body to the earth. Natural burial favours the analogy of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.
So how do you find your loved one’s grave?
No, I’m not kidding
I took these photos at the Alberton Cemetery, half way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, not far from Yatala (of Yatala Pies fame). The burial ground is surrounded by farmland, mainly sugar cane fields.
There are no true standalone natural burial grounds in Australia, but there are a handful attached to established cemeteries. It’s a good start.
The Alberton natural burial ground is part of the Alberton Cemetery which was established in the late 1800s. Several early graves belong to German migrants and there are several farmers of that German heritage still in the area, many growing sugar cane.
Conventional graves are at one end of the two hectare block, natural burials the other. Burials in the natural burial ground are dug to 1.2 metres. Graves in the cemetery are dug to 1.8 metres.
There’s a beautiful sculpture at the entrance to the burial grounds. Loved ones can choose to attach a small memorial plaque to it.
Can I plant a tree on the grave?
No. The council responsible, City of Gold Coast, is encouraging a natural bushland environment to grow on and around the graves. Random tree plantings will disrupt the natural ecosystem.
Is natural burial a cheaper option than a burial in a standard Gold Coast cemetery?
Currently a plot at the Alberton natural burial ground will set you back $4,282.
Hearses enter the burial ground via this gate. The trees you see are the natural burial ground. Farmland surrounds the cemetery.
The use of coffins and funeral directors.
Here’s the weird bit. While you don’t have to buried in a coffin in the Alberton natural burial ground, in Queensland, you do have to be transported to the grave in a coffin. Go figure.
Fortunately there are cheap cardboard capsules available that will do the job (usually used for no-frills cremations). You might have to ring around a few funeral directors to find one who’ll sell you one.
As for the burial itself – instead of a coffin – you can bury your loved one in a shroud made of a natural fabric such as calico, cotton or hemp.
In Queensland, you don’t have to use a funeral director to bury your loved one, but some local councils sure make it hard if you don’t want to use one. You need to engage the services of a funeral director to bury your loved one in Brisbane City Council cemeteries. And on the Gold Coast there is no local law that says you need a funeral director to bury your loved one in a cemetery there BUT, according to the City of Gold Coast, “if someone considers undertaking a funeral, we will require the person conducting the funeral to provide a copy of their $20,000,000 public liability policy naming the City of the Gold Coast as an interested party on the policy”.
You’ll also need other documentation such as a risk management plan and a safe work method statement. The City of Gold Coast says it “assesses other requirements when a request is received on a case by case basis”.
The theory of natural burial is to let nature take its course and return your loved one to the earth. Chemicals aren’t welcome in this process so embalming is out of the question. Chemicals used to preserve the body such as formaldehyde can be toxic and persist in the environment. Many coffins are made with lacquers, glues and paints. They’re not welcome in a natural burial ground either. Only biodegradable coffins, shrouds and urns can be used.
Modern cemeteries are often highly maintained, particularly lawn cemeteries, and require pesticides, fertilisers, high water use and mowing to make them look presentable to families.
Natural burial grounds don’t need that, other than a bit of weed control.
Considering there’s only a handful of graves in the bushland at Alberton, the idea of a natural burial seems to be slow catching on. Maybe because people don’t know it’s an option? Maybe the location is too far from families? Perhaps Australians aren’t ready green funerals?
What do you think? Would you consider a natural burial?
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
Strolling through a pretty memorial park nestled between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, I stumbled across technology that will revolutionise how the stories of the dead are told and how the deceased are remembered.
In between the headstones, plaques, photos, flowers and trinkets at Eco Memorial Park at Stapylton, there was a headstone that had a little white plastic-looking disk stuck to it. The disk is Bluetooth-enabled technology which enabled me to get to know Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott via an App I’d just downloaded on my phone. Sadly Lucas died in class last September.
The little disk is called a Memento and it’s fitted with a Bluetooth beacon that relays information to the modUrn App (more about modUrn in a sec). Lucas’ parents and friends have uploaded photos, videos, documents and text on to the App. When someone like me comes within five metres of the memorial or grave, that information becomes accessible on my smartphone. But, as someone who’s not connected with Lucas or his family, I could only see a handful of the information that had been uploaded onto the App. Lucas’ family have the final say on who can see what. Just like social media, the information can be either public or private or a mix of both.
I took some screenshots of what I saw when I logged on to the App as I stood at the garden site of Lucas’ memorial:
Who was Lucas?
Sadly Lucas made the news when he died in class at Ormeau Woods State High School last September. The 15yo suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which can cause sudden cardiac death in one per cent of those with the disease.
Lucas liked technology and gadgets. Headphones sit on his memorial stone and his love of his Xbox is written on his memorial plaque. It makes sense that his grave is the first in the world to be using what’s called a Memento (developed by an Aussie company called modUrn).
Lucas would have been 16 a couple of weeks ago so his friends, family, classmates and his dog Leila attended a memorial day for him. Photos from that day have since been uploaded to the App.
Lucas’s mum Agneta Millott says it’s great that anyone who visits her son’s memorial will be able to see life events and photos of Lucas.
“I’m hoping that whoever goes there can scroll through the photos, enjoy great memories of Lucas and sit there with a smile on their face.
“Seeing new updated stories and new images from his friends and also messages when others are visiting Lucas’s memorial in the future is going to be great”, said Agneta.
Who’s behind this technology?
Followers of this blog and my Facebook page know that I’m a cemetery wanderer who likes to give a voice to those who can no longer speak. Cemeteries can teach the living such valuable lessons about the past and this technology offers a very cool way of doing that. I’m in no way affiliated with this company but I am very excited by what I’ve seen.
As soon as I got home from the memorial park I rang the young creator of the Memento for a chat. Sonia Vachalec is a photographer by trade. (Just hours before I rang her she’d signed a deal for this technology to be distributed in three countries including the USA. SO COOL – a little Aussie company doing big things – the concept has been created, developed and manufactured here in Australia.)
Sonia’s dad died when she was in her 20s and her stepfather died five years ago. She had stacks of their photos, voice recordings and videos lying around. “I was hoarding so many things,” she admits.
Sonia wanted to collate all her memories in one spot “so there was a time capsule to capture the essence of the person that can be accessed at any time or any place”.
Urns have the technology too!
Sonia hasn’t just created the Memento, the little disk that sits on a grave or memorial. The same technology is included in a bunch of funky urns called modUrns. So now the cremated ashes (called cremains) of Granny Mary can sit in the lounge room and you can access all her memories, photos, videos, letter, documents, certificates, story tellings, family tree, whatever, via the App.
The modUrn is certainly not your traditional-looking urn. And it can’t hold all the ashes of Granny Mary. (They hold about a litre or 61 cubic inches but these days lots of people are starting to split the ashes of their loved ones anyway.)
Sonia has a six-year-old girl who’s too young to remember the times she spent with her grandfather who passed away when she was 2. But she now has a physical reference of her Pop in the shape of a modUrn that is filled with photos of her grandfather. It sits next to the TV in the lounge room.
“She picks it up and hugs it sometimes,” said Sonia.
Death in the modern era
When it comes to accepting death and talking about it, Australians are way behind the times. While other cultures have a very personalised and hands-on approach to death and funerals, Aussies don’t want a bar of it. So it’s great to see an Australian company that’s leading the way in offering people an easy way to remember their loved ones. And yes, that includes pets as well. There’s a pet range of modUrns as well!
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
Dealing with a death in the family is hard. Trying to make sense of Queensland’s death-care and funeral rules and regulations is pretty difficult too because it’s all a bit of a confusing mess.
Ahead of Dying to Know Day on August 8, a day to bring to life conversations about death, dying and bereavement, I’ve spent days trawling through Queensland Government legislation, calling councils, chatting with cemetery operators and funeral directors, contacting hospitals and even visiting my local cop shop.
Here’s what you need to know about funerals and burying dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan*.
(*Joan is a made-up person; a little feisty grandmother who always wore floral dresses, swore a lot, enjoyed gardening, drove an old Corolla and drank cheap whiskey.)
1. Qld’s legislation regarding death care, funerals and cemeteries is a confusing mess.
Queensland doesn’t even have stand-alone legislation governing burials, cemeteries or funerals. There are more than a dozen Acts that make small mentions of them here and there but even combined they don’t provide a lot of guidance. Unlike most of the other states, Queensland has a confusing web of rules, regulations and blaring omissions. The Law Reform Commission attempted to work through some of those in its Review of the Law in Relation to the Disposal of a Dead Body in 2011 and recommended lots of changes to Queensland laws and regulations but none of that has come to fruition.
There used to be a Cemeteries Act but that was repealed in the mid-1990s with the intention of introducing fabulous and thorough legislation soon after. But it all got too hard and cemetery and burial responsibilities were hand-balled to Local Government. While local councils have done a good job initiating their own local laws and managing this stuff, inconsistencies remain between local government areas.
2. Signing up to Queensland’s Funeral Industry Code of Conduct is voluntary.
Funeral directors around the country are working hard to redeem themselves after some pretty damning reports and inquiries in which the industry was accused of a lack of transparency and taking advantage of vulnerable people. These days there is a Queensland Funeral Industry Code of Conduct which aims to protect customers and ensure they are not pressured into buying products and services. This voluntary Code also endeavours to “ensure clients fully understand what is and is not included in the funeral plan or package they purchase” and “provide clients with accurate and timely information about the range and price of their services and products, including low-cost options”.
Not all funeral directors have signed up to this Code of conduct. And unlike states like New South Wales, funeral directors in Queensland don’t even have to be licensed.
So how is the quality of care afforded to dear ol’ Aunty Joan and her family regulated?
Um… It’s not.
3. Funeral services are bloody expensive and so are burials.
An increasing number of funeral directors now display funeral packages and their costs on their websites which makes shopping around when you’re grieving much less challenging. As well as funeral brokers, there are also some funeral comparison websites that can help find the type of service and price you’re after. Some of those websites are run by industry, others are not.
One of those independent ones is GatheredHere which has a database of costings for about 700 funeral options and companies around the country. Website founder Colin Wong said the site had 8,000 visits in June, proving the internet generation now expects online product comparisons and reviews.
“They’re accustomed to it and the demographic now demands it. ”
Colin said he established the website because he wanted to protect vulnerable consumers.
“I want them to know there’s a range of options, cost-effective options. And a funeral service is different and separate to the disposal of the body.”
Country funerals and interments are much cheaper than in the city, mainly because real estate is much cheaper. Mark McGowan oversees 12 cemeteries for Southern Downs Regional Council. He tells me the average cost of a full funeral service and burial in Warwick Cemetery is between $10,000 and $13,000.
4. Now that I know how expensive funerals and burials are, do I have to have a funeral?
Finally, some good news! No, you do not have to have a funeral and you’ll be surprised by the growing number of people taking that option. To cater for that there are now lots of funeral directors happy to provide a very simple body disposal service.
After 15 years in the funeral business, and disillusioned by the huge cost grieving families had to pay to farewell their loved ones, Tim Button and mortician wife Casey started Just Cremate Me.
“It pissed me off watching so many funeral companies make so much money. It was wrong to charge grieving people like that,” he said.
Just Cremate Me is a small south-east Queensland business set up to offer a cremation service, including transport and a family viewing. Families can also help wash and dress their loved one in Tim’s parlour (which looks like a comfy lounge room) before Aunty Joan is driven to a crematorium in a cheap, cardboard coffin. The family later picks up the ashes from the crematorium and then quite possibly takes a trip around the world with the money they’ve saved by not having a funeral. (Thanks Aunty Joan!) One of Tim’s unattended cremations costs $1,250 – about a quarter of the price of a really basic funeral service.
The popularity of an inexpensive, simple cremation has even surprised Tim. After just one year in operation, Just Cremate Me cremates 40 people per month, and Tim says the reasons behind his service’s popularity isn’t necessarily financial.
“Some people just don’t see the need for an expensive funeral. Sometimes families are overseas or interstate and only get together once a year so it’s at that time when they will hold a memorial for the person.”
“I’ve cremated multi-millionaires,” said Tim Button.
Watching the rise in demand for the direct cremation model is David Molloy from the Queensland Cemeteries and Crematoria Association. After nearly 30 years in the funeral business, he believes the importance of a funeral should not be underestimated.
“Without one, the grieving process isn’t able to start. A funeral doesn’t bring closure. It brings opening,” said David.
But he’s quick to point out that a funeral needn’t be a formal event held in a chapel or cemetery.
“It could be held at someone’s house. It’s a ritual, a memorial, a chance to simply talk, tell stories, laugh and cry. It’s for friends as well as family,” he said.
5. Do I have to use a funeral director?
No, but with so much confusion around Queensland’s rules and regulations it sure makes it easier. Do It Yourself death-care and funerals are not unheard of and there is certainly an increased interest in taking care of dear ol’ Aunty Joan home for a vigil instead of sending her away with a stranger.
The paperwork is pretty straight forward. You need to register a death and apply for the death certificate with the Department of Justice and Attorney General.
HOWEVER, the problem you might encounter is that some cemeteries will only liaise with a funeral director, not Aunty Joan’s daughter. For example, the 12 cemeteries managed by Brisbane City Council will only deal with funeral directors. It’s a different story on the Southern Downs where the Brethren religious community organise their own funerals.
6. Can I put dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan in the back of my ute?
Yes, you can.
Weekend at Bernie’s is a 1989 black comedy in which one of the main characters is dead.
While it might seem like a scene from “Weekend At Bernie’s“, you can transport dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan in the back of your ute (or the Corolla) in Queensland. While the New South Wales legislation clearly outlines its rules for the private transport of the dead, Queensland rules and regulations are a bit of a debacle in this space.
It’s cut and dry in NSW — you can transport a body as long as the journey is less than eight hours and Aunty Joan isn’t infectious. I’ve had coffee with one lady in NSW who moved a man’s body from an unhelpful funeral director’s premises to a house for a home vigil using an old van, four blokes and a door.
Yes, a door.
In Queensland, the Coroners Act makes no mention of private body transport; neither does the Cremations Act. The Public Health Act briefly makes mention of not spreading an infectious disease. Section 236b of the Criminal Code makes it “an offence for a person, without lawful justification, to improperly or indecently interfere with, or offer any indignity to a dead human body”. That seems to leave itself wide open for interpretation and that’s why I sought clarification at my local police station.
“That’s revolting,” was the response from the woman at the counter when I asked about the private transport of Aunty Joan. So I made a more official inquiry to the Queensland Police Service and received this response:
“The QPS is not in a position to answer these questions – this depends on individual circumstance and it is not something that QPS has come across at this time and as such is a hypothetical.”
The consensus among the industry folk I’ve chatted with is that the private transport of bodies is allowed, though one did admit that funeral directors are probably better equipped and therefore are able to do it in a more dignified manner. But, in another example of the confusion and ignorance in Queensland’s rules and regulations, some hospitals will not release a body to anyone other than a funeral director. That’s despite it being “legal for any person that has the authority to control the body to take physical possession of the body as long as the death was not from an infectious disease”. (Section 3.2.2 It’s Your Funeral Report, Sandra van der Laan, Sydney Business School).
7. Bodies at home and home vigils.
The subject of death, dying and funerals was only until recently very taboo. Of late there has been a noticeable shift in thinking and people are looking to take more control. But there’s still a long way to go. Mackay funeral director Belinda Hassan said, “As a society we’ve been conditioned not to deal with death. We become immune to it.”
She told me many people want their loved one taken to a funeral home soon after they die in the home.
“They want them out of sight as soon as possible,” said Belinda.
But not everyone wants to shift dear ol’ Aunty Joan off to a funeral home as soon as she dies in front of the telly. Home vigils can offer families a personal and private opportunity to say goodbye and connect with family members and friends during a time of grief.
A body can be kept in the home for a few days, often laid out in the bedroom or lounge room while life goes on around them and loved ones come and go. Obviously the body may undergo some changes during that time and the air con will have to be turned on, but people who do take part in home vigils report it to be a very positive experience.
Shop around and prepare.
But home vigils aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Dealing with death and grief is a personal journey and there are people who can help guide you through the process. For most, it starts with a funeral director. Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask questions. Ask for an itemised quote and check out if they funeral director you’ve called has signed up to Queensland’s Code of conduct. And remember, just because you decide not to spend $15,000 on dear ol’ Aunty Joan doesn’t mean you didn’t think she was the best aunt ever.
An even better way to make the funeral decision process easier is to discuss your wishes before you or a family member dies. It needn’t be a long or morbid discussion and it will help clear up any confusion when the time comes. I wrote a book called The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan that’s practical, colourful and filled with dad jokes to help make that happen. Your ideas, funeral plans, and life’s reflections will sit quietly in its pages until they’re needed, which most likely won’t be anytime soon.
It’s easy to look past the colourful monuments that surround the large, majestic and eye-catching temples of south-east Asia. In size and elegance, there’s no comparison.
Yet outside these magnificent houses of respect and worships, there are a plethora of smaller buildings. They may just look like decoration but each of these ‘stupas’ house the created remains of several generations – with the urns of family elders placed on the top shelf of three orternal shelves and subsequent generations on the lower shelves. Much expense is spent on these little buildings. Traditionally they held the possessions of those departed but, these days, they house the cremated remains of family members.
While Cambodia is a poor country with many families struggling to even reach the poverty line, a lot of money is spent on stupas. This stupa below is being built about an hour from Siem Reap. The cost? About US$3,000, which is an extraordinary amount when some Cambodians struggle to make $1.50 per day.
For westerners, temples are an intriguing unknown. Am I allowed in? Why do have to take my shoes off? What religion is practiced here? Will I burst into flames if I enter? A myriad of religions are practiced often side-by -side and often with elements of several religions combining. You’ll be excused for confusing Buddhism, Hinduism and Animism which all seem to go hand in hand in countries like Cambodia. While most Cambodians identify as Buddhists, Hinduism, for example, influences significant events such as weddings and funerals, and the use of astrology to determine the most appropriate dates for important occasions.
Buddhists believe in cremations and that’s why there are crematoriums very close to most temples. Here, in a village not far from near Siem Reap, this wagon is offered free to anyone using the nearby crematorium. Inside is the body in a bamboo coffin. The ceremonial casket is not burned and lives to provide pomp and ceremony for other village members for years to come. Mourners bring wood to fuel the cremation which usually takes about three hours.
While tens of thousands of tourists flock to the well-known temples of Ankor Wat, few realise they’re scampering through crematoriums as well as temples. Pre Rup temple was a Hindu temple built in 961AD (Yes, it’s more than 1,000 years old!). It’s believed funerals took place at this temple, with two crematoriums within the temple itself – one for men, one for women.
So the next time you’re in Asia or India keep an eye out for both crematoriums and stupas. You’ll be surprised how common they are and the pride of place they hold. It’s the opposite approach to that of western society and its treatment of the dead and their remains isn’t it?
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. (Overseas orders will incur an additional AU$8 postage.) Lisa enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
As you look skywards tonight, you might just see some particularly special fireworks.
The scattering of ashes via fireworks is taking off. These days there are several companies that offer the service for both people and pets.
Fourth generation pyrotechnician Andrew Howard is co-ordinating 75 fireworks shows in towns and cities across the country tonight. While none of those events include someone’s ashes, he told ABC Darwin that ashes being spread using fireworks is becoming more popular.
“We got our first inquiry over a decade ago. It was a little bit weird but it’s certainly very common now.”
“We do several throughout the year but there won’t be any on New Year’s Eve this year,” said Mr Howard.
Ashes are put into handmade aerial shell fireworks that are launched high into the sky over the location sought by the client, usually somewhere of significance to the deceased or their friends and family. The colour of the fireworks becomes an important component of the ceremony, with the colour chosen to reflect the personality of the deceased.
In 2010 the Sydney Harbour New Year’s fireworks incorporated the ashes of two dogs, Gyprock and Zeus. They were the beloved pets of Craig Hull, who has since become a successful pyrotechnician. His company, Ashes to Ashes, specialises in “the scattering of one’s cremated ashes by way of a beautiful and spectacular fireworks display”.
Mr Hull’s first clients were Mikala and Stephanie Dwyer. The sisters sent their mum and grandmother up in fireworks in Sydney in 2014. Speaking to The Feed, Mikala said the ashes had been “hanging around for quite some time”.
“My grandmother’s been hanging around in cupboards since 1994 so this is a way of setting her free a bit,” said Mikala.
“My mother loved fireworks so this was the perfect thing.”
“It seemed totally right and I realise it’s not right for everyone, but for us it was quite wonderful,” she said.
What do you think? Would you like to go out with a bang at a memorial service with a difference? You can make your wishes known in your will or simply tell your loved ones or write down your wishes in The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
I hope you have a safe and memorable New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the fireworks! And I’d love to know your thoughts about sending your friends and family skywards.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. You can buy here.