Where are the graves? A quick guide to natural burials

Look at the photo below.

Can you see them?

The two graves?

Two grave mounds lie beneath eucalypts in Queensland’s only natural burial ground.

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?

GPS coordinates.

No, I’m not kidding

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The Alberton Natural Burial Ground is in bushland halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

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.

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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.

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The traditional Alberton cemetery is in the foreground. The trees in the background form part of the natural burial ground.

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?

No. 

Currently a plot at the Alberton natural burial ground will set you back $4,282. 

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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.

A burial shroud is laid out a Death Doula workshop in Brisbane.
A burial shroud is laid out a Death Doula workshop in Brisbane. They can be expensive – about $1200 – but there’s no reason you can’t make your own.

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”.

(It seems odd, does it? FYI, here’s a link to an earlier blog in which I explore the state of Queensland’s funeral industry. Warning: The industry and Qld’s regulations are a debacle.)

No chemicals

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.

Low maintenance

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.

For more information about the Alberton natural burial ground go to the City of Gold Coast website

Are natural burials the next big thing?

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.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

Telling stories from the grave: Gold Coast teen’s memorial becomes a technological world first

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.

Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott died suddenly from a heart condition aged 15. His memorial is at Eco Memorial Park in Stayplton, halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

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 Memento is fitted with a Bluetooth beacon which connects to the modUrn App to reveal the story of the deceased. It provides a central place for photos, videos, voice recordings, music, documents – all sorts of things.

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.

Yup, that’s an urn for cremated ashes. The world’s first Smart Urn! The Bluetooth technology sits in the top, powered by a small battery that will need changing every couple of years. When your phone is within five metres of the urn you can use the App on your phone to scroll through photos, videos, etc.

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.)

Here’s a video explainer of what you can do with the modUrn technology. https://youtu.be/JGssGwnOK7E

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.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

🍶 From butter to caskets: The inventor who safely lowered coffins into graves⚙️⚰️

A casket lowering device.

Not only did Albert Richardson invent the butter churn, he went on to invent the casket lowering device in 1894. His patent consisted of a series of pulleys and ropes which ensured uniformity when a coffin was being lowered into a grave. It’s something still used in cemeteries today.

Current models have sides that can easily be adjusted depending on the size of the coffin or casket, or the size of the grave itself. Thick nylon straps hold the coffin. Sometimes a roller is added to one end of the device to help the pall bearers guide the coffin onto those straps.

In the lower right hand corner of this photo, you’ll see a little handle. That’s the brake. Once the brake is released the weight of the casket slowly takes it down into the grave.

The little handle is the brake.

Once the casket is all the way down, the green straps are unhooked on one side and then pulled under the casket and out.

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.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

Who should you call when someone dies at home? Funeral director Rick White discusses the practicalities of death.

Rick White is a former funeral director from Tamworth in north west New South Wales. He retired after decades in the funeral business but still dabbles in funerals occasionally, lending a shoulder and his expertise to family and long-time friends when needed.

I sat down with him and asked him basic questions about what we should do when someone dies.

Who should we call when someone dies in the home?

Call the police or your local doctor.

“You can be with your loved one for a few hours if that’s what you’d like. If you’re not sure about what to do, the police are very good and very understanding and they’ll ring the doctor and the funeral director.

“The first thing we need, as a funeral director, is a death certificate.” If the deceased is known to the local doctor and the doctor knows there’s a illness that has likely caused death then it’s likely they’ll supply the death certificate.

However, if the cause of death isn’t obvious, the deceased will go to the coroner.

What does the coroner do?

The coroner identifies the cause of death and if often done at the mortuary at the local hospital.

(Ed: The coroner doesn’t necessarily require a post mortem. Here’s some info from NSW but it’s similar around the country.)  

If I decide I need a funeral director, how do I find one that’s right for my family?

“Shop around and get a quote over the phone, get an idea of and a feeling for who you’re dealing with,” says Rick

“Or ask someone who may have had a funeral recently and get a recommendation.”

(Ed: I wrote a blog last year that looks further into the cost of funerals and whether you actually need to use a funeral director. Start reading from Section 3 here.)

Are funeral directors open to price negotiations?

“Let them know if you have money problems or you can’t afford anything over the top. They’re very understanding. One of the biggest costs is the coffin. The next biggest cost is the funeral director’s service fee.

“Included in that fee is the hearse, looking after the deceased person, certificate costs such as death certificates and cremation certificates if they’re going to be cremated.”

Certifying a cremation: two certificates needed

“You need a doctor to say that the person is not still alive and you need one from a general practitioner or the coroner (giving permission to cremate). And you need the closest person to the deceased or spouse to sign that (permit to cremate).” The reason for needing two certificates is because there’s obviously no going back.

(Here some more information about that. These are WA’s approvals but the paperwork is pretty similar around the country.)

Have you got any questions?

You’re welcome to leave any comments and questions on this blog and if I can’t answer them I’ll get Rick to. The answers will appear in another blog in a few weeks.

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a 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.

The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan cover
The Bottom Drawer Book is your after death action plan. Your ideas, funeral plans, and life’s reflections will sit in its pages until they’re needed.