Visions of future cemeteries: 5 models and how Australians feel about them

Hannah Gould, University of Melbourne and Fraser Allison, University of Melbourne

The coming decades represent an era of uncertainty for Australia’s cemeteries. They also present an opportunity to reflect on what our public cemeteries could and should be.

Our cemeteries are running out of space, with more Australians dying than ever before. As a result of a growing and ageing population, the country’s annual death count has more than doubled since 1960. It will double again by around 2070.

Unlike other real estate, cemetery space is largely a non-renewable resource. Many European countries lease grave sites for a limited period, but most Australian states and territories stipulate that each burial must be preserved in perpetuity. New South Wales has introduced a system of opt-in 25-year leases.




Read more:
Housing the dead: what happens when a city runs out of space?


Some intercity cemeteries have been closed to new burials for decades. Demands on cemeteries as green spaces for leisure and recreation, as well as commemorating the dead, are also growing.

This is what makes Victoria’s Harkness cemetery development, a 128-hectare site on the edge of Melbourne’s West Growth Corridor, so significant. It’s Victoria’s largest new cemetery development in 100 years.

An overview of the Harkness cemetery site 35km northwest of the Melbourne CBD.

Harkness will shape how Australians live and die for many generations to come. And it is an opportunity to imagine a new future for death in Australia.

We are investigating these issues as members of The Future Cemetery project team, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, Oxford University and the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust. Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted two studies:

  1. a co-design workshop with representatives of the Australian death care industry, which came up with five models for future cemeteries

  2. a national survey of attitudes to cemeteries, which found many Australians are open to change.




Read more:
Buried beneath the trees: a plan to solve our shortage of cemetery space


How cemeteries are changing

Changes in demography, religious affiliation and technology, among other factors, shape public attitudes to how the dead should be treated.

The demographic trend is reasonably clear. Australia’s population is projected to grow strongly in coming decades (despite the effects of the coronavirus). This growth is driven mainly by high net overseas migration.




Read more:
Migrant communities keep our cemeteries alive as more Anglo-Australians turn to cremation


Australia’s religious diversity will likely increase, too. Christianity is projected to become a minority religion by 2050 for the first time since European colonisation, and the population of religiously unaffiliated is growing. The preference for burial or cremation within Australia’s diverse communities has a particular marked impact on future cemetery design.

Technology could also revolutionise cemetery design. New methods for treating human remains, such as recomposition (“human composting”), alkaline hydrolysis (“water cremation”) and natural burial, could alter the volume and kinds of remains that end up in cemeteries. Other technologies could change how we see the cemetery, from augmented-reality historical tours to remote grave visits through 3D drone photography.




Read more:
Ashes to ashes, dust to … compost? An eco-friendly burial in just 4 weeks


Alkaline hydrolysis, or water cremation, is seen as a greener alternative to cremation.

Five visions of the future cemetery

The co-design workshop’s five models are:

  • the traditional cemetery as it currently exists

  • the nature park cemetery, which integrates burial grounds with native bushland to provide a space that is resource-neutral and open to the public for walking and picnics

  • the socially activated cemetery, which makes space available for a range of public uses, from educational activities such as birdwatching and botany to leisure activities such as playgrounds and cafés

  • the urban high-rise cemetery, which takes take the form of a centrally located urban building rather than a rolling open lawn, drawing inspiration from multi-storey columbaria in North-East Asia, to enable the deceased to be laid to rest close to their loved ones

  • the digital cemetery, which is the idea of a “technology layer” that will increasingly co-exist with, and perhaps one day even replace, the physical cemetery, where loved ones can share photographs, videos and stories about the deceased. In an age of pandemic lockdowns, this digital layer could even allow for people to visit graves remotely for memorial services.




Read more:
Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead


Each of these models is a hypothetical – no cemetery in the near future is likely to follow a single model to the exclusion of all others. However, they point towards the differing options cemetery designers have to think about when planning for the next 100 years.

How do Australians see cemeteries?

Australians appear to be relatively open to considering new concepts for the cemetery.

In our national survey, two-thirds of respondents disagreed with the idea that “the cemetery should only be for the interment and memorialisation of the dead”. About a third of respondents supported the use of cemeteries as nature reserves to conserve plants and animals. Similar numbers agreed that a cemetery would be a good place to learn about historical and philosophical issues.

Leisure activities at the cemetery, such as exercise classes, picnics and concerts, attracted much less public support. And conspicuous technologies such as drones and virtual reality systems proved a bridge too far for most.

Most notable was a lack of strong feelings – positive or negative – about many of the proposals for the future cemetery. This suggests to us that, given taboos around death, Australians rarely have the chance to consider the cemetery and its potential uses. We are perhaps open to considering new technologies and ideas for the cemetery, as long as they are implemented respectfully and do not disrupt the fundamental need to mourn the dead.The Conversation

Hannah Gould, ARC Research Fellow, Social And Political Sciences, University of Melbourne and Fraser Allison, ARC Research Fellow, Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Family Tree Database Update

I am working hard to get an updated version of the family trees onto the website as soon as I possibly can. There is a lot of work going on at the moment with additional information being added to the database that I have. There are now over 15 000 names in the database and some 4750 marriages – so you can see the extent of what is going on behind the scenes. I still have a lot of work to do and the names in the database will probably reach about 20 000 or so by the time I’m finished (it may even get to 25 000) and about 10 000 marriages.

It is possible that I’ll be able to add the family trees corrected to what I currently have in the very near future – however, an update for the book is some way off.

Have a peek at the new site at:
http://tracingourhistory.com

Tracing our History: The Latest News

It has been a little while since the last Blog post here at Tracing our History – not a great deal has happened in that time. To be honest I’ve had a lack of interest in family history. However, my interest levels have risen again and I have to thank those who have sent emails to me over the last little while. My lack of interest was ‘sparked’ by bickering on one side of my family, but now the other has ‘refreshed’ my interest by their interest in familial matters. Thank you so much for that.

Part of my interest in family history over the last 10 to 20 years, has been to preserve what I can for future generations. Sure, I’ve been very interested in my past and my family’s past to answer my own curiosity, but I’ve also wanted to have something there for those who come after me. Our history is being lost and I want to be able to preserve as much of it as I can. I have also longed for this exercise to be a collaborative matter, with others in the family also taking part in the preservation of our history. Thankfully, there are a number of people on my mother’s side who seem keen to research that history from varying perspectives (all of which helps with the overall story) and who are also willing to share and collaborate in that research. This can only be good for all of us and for those that follow.

I am still looking at ways to make that process easier and more profitable for us all – to develop a sort of place that we can come back to time and time again, to just touch base, share our research, nut out issues we may have in that research, see if we can help each other, etc. To do this, I think I will have to develop a dual approach – tools for my mother’s side and tools for my father’s side. There is already a Matthews social network available on Geni (which I set up). I am hopeful that on my mother’s side of things the experience will be a far better one (and all indications seem to point that way).

Over the next couple of days I am hoping to get a social network site up and going for my mother’s side of the family, which would include such surnames as Lilley, Jenkinson, Blanch, etc. I want to try and tie this Blog, the social community I have already set up for family members, my actual website and a family tree social network (for my mother’s side) together, so that they kind of work together – there will probably be a few passwords needed (helpful for privacy and security reasons). Anyhow, keep a look at the Blog here – I will keep updating things via the Blog.

In my last Blog post I made some comments regarding Delicious, the online bookmarking social network owned by Yahoo. Things may not be as desperate as I feared in that area, so I am keeping with Delicious at the moment. Hopefully it will be sold and continued, as it is a very good service.

VISIT TO COOLONGOLOOK CEMETERY

Yesterday I visited the Coolongolook Cemetery, which is to the north of Bulahdelah and south of Nabiac and Taree on the Pacific Highway, in New South Wales, Australia. I did this to photograph the headstones in the cemetery for future reference as I continue to research my family history.

 

100_0079web

 ABOVE: Coolongolook Cemetery Sign

 

I would have taken about 200 photographs during my visit and these will be added to my database of cemeteries and headstones that I am developing as part of my family history research. Eventually I hope to be able to cross reference the headstones with what is known of family in my family history research. It would be great to be able to have a photograph of the headstone marking the final resting place of those in my family tree. That is the goal anyhow, as well as being able to glean any additional information that I can to assist me in compiling my family history.

Eventually I also hope to have the photographs of Coolongolook Cemetery and the headstones contained therein on my family – online history site.