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.
“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.”
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.