A century in the making: southside bush cemetery to focus on natural burials

Dominic Giannini 20 April 2021 4
Artist's impression of Southern Memorial Park

The ACT Government is calling for community feedback on the new design of Southern Memorial Park. Image: Supplied.

Canberrans are being asked to provide feedback on the ACT Government’s designs for the future southside cemetery, which will have a focus on natural burials.

A natural burial is where the body is buried in environmentally friendly coffins or without a grave liner. Canberrans will also be able to stroll through the natural environment when they visit loved ones as the 78-hectare Southern Memorial Park, at the junction of Long Gully Road and Mugga Lane, is developed in the coming decades.

The first stage of the plan – which will provide 2500 burial plots, a works depot and a playground – will take place during the next five years and some of ‘the most needed facilities’ in stage two will be operational within a decade.

The remaining features of stage two, including a crematorium, memorial halls, an outdoor chapel, and an administration building, will be built during the next 50 years, while stage three will then take a further 35 years to complete.

ACT Minister for City Services Chris Steel backed the timeline of the project, saying it would address future demand in the Territory and that extensive consultation is needed to ensure the government gets the project right.

“As Canberra continues to grow, we need to ensure we have cemetery and crematoria facilities that will meet the city’s needs for the next 100 years,” he said.

Artist's impression of Southern Memorial Park

Southern Memorial Park: the new cemetery on Canberra’s southside will be built in stages during the coming decades. Image: Supplied.

“The future site is very large and we will not need all of that capacity right now. That is why it will be developed in stages over time.

“It is a very substantial project and will require significant investment from government and the community to make sure it can be built out in its entirety. But at the moment it is important we get the site established … so we can start providing access to people.”

Demand for natural burials has incrementally increased during the past five years and it is expected to become more popular with economic pressure on purchasing burial spaces already pushing more people in the ACT towards cremation.

The first natural burial locally was in December 2016 and since then Canberrans have purchased around 100 natural burial sites at Gungahlin Cemetery, 60 of which have been used.

There is room for an additional 500 spaces at Gungahlin Cemetery to meet future demand.

Chair of the ACT Public Cemeteries Authority, Stephen Bartos, said Southern Memorial Park would address the needs of Canberra’s southside community.

Although Woden Cemetery is at capacity, there is still plenty of burial space in the ACT. Gungahlin Cemetery has enough space to service the Territory for the next 50 years, said Mr Bartos.

“Because it [Southern Memorial Park] is designed to last for the next 100 years, it is really important to get the consultation right from the start,” he said.

“You do not want to leap into doing something ad hoc that is not going to meet needs.”

ACT Public Cemeteries Authority chair Stephen Bartos

Chair of the ACT Public Cemeteries Authority, Stephen Bartos, said extensive consultation is needed to ensure Southern Memorial Park meets the best interests of the community. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

When questioned about whether having playgrounds and nature walks were indecorous for a cemetery, Mr Bartos said the design was about making the cemetery not just a place of death, but of life for the community.

“The idea that you can share the space and it is part of the life of the community is what we are getting in terms of feedback [for what] people are looking for,” he said.

“If you come to visit a gravesite, you do not want the kids to be bored out of their mind – you want something for them.

“It is shared with a number of different uses including people walking through, horses and a lovely mob of kangaroos, and that is the kind of thing people like to see in the space where their loved ones are.”

The Southern Memorial Park consultation process is now open and will close on 7 June, 2021. You can provide feedback on the designs here.


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4 Responses to A century in the making: southside bush cemetery to focus on natural burials
Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 2:40 pm 17 Apr 21

Can you make the chapel design a public one and for the public to decide on the final decision?

    Shayne Borger Shayne Borger 3:25 pm 17 Apr 21

    Daniel Duncan the govt pay lip service to consultation

Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:47 pm 17 Apr 21

What a monumental (pun intended) back-flip this has been.

What was said just 14 months ago:

“The first stage of the proposed new cemetery in Canberra’s south will have 2500 burial plots in a lawn and native garden setting, according to a tender released for the design work.

But despite increasing community calls for cheaper and more environmentally friendly services, there will not be any natural burial plots included in Stage 1 of the Southern Memorial Park (SMP) planned for a 76-hectare site on Long Gully Road.

Stage 1 will also include a 600-800 square metre cremation memorial garden to cater for about 100 memorials and their ashes, although a crematorium on the SMP site is not slated until a future stage to be determined.”

Now there are to be natural burials and the crematorium will be in stage 2.

I am a bit confused however because the Southern Memorial Park site was chosen to be in Long Gully Road, Tuggeranong but this media release says it is in Symonston. There were plans announced for one in Mugga Lane, Symonston (near Red Hill) so which one are we talking about?

bj_ACT bj_ACT 12:48 pm 17 Apr 21

Surely there’s some better alternative land the government could have utilised that’s not right next door to the rubbish tip.

Mr Barr has purchased thousands of hectares off property owners in the last decade, I can’t believe the most suitable option for bereaved family members will stink to high heaven, feature noisy trucks disturbing the peace and have loose rubbish regularly blowing through the grounds.

What were Government planners thinking? Surely this is a better location for Solar, storage or industrial uses. It’s a weird decision.

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