New cemetery to offer ‘hippie-style burials’
Sydney's newest proposed cemetery will be selling "hippie and greenie burials" where graves are unmarked and you need a GPS to find your loved one's microchipped body.
In what could be a peek into the future of burials, government-appointed trust Northern Metropolitan Cemeteries Land Manager believes it can make about $300 million from a new burial site in northwest Sydney where one-third of the site is dedicated to "natural burials".
Plans for the new 24ha cemetery at Ebenezer near Richmond - obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act - represent a significant investment in what has been a very niche market.
Senior industry figures warn while natural burial methods exist at Kemps Creek near Liverpool, they represent less than one per cent of total burials.
"In a natural burial everything must be biodegradable including the deceased's clothing and coffin," Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of NSW president Pamela Green said.
"There are no gravestones and the site resembles a field or thin woodland.
"It seems like a nice idea in the abstract but families normally opt for a standard approach."
Natural burials are more environmentally friendly than emissions-intensive cremation or a traditional plastic-lined coffin and plot burial.
Corpses are microchipped so the family can locate the exact location of their loved one's remains.
Issac Leung, who runs Scientia Coffins at Seven Hills, said sales of cardboard, wicker and sustainable timber coffins have increased 100 per cent in the past year to now represent 5 per cent of total sales.
"I expect that will only increase as people become more aware of the environmental benefits," he said.
"Natural burials make sense because you can eventually re-use the land rather than it remaining as is."
An industry source disagreed, saying: "Hippy and greenie burials seem like a nice idea at the time but nobody follows through".
Two-thirds (67.9 per cent) of the state's corpses are cremated while the rest are buried.
Cremations increased 1 per cent between 2014 and 2018, according to the regulator Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW.
The Northern Metropolitan Cemeteries Land Manager, which is headed by former federal Liberal party leader John Hewson, purchased the land in 2018 for $5.2m.
NMCLM board minutes from that year also reveal there are plans to increase the cemetery's footprint from 24ha to 53.8ha (or about twice the size of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney), taking the total bill to taxpayers to $11m.
They are yet to submit a development application.
The original land purchase is the subject of an independent inquiry after it was alleged it was bought without the approval of Property Minister Melinda Pavey - a potential breach of crown land laws.
Dr Hewson and other board members did not respond to repeated requests for comment, although he previously said: "We are advised that the board didn't need to get prior approval for the purchase".
A spokesman for industry regulator Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW said the inquiry began in June and is likely to take three months.
"It will be a thorough inquiry and will look into all aspects of the purchase of the land by NMCLM and the processes involved," a spokesman said.
"The NMCLM board has been fully co-operating with the inquiry."
Originally published as New cemetery to offer 'hippie-style burials'