Cemeteries and Crematoria: Reflections on a Survey

Representatives for the Department of Health conducted a community consultation in Mooroopna on Wednesday 14 March in order to elicit the communities need for future development of cemeteries and crematoria in the Goulburn Valley. A wide ranging discussion ensued.


Cemeteries and Memorial places are special places that provide service to the community in a difficult time in their lives. A community expects that an individual’s right to a dignified interment will be respected and that religious and cultural practices will be protected and supported. Community members also expect to be able to access cemeteries reasonably close to their home, so they can regularly visit these special places for remembrance and reflection.

When looking to the future of cemetery services in Victoria many factors come into consideration:

  • our rapidly growing population;
  • the ageing population (boomers moving into retirement;
  • new population growth corridors – e.g., the construction of 200 schools in the near future – will require cemetery services;
  • the impact of native title and lands returned to indigenous peoples;
  • the changing religious values in our population;
  • the impact of climate change on cemeteries;
  • availability of suitable land for burials;
  • new burial trends indicate different futures for memorial parks, gardens and similar;
  • the need to ensure that cemeteries, graves and gardens are well maintained – now and into the future.

The recent ABC programs (Four Corners – Big Australia: Are We Ready?, Q & A) focussed on immigration highlight that Melbourne and Sydney are Australia’s fastest growing cities and that by 2050, Australia will (likely) have a population of 60 million people. Issues needing consideration are the location of new cemeteries, accessibility of sites, the different kinds of burial services demanded, innovation and technology in delivering cemetery services and potential uses of lands set aside for memorial purposes.

In Victoria

Victoria has 564 public cemeteries, and 496 cemetery trusts divided into Class A and Class B trusts. Of the Class A trusts, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo are rural cemeteries. Cemeteries require permission from the Minster for Health for purchase of new land.

Interment means the placement of human remains in the earth or in a mausoleum, crypt, vault, columbarium, niche wall or other structure designed for the placement of such remains. The term ‘interment‘ applies to both cremated and uncremated remains.



Access to cemetery services can be organised through a funeral parlour, or directly to the Cemetery Trust. A funeral can also be led by a family in line with religious or cultural values. A funeral or memorial service may be held in a church, funeral facility, private home or any other place of choice.

Innovation and Technology

Traditional burial services monumental graves (slab and headstone), lawn graves and lawn plaques. There can be burial crypts, family mausoleums, vault, concrete lined graves and natural burial in a shroud. Traditional services for cremation include rose gardens, columbarian (niche walls), personal memorialisation and native shrub gardens.

Native shrub gardens are becoming popular in line with ecological concerns, the environment and climate change. In other nations there are multi-storey graveyards, virtual memorialisation (a website), aquamation (similar to cremation) and biodegradable capsules with tree seeds. One’s body is used to fertilise a tree that is planted above.

It is known that decomposition of bodies in wooden coffins leach carbon into the earth and into the atmosphere surrounding the cemetery. This carbon leeching can take hundreds of years to dissipate. Modern graves have bodies filled with embalming fluid (a known carcinogen), put into a casket (often made of tropical hardwood), and buried inside a concrete grave liner. This slows down the process of decomposition. In the not-so-distant future, climate change mitigation may determine how we (humanity) moves forward with interment and memorial practices.

Urban growth and development corridors often do not set aside land for cemeteries or crematoria. In regional locations, graveyards are often found outside the town limits (up to three miles from the town, rural city or village). A community can demand (reasonably) that there be proximity to cemetery services, accessibility (i.e., Public Transport), religious and cultural requirements can be satisfied, the costs are reasonable, and that environmental concerns are attended to. There is also a need to have choice where a person or family determines interment options.

Considering Australian religious diversity and the recent Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there was a proliferation of people indicating they had “no religion”. This could be due young people not wishing to tick a box and indicate that they have signed up for organised religion, when they are SNBR, Spiritual but Not Religious. In the age group 0-24, 37.3 census respondents indicated “no religion”. In the age group 25-44, 32.0 census respondents indicated “no religion”.

It was discussed that this young “no religion” group may be drivers of change in burial and interment practices in the future. They may be conscious of the ecology, the environment, and be open to memorial parks in the heart of the village or regional settlement with memorial trees, bushes, shrubs and perhaps, walls. Some churches now have memorial walls for deceased parishioners, St Augustine’s in Shepparton is the example that comes to mind.


memorial wall at St Augustine's Church, Shepparton
Memorial Wall at St Augustine’s Church, Shepparton


Diversity and Burial Requirements

Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley are a place of settlement for skilled workers, immigrants and humanitarian entrants. GOTAFE and the Shepparton Language Centre provide language services to new settlements. Strong cultural bonds exist in a town that houses four mosques, a Sikh Gurduara, an active Buddhist participation and other cultural and religious groups. For example, there is a Greek Orthodox Church in Shepparton, Masses for Keralites at St Brendan’s, and St Mels provided Italian language masses for a long time.

It is known that different cultural groups have different burials needs. The Sudanese have an extended period of obsequies, the Sikh community follows the tradition of cremation and – sometimes – returning ashes to Mother India for disposal in its sacred rivers. Hindu burials also express a similar wish to dispose of ashes in a body of flowing water. Muslims have specific practices prior to burial. These were all canvassed in the survey, in addition to expressing the region’s needs for the future. It was felt that there was a strong demand for a crematoria in Shepparton.

All in all, the discussion was thoughtful, wide-ranging – particularly considering the state of rural cemeteries and closure of cemeteries and issues of grave maintenance as plots are granted in perpetuity. It is up to the family to maintain a grave. It was felt the group attending the survey made some valid contributions. An exposure draft of Victoria’s burial needs is expected to be released later in the year.


A Will for the Woods

What if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Musician and psychiatrist Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial in this immersive documentary. While battling lymphoma, Clark has discovered a burgeoning movement that uses burial to conserve and restore natural areas, forgoing typical funeral practices that stress the ecosystem.

Boldly facing his mortality, Clark and his partner Jane have become passionate about green burial, compelled by both the environmental benefits and the idea that one can remain within the cycle of life, rather than being cut off from it. The spirited pair have inspired a compassionate local cemeterian, and together they aim to use green burial to save a North Carolina woods from being clear-cut.

A WILL FOR THE WOODS from First Run Features on Vimeo.






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