In Australia we usually dispose of a dead body by burial or burning: interment or cremation.

Cremation rates vary across the world. In Japan almost all bodies are cremated. Fewer than 10% of disposals in Italy are cremated. Just over 40% of the dead in the US are cremated.  (“Ashes to Ashes.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2014. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/10/daily-chart-16>.) (“Disposing of the Dead – Cremation.” Australian Museum, 12 Jan. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://australianmuseum.net.au/Disposing-of-the-dead-Cremation/>.)

In some areas Indigenous Australians buried their dead and in other areas they cremated their dead. (Australian Museum ibid. ) The history of modern Australian cremation followed trends in Britain, Europe and the United States from the 1870s. (Cremation. (2014, March 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:00, April 2, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cremation&oldid=601906525)

Today in Australia about half of those who die each year are cremated. In the cities it is just over two-thirds. There are about 145,000 deaths each year in Australia and that is expected to rise to about 160,000 by 2019. A cremation costs from about $600, whereas a burial, in Sydney, can cost more than ten times this figure. (Evans, Simon. “Cremation Favoured in Tough Economy.” Financial Review. Australian Financial Review, 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://www.afr.com/p/business/companies/cremation_favoured_in_tough_economy_Uh4ynSvpzwzkRIZbOdlxyH>.)

The first crematorium in Australia (and in the Southern Hemisphere) was built in Adelaide in 1903 at West Terrace cemetery. In 1891 South Australia had been the first Australian state to legalise cremation. The crematorium operated until 1959 and was demolished ten years later. (“Crematorium.” West Terrace Cemetery History. Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://www.aca.sa.gov.au/OurCemeteries/WestTerraceCemeteryHistory/Crematorium.aspx>.)

Crematorium, Adelaide, South Australia. , 1919.Image retrieved through Trove from State Library of New South Wales, digital order number d1_13488,  from http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/36913995

The Cremation Society of New South Wales was formed in 1908 but it wasn’t until the 1920s that land was set aside at Sydney’s Rookwood cemetery for Australia’s second crematorium. Another crematorium opened in the northern suburbs of Sydney in the 1930s. (“The Development of Rookwood Cemetery.” About Rookwood Cemetery. Rookwood General Cemetery Trust, 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rookwoodcemetery.com.au/index.php/about-rookwood/history-of-rookwood/the-development-of-rookwood-cemetery>.) (“Our History.” About Us. Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://www.northernsuburbscrem.com.au/en/AboutUs/OurHistory/OurHistory.aspx>.

In Victoria, the Fawkner cemetery in Melbourne established a crematorium in 1927 and Springvale Necropolis opened a crematorium in the 1930s. The first cremation at Springvale was in April 1905. A crematorium at Ballarat was opened in March 1958. (CREMATION. (1905, April 14). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved January 11, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9885398) (“Our History.” About Our Cemetery. Springvale Botanical Cemetery, n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <https://sbc.smct.org.au/our-history/>.) (Ayton, Gary. “History of Cremation.” My Brief History of the World [Gary Ayton’s Photography Wiki]. Gary Ayton, 28 Mar. 2008. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ayton.id.au/gary/History/H_cremation.htm>.) (Wickham, Dorothy, and Peter Butters. The Silent City: A History of Ballaarat General Cemeteries. Ballarat, Vic.: Ballarat Heritage Services, 2006. pages 30-35.)

Ballarat’s first non-indigenous cremation was of an Indian man called Casa Singh on 12 May 1932. The cremation was held at Ballarat Common and supervised by the City Heath Authority.

HINDU CREMATED. (1932, May 13). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4451726

When my husband’s grandmother died in 1949 in Ballarat she was cremated at Fawkner.  I am not sure why and there is nobody left to ask. Other members of her family are buried in a pretty cemetery near Ballarat at Carngham and I am surprised she is not buried there with them. Cremation in Melbourne, more than 100 km away, would have been more expensive than burial at that time. Perhaps cremation was something she had expressed a wish for.

If I look at my family tree and who was buried and cremated I have:

  • my husband’s parents were buried (died 1988 and 2007)
  • both my paternal grandparents were cremated (died 1966 and 2013), my maternal grandparents were buried (died 1988 and 1992), my husband’s paternal grandparents were cremated (they were separated so it was not a joint decision) (died 1949 and 1975), my husband’s maternal grandparents are both buried (both died 1975)
  • three of my four paternal great grandparents were cremated (two died 1951 and the other 1952), the remainder of that generation and previous generations are buried.

I haven’t had time to compile statistics for Australia before publishing this blog. The statistics I have seen indicate that cremations in Australia only increased in number in the 1940s.

 

Saving Graves 

Saving Graves is an initiative on Facebook in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia – each state facing different issues. There is also a web page on the Australian Cemeteries website. My particular interest is Victoria.  Recently I have been in contact with Lambis Englezos who is concerned about the preservation of graves of World war 1 veterans.  I knew of Lambis and more particularly of the work of his colleagues Sandra Playle and Tim Lycett, as my husband’s great uncle, Leslie Leister, was one of the Australian soldiers buried in a mass grave at Fromelles.

In Victoria many cremation memorials are not permanent.  There was a period when one could not acquire a permanent memorial for those who had been cremated; in many cemeteries the space for the plaque was only leased for 25 years.

While the Victorian Government confirmed last year that burials in Victorian cemeteries will continue to be perpetual (the graves won’t be reused), memorials for those who have been cremated are unfortunately not always perpetual. For a number of years, families could not a perpetual memorial for a family member if that person was cremated.

At Fawkner Cemetery all memorials for those who had been cremated between 1984 and 2005 were for limited tenure. From 2009 some memorials began to expire. For a fee these can be converted. In 2011 the fee was $752 for two memorials. Many memorials will not be converted as family may be unaware of the expiry or not have the money to convert perhaps multiple memorials. At Springvale Cemetery, limited tenure began in 1955 and all memorials from 1976 to 1998 were for limited tenure. These are two major cemeteries which are removing expired memorials but they are not the only memorial parks affected. Ballarat also removes memorials where the lease has expired.

Memorial plaque at Springvale tagged to show it will be removed as tenure has expired.

Thousands of memorials are affected such as the one pictured, at Springvale. The process is for the cemetery to notify the family or whoever holds the right of interment. Also an orange sticker is placed on the memorial in some memorial parks. Once the notification period has expired, the memorial is removed. There are many people who did not have the opportunity to be remembered permanently because only temporary memorials were available.

While the Victorian State Government authority responsible for cemeteries states that  “Victoria has a proud tradition of caring for its forebears in a system of public cemeteries,”I would like to see this encompass those who were cremated, especially where families did not have the option to purchase the right to a permanent memorial.

The Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies has an excellent initiative to photograph and index expired tenure plaques at Springvale.