What Happens If a Cemetery Runs Out of Space? 

22 Apr 2024

As Australia’s population grows, so does a peculiar and often overlooked problem: a dwindling supply of cemetery space. Many areas are rapidly approaching a point where finding a final resting place in traditional cemeteries becomes increasingly difficult. So, what happens when cemeteries run out of room and how will Australian communities address this challenge? 

The Numbers Tell a Story 

Major metropolitan areas are facing a stark reality. Some cemeteries could be full within a decade, prompting a re-evaluation of burial practices. The issue is not simply a lack of physical space, but also the need to maintain these grounds within increasingly populated urban landscapes. 

Alternatives Emerge 

While cremation is a growing choice for many Australians, traditional burial remains deeply important for numerous communities due to religious and cultural beliefs. This necessitates creative and alternative solutions: 

Reusing Existing Plots: Some experts propose a system where, after a set period (potentially a century), older graves are respectfully excavated and the remains reinterred deeper in the same plot. This would create space for new burials above. While this approach has been historically used in other parts of the world, it raises ethical and logistical concerns. 

Expansion and New Cemeteries: In some regions, establishing new cemeteries on the outskirts of cities may be explored. However, this option often encounters challenges related to land availability and environmental impact. 

Multi-Storey Burial: Vertical cemeteries, already gaining traction in several countries, optimise space by creating high-rise structures for burials. While culturally unfamiliar in Australia, they could offer a practical solution in densely populated areas. 

Natural Burials: Eco-friendly alternatives, such as natural burial grounds, are increasing in popularity. These minimise environmental impact by using biodegradable materials and forgoing traditional embalming practices. 

A Complex Issue with No Easy Solution 

Australia’s burial space shortage highlights a complex interplay of cultural preferences, land constraints and respect for the deceased. While no single solution will satisfy all stakeholders, open conversations about death and burial practices are crucial. These discussions must balance tradition, innovation and the practical considerations of a growing population. 

Community Input is Key 

The looming burial space crisis demands community-driven solutions. Governments, religious leaders, funeral industry experts and the public must come together to address this sensitive issue. Finding a path forward that respects the past while accommodating future needs will ensure that everyone can have a dignified and meaningful final resting place.