The wind whistled through the soaring gum trees and birds swooped and chirped, pecking at the blooms that fluttered in the breeze. A splinter pierced my skin through my thick stockings as I sat waiting on the log. But I didn’t mind, as I inhaled the fresh air like I had just stepped into a bakery first thing in the morning and closed my eyes taking in the peaceful moment. It reminded me of the farm I grew up on when I was a kid. Living on forty acres my siblings and I were forever on adventures in the bush land, playing with farm animals and napping in long grass. I opened my eyes and gazed towards the gaping hole in the ground before me, the roots of life underground swirling in and out of the soil. The dirt was rich and tickled my nostrils. It was one of the most sobering moments in my life as I sat there peering into the grave, all alone deep in the bush.
‘I think it’s going to make it!’ Tony’s voice echoed, breaking my trance. I stood to my feet and peered up the hill, trying not to laugh as I watched the tubby funeral director bouncing about in the hearse driver’s seat as it crunched over stones in the uneven dirt driveway.
‘You sure we won’t get bogged?’ I ran, meeting him at the driver’s window. The aging service conductor wiped his specs, breathing heavily. ‘I’ll try get down a little closer, then we will carry him the rest of the way.’ He popped his specs back on his nose and I stood back and watched the hearse hobble down closer to the grave. At a regular cemetery, there are smooth roads paved through the headstones for hearses and visitor cars to glide through, to allow processions take place and even the grave digger can drive his tractor about the grounds effortlessly. At the Bushland Cemetery there were no roads. There weren’t even headstones. Just trees, long grass and plenty of wildlife. A kangaroo took off amongst the trees as the hearse came to a halt close to the grave. The Bushland Cemetery was one of the first green burial sites in Australia. Here, bodies are laid to rest wrapped in a shroud or timber coffin, which is why we were trying to get the hearse as close to the grave as possible. Mr. Anderson was wrapped in cotton so we had no handles to hold onto as we carried him from the back of the hearse. Mr. Anderson was also victim to a brutal murder- limbs detached violently in order to fit into a storage unit and was not found for some time. So it wouldn’t be an easy feat, carrying his decomposed remains that leaked through the material. The hearse stank, but we would sort that out later. For now, we had to focus on getting the poor soul into the grave nicely before the family arrived. Tony jumped out and we lifted the back of the death car.
I nodded. I took Mr. Anderson’s feet, the sweet and sour stench of decay scratched at the back of my throat and my eyes watered. Stones crunching underfoot we carried our dear deceased and gently placed him into his final resting place, only the shroud separating his rotting corpse from the soil.
‘Right,’ I’ll take the hearse back up top.’ Tony wiped his hands on his suit and reversed the gleaming hearse up towards the office at the top of the hill.
For ten minutes or so it was just me and Mr. Anderson, the birds and the bees and whistling of the wind. I felt so blessed, at one with the Earth. I’m regularly alone at cemeteries with the deceased as the Funeral Conductor checks in to the office. But with a grand flower arrangement on the pretty coffin and plenty of movement all around, from tractors to visitors attending to graves, you sometimes forget there is actually a dead person lying only inches from you. This day, I could see the shape of dismembered Mr. Anderson, I could definitely smell him, but with the richness of the soil and the freshness of the gum trees around us, it was one of the most beautiful moments in my career as a funeral director.
Adjoined to the grounds with native wildlife and flora, there is the regular lawn cemetery. Many who wander there reading stories etched in the headstones may have no idea what takes place down the hill. The Bushland Cemetery looks more like an overgrown paddock and as you explore looking for others who have been buried here, you really do have to keep an eye out for a snake or two. The burials are located using a GPS tracking service and all is used to signify that someone is sleeping forever is a stone. As you enter the grounds, there is a giant pile of rocks you can choose from to use as a headstone. As you search through the grass and trees you discover a stone here and there but presently there aren’t many. However people are catching on to the “Green Burial,” also known as “Natural Burial.”
If you are buried here, it is asked you use a timber coffin or shroud. No metals or laminates and bodies cannot be prepared with chemical preservatives. You are left to decompose naturally feeding the flora and allowing the wildlife to live comfortably as you decay below.
From my rotting corpse flowers shall grow. I remember seeing this quote on a headstone in a historic cemetery once. This is what happens here at the Bushland Cemetery and other natural burial sites around the world. There are over two hundred natural burial grounds in the U.K and approximately eight percent of the population are buried in this fashion. The United States are literally running out of room to bury their dead the traditional way and the natural burial is catching on here in Australia to minimize carbon footprint. It is also cost effective with the price much less than a well known burial with all the trimmings.
After the Priest and the family said their farewell to Mr. Anderson and discussing the horrendous way he died, I wiped a tear and hopped back into the hearse ready for the lengthy drive back to Brisbane. I took a mental note of where our friend was laid to rest, and that weekend I drove to Northern New South Wales to visit him on my own. For an hour I sat by the mound of dirt yet to settle, again watching the birds and listening to…nothing. So peaceful.
You can visit the Bushland Cemetery in Lismore for yourself. Pack a picnic, it truly is a peaceful part of the world.