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


Would you prefer to be buried or cremated?
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Wilfred Wang, Monash University; Gil-Soo Han, Monash University, and Helen Forbes-Mewett, Monash University

The Australian society has changed significantly since cemeteries in Victoria were planned and designed 150 years ago. But there haven’t been any major redevelopment or review of the community’s changing requirements for what happens to our bodies when we die.

The Australian population is ageing, with around 15% of Australians aged 65 and over in 2017. About a third of older people in Australia were born overseas, with most coming from a non-English speaking background.




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This has implications for our rituals for death and memorialisation, as well as for existing and future cemeteries.

In a new collaborative research project taken from survey responses and in-depth interviews with members of different communities, we found cemeteries have ongoing significance to Australians, although its meaning and function are changing.

More than half of the 380 survey respondents said they still visit a cemetery once a year or more, and 23% visit once a month or more. But the interview data reveal a more complex and dynamic picture.

People from CALD communities believed Australia’s cemeteries are greener, better managed and less scary than those in their original countries.
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We found people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities tend to visit the cemetery more than their Anglo counterparts, and prefered to be memorialised in cemeteries to preserve a sense of belonging.

Anglo-Australians, on the other hand, generally prefer to be cremated and often choose to scatter ashes in places other than a cemetery. In one participant’s case, that meant scattering remains in a French vinyard, an island volcano and their local beach.

Calling Australia home

The cemetery remains an important site of cultural ritualisation and expression to most CALD interviewees.

Interviewees from the CALD communities – especially those from an Asian cultural background – had positive experiences with cemeteries in Australia. When comparing Australian cemeteries with those in Malaysia, Jenny (60s, Malaysian Chinese) said:

In Malaysia, the cemeteries are not like this […] they are all overgrown […] and we were taught that graves are places where the gangsters will hide out, the thieves will hide out, people will come and rob you, so we don’t go.

The perceptions that Australian cemeteries are more open, greener, better managed, more accessible, and not as scary as those in their original countries made many Asian migrants felt more willing to visit a cemetery here.

Besides the aesthetic contrast, for many CALD interviewees, the cemetery offers a space that embraces their culture and gives them a sense of belonging in Australia.

Tony (30s, Tongan) would love to have a traditional Tongan way of burial in Australia, which involves bone picking (removing the bones from the grave), and grave re-using for future generations. These traditions strengthen their inter-generational connections.

Australian regulations mean these ritual practices are not possible here. But Tony was prepared to make a compromise.

Instead of following the ritual, he insisted on being buried in Australia because his children and family live in Australia. The inter-generational connections can prevail here. They call Australia home.




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Participants from the CALD communities generally shared Tony’s idea. They believed having a physical place in Australia (either a grave or a plot for the ashes) gave them a sense of belonging and settlement for themselves and their families.

A library of local history, not a ‘resting place’

On the other hand, people from an Anglo-cultural background no longer see cemeteries as just a space for memorialisation and mourning. From our interviews, many see it as a “library” or a “depository” of the local history and family genealogy.

Cemetery visits, in this sense, contrast between fulfilling one’s cultural duty of memorialisation, and obtaining historical knowledge for self-learning, reflection, and development.

Alfred’s (50s, Anglo-Australian) cemetery visits had been driven by his interest in his family history. Family history can give someone “an explanation” about the kind of person they are, and:

how the attitudes were passed on to the next generation so you can learn a tremendous amount, multi-generation through a family history search.

Yet, while many Anglo interview participants appreciated the historical and cultural values of the cemetery, they became less enthusiastic when considering the cemetery as their “resting places”.

We believe this corresponds with the nationwide trend since 2012 of more Australians preferring cremation to traditional full-body burial.

We found 56% of our survey respondents preferred cremation, 32% indicated preference for a ground burial and 12% were undecided.

In any case, our research indicated many people prefer to be memorialised at a place or site that’s meaningful. This might include their favourite beach or the park where they spent time with their children, rather than in a cemetery, which is outside their social, family spaces.




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Tina (50s, Anglo-Australian) embarked on a global journey to fulfil her late husband’s wishes as he wanted his cremation remains (called cremains) scattered in three locations he loved: a vinyard in Burgundy, France, a volcano in Reunion Island, and the family’s local beach in Williamstown, Melbourne. Tina did all three.

Planning your body disposal

More people have started pre-planning what happens to their body when they die. The quantitative data shows 64% of people have already discussed their end of life-related wishes with close friends or family, and 11% have pre-paid for a funeral service.

In an earlier study, we found Chinese Australians, for example, tended to pre-purchase their funeral services and grave sites before they died.

As previously mentioned, this might enhance their sense of cultural belonging in Australia.

On the other hand, people from an Anglo cultural background would “talk about it”, but few actually “lock things in”.

Interviews from the present study revealed people with an Anglo cultural background had a strong desire of “flexibility”. Many didn’t wish to decide at the time of their interview, as they were still exploring possibilities and opportunities outside the conventional modes of body disposal and memorialisation.




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In other words, the idea of being memorialised outside the cemetery was an emerging rather than established idea.

Understanding the contemporary and future funeral needs of the culturally diverse Australian population is important to policy makers, as well as the cemetery and funeral industries.

With increasingly limited access to usable land suitable for burial practices – particularly in metropolitan areas – planning must consider the funeral rites of the ageing population and incoming migrant groups. They are likely to make end of life choices in the coming decades.The Conversation

Wilfred Wang, Lecturer, Communications & Media Studies, Monash University; Gil-Soo Han, Associate Professor, Communications & Media Studies, Monash University, and Helen Forbes-Mewett, Senior lecturer, Monash University

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

Bloom and boom: how babies and migrants have contributed to Australia’s population growth


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Even without immigration, new data reveals Australia’s population would continue to grow.
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Tom Wilson, Charles Darwin University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This is the second article in our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Population change has long been a topic of public debate in Australia, periodically escalating into controversy.

It is inextricably linked to debates about immigration levels, labour force needs, capital city congestion and housing costs, refugee intakes, economic growth in country areas and northern Australia, the “big versus smaller” Australia debate, and environmental pressures.

Views about the rate of population growth in Australia are numerous and mixed. At one end of the spectrum are those who are vehemently opposed to further population increases; at the other end are supporters of substantially higher population growth and a “very big” Australia.

Logically, population debates usually quote Australia’s demographic statistics. But there is value in comparing our population growth in the international context.

Average growth rates compared globally

Although growth rates have fluctuated considerably from year to year, statistics just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australia’s population grew by 3.75 million between 2006 and 2016. This indicates an average annual growth rate of 1.7%.

As the chart below shows, this was quite high compared to other countries and global regions. Over the decade, other English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the US all experienced growth rates lower than Australia’s. The world’s more developed countries in aggregate grew by an annual average of 0.3%.

The world’s population as a whole increased by an average of 1.2% per year.


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According to the UN Population Division, Australia ranked 90th out of 233 countries in terms of population growth rate over the decade. The countries or territories with higher growth rates were mostly less developed countries, particularly in Africa, and the oil-rich Gulf states. The only developed countries with faster rates of growth were Singapore, Luxembourg and Israel.

Why Australia’s population growth rate is higher

There are two main reasons for Australia’s high growth.

Net overseas migration (immigration minus emigration) is one major factor. It has been generating a little over half (56%) of population growth in recent years.

Demand for immigration – to settle permanently, work in Australia, or study here for a few years – is high, and there are many opportunities for people to move to Australia. In the 2015-16 financial year about 190,000 visas were granted to migrants and 19,000 for humanitarian and refugee entry. Temporary migrants included 311,000 student visas, 215,000 working holidaymaker visas and 86,000 temporary work (skilled) 457 visas.

Over the last five years, ABS figures show that immigration has averaged about 480,000 per year and emigration about 280,000. This puts annual net overseas migration at around 200,000.

This is high in international terms. UN Population Division data for the 2010-15 period reveals Australia had the 17th-highest rate of net overseas migration of any country.

But it is not just overseas migration driving Australia’s population growth. High natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) also makes a substantial contribution. Natural increase has been responsible for a little under half (44%) of population growth in recent years (about 157,000 per year).

Australia has a relatively healthy fertility rate, which lately has averaged almost 1.9 babies per woman. We also enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

This combination of an extended history of net overseas migration gains, a long baby boom and a healthy fertility rate has resulted in Australia being less advanced in the population ageing transition than many other developed countries.

In particular, relatively large numbers of people are in the peak childbearing ages. This means that even if migration fell immediately to zero the population would still increase. Demographers call this age structure effect “population momentum”.

Whether Australia’s population is growing too fast

While Australia’s population growth rate is high in a global context, this does not necessarily mean its population is growing too fast. It all depends on your point of view.

It is important to stress that the overall population growth rate is just one aspect of Australia’s demography. A more comprehensive debate about the nation’s demographic trajectory should consider a broad range of issues, such as:

  • population age structure (the numbers of people in different age groups);

  • the health and wellbeing of a rapidly growing population at the highest ages;

  • population distribution across the country;

  • economic growth and development;

  • the contributions of temporary workers and overseas students;

  • appropriate infrastructure for the needs of the population; and

  • environmental management and per-capita carbon emissions.

The ConversationProgress on issues such as healthy ageing, economic development,and environmental management depend on appropriate strategies to deal with these challenges. Total population numbers will often be relevant to the discussion, but they are only part of the equation.

Tom Wilson, Principal Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.