15 February 2024

A peaceful place to spend the rest of your life - naturally after death

| Jen White
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Wollongong Lawn Cemetery.

The section of Wollongong Lawn Cemetery which has been set aside for natural burials. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

If you are keen to truly return to earth after you die, Wollongong Lawn Cemetery now has an option for natural burials.

Also known as “green” burials, the option allows bodies to naturally decompose in the soil. Bodies are not embalmed or preserved with chemicals, they are dressed in natural clothing – or none – and are buried in biodegradable coffins, such as cardboard or wicker.

Wollongong Memorial Gardens and Cemeteries Operations Manager Josh Saunders said the option for natural burials was in response to increasing requests from the community.

“It’s an option for the person who thinks, when I leave this world, I want to have the least amount of impact on it as possible,” he said.

“With traditional burials, the materials that coffins are made from and what the body is dressed in aren’t really biodegradable – plastic lining and handles, metal handles, screws and so on.

“But with natural burials, it all eventually breaks down to nothing.

“Apart from digging the grave and burying the person, once the grass grows back over the top it’s like you were never there.”

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The natural burial section, which is surrounded by trees in a natural gully and away from the main roads, does not allow headstones, plaques or monuments.

The aim is to preserve and promote the natural appearance of the burial ground, and minimise impact on the environment. People wanting to visit their loved ones will be directed to the burial site via GPS markers.

Initially 12 sites will be set aside but Josh says there is plenty of room for more sites in the future depending on demand.

Unlike other sections of the lawn cemetery, natural burial sites can’t be pre-sold and double burials are not an option. However, if a person is buried there and their partner also wants a natural burial when they pass, they can reserve the adjoining site.

Josh believes natural burials will be a popular option for the current younger generation.

“The generation that’s passing now is still very traditional and wants a site with a headstone or monument,” he said.

“But a lot of the younger generation are focussed on sustainability and having the least impact on the environment.

“I believe it will gain momentum but in the coming years it will become much more popular as people take hold of wanting to look after the environment the best they can.”

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People can already opt for a biodegradable burial in the traditional lawn cemetery if they want a headstone or plaque on the plot.

As well as being environmentally friendly, natural burials are also kinder on the budget. Without the costs of a plaque (starting at about $700), headstones at about $3500-$4000, and the traditional embalming and coffin, funeral prices are vastly cheaper.

Tender Funerals Illawarra, based at Port Kembla, is a not-for-profit funeral provider.

Tender was created with a mission to provide funeral services to people in the community who may be experiencing financial hardship.

From the start it offered sustainable options for funerals, including cardboard coffins priced at about $150 which can be decorated, or handwoven baskets.

General Manager and funeral director Nadine Giles welcomed the move to sustainable natural burials, which previously were only available at Shoalhaven and Sydney.

“It’s really good we now have a local option, it gives another choice for those whose values align,” she said.

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