Good news for proponents of natural burial

Fraser Coast residents will now be able to opt for a natural burial at the new Nikenbah Natural Cemetery.

A natural burial is a funeral that seeks to make as little impact upon the environment as possible and to return a body to the earth in as natural a way as possible.

At its meeting this week, Fraser Coast Regional Council adopted an updated Cemeteries policy to include guidelines around Natural Burials.

Mayor George Seymour said the facility would be ready to accept burials in early 2023.

“This new burial option is a result of community requests,” he said.

“While natural burials were not an option previously, the updated policy now allows for the natural burial cemetery on the Fraser Coast.”

The Nikenbah location was identified as the most suitable option for the new cemetery due to soil composition and the natural vegetation at the rear of the site.

“While we are not yet selling plots at the facility, people can contact Council customer service to put their name down on a register of interest,” Cr Seymour said.

Additional background

A natural burial must be prepared without chemical preservatives (that is, it must not be embalmed), and must be contained within a 100% biodegradable coffin, or shroud.

Coffins, caskets and fittings must be made of cardboard, wicker, seagrass, bamboo, sustainably grown, and untreated timber, or other materials that facilitate rapid biodegradability.

Shrouds must be made of natural fibres such as wool, silk, bamboo, hemp, linen or cotton.

Ashes must be contained in a 100% biodegradable container. Find location map here

This cemetery in Queensland adds to the natural burial grounds in South Australia, Adelaide in particular.

The Wirra Wonga site at Enfield and the Pilya Yarta site at Smithfield. None of these are what the Green Burial Council would describe as genuine examples of natural burial, but they are a couple of examples of the best on offer. We have some to go to match the examples found in the UK and the US, but they are a start and better than nothing.

More on the Wirra Wonga and Pilya Yarta burial grounds here.

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Conservation burial – ripples of life and love

What would it be like to know that when we die we return to the place of our birth – the earth.

This is a film that documents what groups of people who have the goal of returning our deceased bodies to the biosphere have achieved – in the most natural of ways.

The sense of life in a place of death can be very calming and reassuring for those who visit these places.

The Conservation Burial Alliance has produced a 30 minute documentary, Deeply Rooted, that explains the process of what could be referred to in general terms as green burial. Produced by John Christian Phifer, executive director of Larkspur Conservation, he has led the creation of Tennessee’s first conservation burial ground, a nature preserve for natural burial. 

John Christian is also currently president of the Conservation Burial Alliance. At Larkspur, John Christian utilizes his background as a funeral director, embalmer, end-of-life doula, funeral celebrant, and a home funeral guide to demystify death and create meaningful end-of-life rituals. His work was recently featured on PBS in a documentary film called Bury Me At Taylor Hollow. John Christian holds a deep respect for mother nature and works to educate and empower the public by bridging environmental advocacy and end-of-life care.

In northeast Ohio and across the country, members of the Conservation Burial Alliance (CBA) are responding to growing demands for more environmentally responsible and meaningful end-of-life options.

Through conservation burial, these organizations and their land trust partners have been able to build deep and lasting relationships with potential donors and their heirs, restore and protect acres of wildlife habitat while producing income for further acquisition, expand their reach beyond the communities they traditionally serve, and provide a space for families to create an intimate connection with the land.

This film is like a virtual field trip providing us with the opportunity to visit conservation burial grounds operating in a variety of regions and habitats. Through the act of burial, these conserved lands become part of the final chapter in the life stories of those they serve. CBA members share some of these stories which offer a glimpse into their daily challenges and successes.

Watch the film here … DEEPLY ROOTED

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Coffin free burial with a shroud only ‘container’

Almost 200,000 Australians died last year. This was far more than usual.

The effects of living with coronavirus and an ageing population saw a 15.3 per cent bump in deaths in 2022, compared to the historical average, provisional mortality statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.

PICTURE: A shrouded body without a coffin resting on a supporting board for carrying purposes. Supplied.

But, even without the pandemic, the number of people dying in Australia each year is increasing all the time.

Emily McPherson, in the story Composting, water cremation and shrouds – why sustainable burials are on the rise (9News, May 11, 2023) reports that:

Yearly deaths are set to more than double from 142,000 in 2012 to 300,000 by 2050.

All of this has led to a growing problem – where and how will we continue to bury our dead?

Cemeteries are fast running out of space.

In Sydney, the city’s cemeteries are predicted to be full within a decade.

A lack of cemetery space has led to burials becoming more expensive and less popular – about 70 per cent of human remains are now cremated. 

At the same time, environmentally conscious families – or their dying loved ones – are demanding more in the way of sustainability from the $1.7 billion death industry in Australia.

All of this has led to a rapid rise in eco-friendly funerals and the introduction of alternative burial methods, industry experts say.

So, what options are out there if you’re looking to organise a sustainable burial or funeral? 

Here are some of the more unusual methods available, including one that isn’t legal here yet, but could be heading to Australia soon.

Zenith Virago (pictured below) has been an advocate for natural endings that respect Earth law for decades so it’s not surprising for Emily McPherson to report that Virago ‘was certain human composting (see picture above of a human composting facility in the US) would become a reality in Australia and people were already asking for it.’

“I can tell you probably once a week someone says to me I want (composting). People are looking for an alternative, that is not just better environmentally, but also more in keeping with their lifestyle,” Zenith said.

Read the full story here: Why sustainable burials are on the rise.

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ACT plans for VAD laws respect community wishes

Since the Canberra grandmother, Kath Dyson received a terminal illness diagnosis – leukaemia and given just months to live – she has been waiting for the ACT’s proposed voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws to be introduced and says if change doesn’t come soon, she may contemplate suicide.

PICTURE: Kath Dyason and her daughter Anne. Credit, ABC News, Ian Cutmore

“I didn’t want to become a burden on everyone around me, and I didn’t want to lose all my faculties and just be this miserable vegetable and to die,” Ms Dyason said.

“People have a right to choose how and when they want to die rather than being kept alive in a state of misery and pain and anxiety.”

In: The ACT’s proposed voluntary assisted dying laws have yet to be introduced, but could be the most liberal in the country, Craig Allen (ABC News, Sunday 21 May 2023) reports that: Ms Dyason has been an advocate for voluntary euthanasia for more than 30 years – a view she passionately shared with her late husband, Canberra surgeon Dennis Dyason.

And she’s closely following the public debate over the ACT government’s proposed assisted dying laws, which are rapidly gaining momentum.

Get the full story at this link: Proposed VAD laws for the ACT.

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Returning to the soil the natural burial way

This is the story about a bloke by the name of Michael Hart who died at age fifty-four, was buried by his wife Di Hart. But not in the way the conventional funeral industry does it. Since they were both very environmentally conscious, it made sense to consider a gentler, more natural way of departing this mortal earthly life.

PICTURE: Di Hart at a proposed Byron Bay natural burial ground site. Credit: Supplied

In: A woman’s final act of love to ensure her husband died the way he lived, Catherine Naylor (SMH March 24, 2023) tells the story about how Di Hart was determined to do things differently – in keeping with their values. Honouring the memory of her partner and also honouring mother earth as the source of our being and the place to which we should return.

Catherine Naylor writes: ‘So Hart, who had spent her life with Michael caring for the environment, dressed her husband in his favourite sarong and Batik shirt and laid him out in a recycled cardboard coffin. Her children wrote messages to their dad on the outside and filled the coffin to the brim with natural flowers.’

Then they walked to the local cemetery, sang songs together, and buried Michael on top of a pile of green material, to make sure he was at the best depth in the grave for decomposition – “in the living part of the soil”.

“He got recycled,” Hart says of her husband of 48 years. “It was one of the most beautiful experiences, to experience Michael’s funeral.

“We’re a valuable resource and we should be returning our bodies to the soil in a way that they get recycled.”

There is growing awareness across Australia about the environmental impact of death. Traditional burials tend to use embalming fluid and plastic-lined coffins. Cremations, often powered by fossil fuels, can emit carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and mercury from tooth fillings.

For years, Hart has been advocating for a “natural burial ground” in Byron Shire to address these issues, but Michael died in 2020, before her group of volunteers had managed to establish one.

We’re taking it back to what we’ve done for 99 per cent of human existence, which is to simply put our bodies back in the ground for future life.”

For the full story click on the link: Hart to heart: wife’s final act of love. which is the SMH story or for the ABC News slant by Dinah Lewis Boucher, posted Tue 9 Aug 2022 check this link: Why Dianne honoured her husband Micheal’s death with a natural burial.

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Advance Care Directives and why they are so important

Mar 14, 2023

Although by the end of 2023 people living in NSW will be able access the new Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) law, for most people Advance Care Planning will still be the most effective way to ensure that our loved ones and health providers know what matters most to us and respect our treatment preferences.

Dying with Dignity NSW hosted a very informative webinar in March 2023 with special guest speakers – Emeritus Professor Colleen Cartwright and Nurse Anne Meller.

For more information check this link, Advance Care Planning, and to watch the webinar, check out the YouTube feed.

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A shroud does Rufus proud

Going out the green way is a possibility, but it takes determination and some pre-planning, otherwise the system will get in the way and before you know it the same old, same old conventional funeral process will become the order of the day and another opportunity to send a message and change the system will be lost. That applies for many people in Australia who aspire to going out green, but end up not.

In this post we draw readers attention to this article: A Green Burial for Rufus (Sacred Crossings, Mar 13, 2023) A couple of extracts follow, but for the full story and some wonderful pictures that help fill in the details, click on the highlighted link above.

We gathered under the Pergola where friends could be close to his shroud and say any final words. His daughter Fany led pallbears to the ‘meadow’ where we formed a circle and invoked the four directions, the elements, the seasons and all the creatures of the earth to be with us as we honored our brother Rufus. The dogs barked, babies cried and friends told stories. It was simple, and true and kind.

Then we took Rufus to the grave which had been dug the day before and lined with cedar boughs ready to receive his body. Family and friends gently lowered the shroud. Fany placed his favorite hat and we all stepped up to add flowers and greenery and to say good bye. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Nature invited us in, and directs our dissolution

At this moment in time, in history, it’s worth pausing for a moment to check in with this post from Ryan Holiday (picture below), author of the Daily Stoic.

Thursday, was the anniversary of the death of one of humanity’s greatest specimens. On March 17th, 180 AD, Marcus Aurelius breathed his last breath. Known as the philosopher king, he was the Emperor of Rome at the time.

We don’t know exactly what his last words were. But the simple paragraph which concludes his famous Meditations reads as if the man wrote it as he faced the very real and immediate end of his existence, and therefore stands as inspiration and solace to all of us still living today.

“You’ve lived as a citizen in a great city. Five years or a hundred—what’s the difference? The laws make no distinction.

And to be sent away from it, not by a tyrant or a dishonest judge, but by Nature, who first invited you in—why is that so terrible?

Like the impresario ringing down the curtain on an actor:

“But I’ve only gotten through three acts . . . !”

Yes. This will be a drama in three acts, the length fixed by the power that directed your creation, and now directs your dissolution. Neither was yours to determine.

So make your exit with grace—the same grace shown to you.”

Coming to terms with our own selves, is one of the challenges of our time, when there are so many things to distract us or suggestions about what fashionable image we should project.

Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Cato–all the Stoics knew the wonderful but fleeting pleasures we have been talking about. They saw the world. They achieved much professionally. But most impressively, they possessed themselves. They were able to retreat, as Marcus said, into their own souls. They knew themselves. They commanded the greatest empire, as Seneca said, by controlling themselves.

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Circular Economy and Funerals

If we are looking for answers to the questions, we are asking ourselves, one conventional means, might be – to use a travel analogy, to consult a map, how to get from A to B. A directory would be one way, the old fashioned physical print form; or search for directions on a digital device such as a smart phone or tablet, with the advantage of these providing a recommended route to get there.

PICTURE: Recompose human composting facility in Washington state. Photo Credit: Ken Lambert, Seattle Times 2021.

But, there are no such clear-cut answers for many of life’s questions. They are many and varied.  they can be influenced by traditions and culture. They are influenced by economics. The most significant influence is always ecology, although until recent times this has been deliberately ignored – sidestepped, externalised and often considered too difficult to factor in.

This is no longer true. Enter Circular Economy (CE) thinking and we have a game changer in our midst. CE is an inclusive set of principles that in practice help integrate human activity into what nature does best – create balance, enrich ecosystems, reincorporate all left over matter from one process for reuse in the next.  The purpose is to build resilience into the structures underpinning each subsequent action. In other words, CE offers stability and continuity, whereas linear economics (LE) systems end up exhausting raw material supplies with diminishing returns and finally collapse with the system imploding on itself. LE practice equates to eating the host with self-extinguishing actions depleting all the organs of the mother – read ecosystems and species on which life depends.

As we play catch up and transition from linear to circular, if ever there was a time when we need to interrogate ourselves its now. A good reason to do so, is knowing that all the best answers start with wildly inquisitive questions. What if?  What if? And what if? And with each answer, to each what if, another what if?

In the case of CE Ellen MacFarlane who sailed through the plastic garbage ‘dump’ in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, she asked how we could let this happen and how we can prevent more. The answer in part is to transition from linear to mimicking nature = result the Circular Economy.

In the case of reducing the waste associated with funerals and disposing of deceased corpses / bodies / carcasses / cadaver. To transition from the linear method of coffin to grave, coffin to gas fired incinerator and resulting greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Reinventing age-old processes involve composting and aquamation aka alkaline hydrolysis. Both are much more earth friendly than cremation, producing minimal emissions and providing associated benefits such as enabling the reclamation of artificial body parts such as hip and knee joint stainless steel, etc.  Most beneficial of all is the recovery of mercury of which there is no safe levels from a human health angle – but which is a by-product of incineration making cremation and leaching into the soil from burial grave sites so harmful.

So the existing road map for funerals can now be expanded to include these more benign processes that are more in keeping with earth-ways of living and less dependent on energy intensive methods.

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A poetic approach to the end of life

Dealing with dying and death and the grief that comes after has been the subject of books and poetry for centuries. Rainer Maria Rilke was a significant contributor to this field of thought.

Rather than include a series of quotes or list of titles, we simply include an example and link for you to find out more if that is your wish.

Pushing Through
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;

I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.[1] 

The Dark Interval: Letters for the grieving heart … The Guardian

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