It’s not quite a zombie apocalypse but authorities have to think seriously about how they’re planning for the dead, a conference has heard.

Australia’s main metropolitan regions are facing a shortage of burial space, and Sydney is projected to run out of places to bury its dead by 2051, according to a series of reports done since 2008 when the looming shortage was first identified in a NSW Department of Lands Paper.


Town planner Kate Ryan, from consultants Urbis, outlined some solutions at the PIA National Planning Institute of Australia conference in the Gold Coast on Friday.

Ms Ryan says we need to move on from the idea of cemeteries as gothic spaces inhabited only by “big crumbling headstones”.

The modern cemetery is more likely to resemble a landscaped memorial park, with walking trails, playgrounds and open public spaces.

“This landscape has evolved over time and can evolve more,” she says. “It’s about changing peoples’ perceptions of a cemetery.”

In NSW, the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust is preparing a development for Macarthur Memorial Park, in Sydney’s south West, to become a cemetery and parklands which will meet the needs of the community for the next 100 years.

The proposal includes 35 hectares of publicly accessible parklands with walkways, picnic areas and a sculpture park, as well as burial areas for approximately 136,000 burial plots.

Renewable tenure

Recent amendments to the Cemetery and Crematoria Act make it possible to rent burial spaces for a certain period, after which time remains can be exhumed to make way for another body.

“After tenures expires its expected there won’t be too much left (and) what remains is exhumed and put in a smaller box and buried deeper,” Ms Ryan says.

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