The new Circle of Life infant burial site at Evans Head Cemetery.
The new Circle of Life infant burial site at Evans Head Cemetery. Courtesy of Richmond Valley Coun

Grave issues on the Northern Rivers

AUSTRALIA'S aging population continues to feature in political and community debate but one Northern Rivers council has confronted the lesser discussed subsequent issue of death.

Graves were running out and were sometimes too expensive, staff at Richmond Valley Council found after a 2014 survey of cemeteries in the shire.

Casino, a rural town about 30 kilometres west of Lismore, had enough graves to serve another 55 years of burials; nearby Evans Head had enough to serve 54 years and Coraki could serve another 121, minutes from a December council meeting showed.

To the young and healthy, 50 years might sound like a long time but council staff identified a serious "need for available spaces and affordable alternatives for an aging population”, the minutes read.

"A shift in internment preferences could significantly extend the operational life of Council's existing cemeteries.

"A memorial garden to promote cremation as an alternate internment option would not only decrease the pressure on the site for enough available land but also provide an affordable alternative.”

Memorial gardens were built at Casino and Evans Head cemeteries in line with staff recommendations, as well as a new infant burial centre called Circle of Life in the Evans Head Cemetery.

"The new Infant Burial Centre is unique to the Northern Rivers area providing a dedicated Burial Centre for infants up to 5 years of age,” meeting minutes read.

"Previously, children were either buried in a singular plot or had their ashes placed in plots of family members and columbarium walls.”

The new gardens and Circle of Life were ready for use but Council had yet to update its fee structure.

Fees for grave yard burials could cost nearly $4000, staff reported, plus another $530 per plot for "perpetual maintenance”.

But councillors voted on fees for storing cremation ashes that cost around a quarter of the price, depending on the garden plot chosen and addition of tributes such as plaques, rocks and shrubs.

The Vatican issued a reminder to Catholics around the world, including more than 110,000 registered in the Northern Rivers in the 2011 census, in October last year of church guidelines on death and the human body.

"Burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body,” read a press release from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"The Church recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.”

Former Bishop of Lismore Most Revt Geoffrey Jarrett told The Northern Star: "Christians instinctively wish to be buried in the same way that the body of Christ was buried in anticipation of the Resurrection, but there is no difficulty with cremation if it is chosen in line with Christian belief in the resurrection of the body”.

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