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.

The grape-ful dead: A wine with body fit for a funeral.

A grave is usually where a dead body lies, but not this grave. This grave is full-bodied, alcoholic and tasty and, like the green funeral movement, it’s working towards becoming as natural as possible.

I stumbled across GilGraves wine in central Victoria, not far from where it’s grown, and loved the simplicity of its label and the way it’s made.  It’s perfect for a ‘death over dinner‘ scenario or perhaps an upcoming Halloween party. And if you’re unsure about having that third glass of wine perhaps the label might help solve your dilemma: “Life is not a dress rehearsal!”

GilGraves is an organic wine grown between Bendigo and Heathcote is central Victoria.
Putting the cask into casket.  This wine label reads “Life is not a dress rehearsal”. GilGraves is an organic wine grown between Bendigo and Heathcote in central Victoria.

Ken Gilchrist’s vineyard is at Axedale, near Bendigo, where he grows four grape varieties with his wife Kaye Graves. (Hence the GilGraves name). Developing the vineyard in 2011, GilGraves now has 2,550 vines.

Ken and Kaye produce what’s called “low intervention” or natural wine. Their grapes are grown in an organic vineyard and during the wine-making process nothing is added except for a bit of sulphur just prior to bottling.

“So what you’re tasting is basically just the fruit, rather than oak or additives that are usually introduced into wine. It’s not wine you would cellar, it’s wine you open and enjoy!” he said.

“It’s going back to the early wine-making practices of the French, Italian and Spanish centuries ago when they didn’t have any chemical additives.”

Growing grapes organically isn’t without its challenges. Ken works hard to control any mildew without chemicals and grazes Dorper sheep among the vines to keep to keep any weeds in check.

More than a fad.

Back-to-basics wine-making has only emerged in Australia in recent years and Ken believes conservative wine critics have slowly come around to the idea of natural wines, realising it’s not just a fad.

He said it’s the young people who are driving demand for the emerging low intervention wine market because they take a real interest in the origins of the food and drink they’re consuming.

Ken Gilchrist holds a bottle of GilGraves Shiraz.
Ken Gilchrist hopes to increase his wine production from the two tonnes of grapes he grew last year (1,600 bottles) to 10-12 tonne when his vineyard matures. That’s around 9,000 bottles of wine.  He says because GilGraves wine is natural and doesn’t contain any preservatives it’s best to drink it within a couple of years of purchasing.

So, just as there’s a growing demand for a more natural funeral where no embalming chemicals are put into the body or lacquers and glues used to make the coffin, there’s also an increasing demand for simpler and natural wines.  It seems Australians are keen to get back to basics. And that’s worth raising a glass to! Cheers!

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.