Eco Coffin Project: Week 3

Creative inspiration

Week 3 was about * c r e a t i v e * i n s p i r a t I o n *. Specifically, sharing our ideas for decorating our 5 coffins and making our 5 shrouds and how we are going sourcing materials needed. We met at Riverdell who kindly gave us their gorgeous Air BnB house – Karrawirra – as our space for the afternoon. The large light-filled living area is also used as a teaching and meeting space with a whiteboard, Wi-Fi enabled 55inch Smart TV and room for seating up to 30 people with a fully equipped kitchen.

As an aside, who knew Riverdell had an Air BnB? Karrawirra is a three-bedroom, two bathroom, self-contained home with all the mod-cons.  There is not a lot of accommodation in Gawler so good to know this is available – spread the word!

During the week, my wonderful hubby loaded up our trailer with the 5 coffins and 10 trestles tables (1 for each participant) and took them to Riverdell. The idea being to assemble 2 more of the 4 flat pack coffin-in-a-boxes (we already had one assembled) and assemble the cardboard BioBoard coffin, leaving just one flat pack coffin-in-a-box to do a demo assembly during the session to show how quick and easy they are to assemble.

Assembling the coffin-in-a-boxes in readiness for week 3

The grand plan was to store the coffins at Riverdell for the duration of the project and the 5 participants working on decorating a coffin would do so on Sundays when we met rather than try and find the space at home. Each person had a trestle as their making and decorating surface.

coffins stored at Riverdell
5 Coffins and 10 trestles kindly stored at Riverdell

Covid 19 invades our plans

Then Covid 19 impacted our project. We were at the stage where organisations were starting to make announcements for how they were responding to the virus. So before Riverdell shut down, we decided this would be our last face to face session and we would remove the 5 coffins and 10 trestles. After Shane did the assembly demo, while we carried on with our session, he then dis-assembled all 4 coffin-in-a-boxes and flat packed them ready for the participants to take home at the end of the session. He then stacked the 10 trestles onto the trailer to take back home. And he did all this with a smile and the help of our 11 year old nephew who enjoyed helping his Uncle.

Coffin assembly

It takes about 20 minutes to assemble the coffin-in-a-box. The instructions are easy to follow and there are videos online as well. It is also quick and easy to disassemble and repack the coffin-in-a-box for long term storage after decorating.

Enjoy the 7 photos below that show the assembly of the coffin-in-a-box for our group.

Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Assembling coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project
Demonstration of how to assemble a coffin-in-a-box for the Eco Coffin Project

The cardboard BioBoard coffin takes only a few minutes to assemble. We found the BioBoard coffin is not designed to disassemble – so once it has been put together it needs to stay that way making long term storage more challenging in its bulky form.

It was interesting to see that the participants who had chosen to work on a coffin preferred the wood coffin-in-a-box to the cardboard BioBoard coffin. We also realised it would not be difficult to work on the coffin-in-a-box at home now they were dis-assembled again because you just take out the flat piece you are working on at the time. You wont have a coffin sitting in your living space unlike the cardboard BioBoard. As it worked out, the participant who has the cardboard BioBoard coffin is making a beautiful quilt to cover it rather than decorating it directly so we are storing the BioBoard coffin for her in our shed until the end of the project.

The other Eco coffin we are using for the project is a BioBoard cardboard coffin that we also assembled

Eco friendliness of coffins

The linings of each coffin we used for the project are interesting too. Coffin-in-a-box comes with a treated paper lining for the base that goes up the insides a bit along with an unbleached calico liner for aesthetics. The cardboard Bioboard coffin comes with a plastic liner affixed by metal staples which can be removed.

There are issues with both coffins if using them for natural burials. The coffin-in-a-box uses metal screws for assembly. The BioBoard uses plastic screws to hold the sides together. While the metal and plastic screws are a very minimal component of the overall otherwise 100% eco-materials used, they are not acceptable for natural burial under South Australian legislation which requires all materials used in the coffin to be biodegradable.

Making and Decorating

The rest of the session was spent sharing our visions, where we had got to in the making and what materials we had sourced and what were still left to gather. One of our participants, Gem, is an artist and during the week I went to her place and made a few videos of her sharing the wonderful stories and creative mixed methods behind her work. I then played these videos for the group. We were all amazed and inspired. Gem has very kindly offered to help anyone in the group with her various methods including stitching Japanese style (very on-trend), tie-dying, stencilling, painting, yarn-making and knitting, sewing, collage, printmaking techniques and basketry from fibres in our gardens and homes.

Kathy sharing her first go at making her nuno blanket-shroud – 5 hours of work

Kathy has amazed us all with her vision for a nuno blanket-shroud.

Nuno Felting is a “wet felting technique developed by fibre artist Polly Stirling from New South Wales, Australia, around 1992. The name is derived from the Japanese word “nuno” meaning cloth where wool or fibre is felted or entangled with and through an open weave fabric such as silk chiffon or silk gauze. The felting is accomplished by applying water, heat and friction to the wool or fibre”.

silk sourced from the op shop for a few dollars

Tracey and Eloise brought along their works of art created from plant based dyes and rust – yes rust – stunning, unique and 100% eco friendly. They explained that you tightly wrap your material around a rusty piece of metal and boil it for a time and that creates the most amazing colours and patterns on your material. They shared their oil pastels and plaster bandages for making face death masks as well. All these ideas got our imaginations going and broadened our visions for our own creations.

experimenting with different pastels, paints and plant dyes
a face mask made from plaster bandages that could be used to make a death mask
yarn made from t-shirts
beginning of a shroud being crocheted from t-shirt yarn

The coffin decorators are working with decoupage and paints. Murray kindly offered to do the research into finding affordable eco-friendly paints we can use. I had some earth mineral paints left over from the project launch but only a small amount is left.

Gathering eco-glue recipes is also on the cards. I made a batch of glue from flour, sugar, water, bicarb and vinegar for the launch and now 5 months later it is still holding the material and paper that were stuck on the raw wood coffin and there is no smell. Here is the you-tube clip.

Thank you to Riverdell for hosting us so beautifully and generously for the first part of the Eco Coffin Proejct. In response to Covid 19, next week – week 4 and beyond – we will meet online using zoom with our first guest speaker.

The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners:

Eco Coffin Project thanks its sponsors
Thank you to our sponsors!

Eco Coffin Project: Week 2

Crematorium & natural burial ground tours

We were out and about for site visits for Week 2 of the Eco Coffin Project. With some car-pooling, the 11 of us met at Enfield Memorial Park, run by one of our incredible sponsors, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority. On hand as our knowledgeable tour guides, on a Sunday mind you, and to answer all our questions were Michael Robinson, Operations Manager and 2IC; Terry Jones, Crematorium Manager and Molly Sewell, Events and Hospitality Officer.

Our tour started in the Acacia Room where funerals are held. Was interesting to note, and we all had a laugh, that we were all instinctively drawn to take a seat in the comfy couches.

We moved into the Acacia Lounge where, over a light lunch, Michael gave an insightful overview of the exciting things happening at Adelaide Cemeteries Authority. Some exciting things on the horizon that we will leave for ACA to publicly announce.

Our group had lots of questions which were all answered in depth and with candour.

Will you accept a body driven here by a family member who is not a funeral director?

In principle yes and it has only happened once so far. The paperwork needs to be done with a Doctor and Births Deaths & Marriages before we can cremate or bury the body.

Can a body be cremated that is wrapped only in a shroud with no coffin?

Yes. Our policy is that the body must be completed covered to make it easier for our staff.

How long does it take a body to burn?

About 70-90mins at 960 degrees with larger bodies taking up to 2 hours

What do you think about the cheaper cardboard coffins?

Cardboard coffins create twice the amount of ash as wooden ones. Think of a burning a book in a combustion heater where you end up with a clump of ash – it’s the same for cardboard coffins.

Cremators use natural gas and have toxic emissions don’t they? How good is that for the environment?

Cremators are becoming more and more efficient with the latest models having zero emissions. The newer models weigh whatever goes in to calculate exactly how much fuel is required which makes them very efficient. Also the newer models are besing designed to use hydrogen as that technology becomes more mainstream.

What happens to the ashes after the body has been cremated?

Any metals from implants are removed with a magnet. Note that pacemakers are removed by the Funeral Director’s mortuary staff before the body is cremated. A pacemaker would explode in the cremator and cause significant damage. The cooled ashes are placed in a cremulator which is a machine that turns the ashes into a fine powder that is then placed in an urn and given to the family.

What emissions from the cremator are allowed by the EPA?

There are just 2 puffs of smoke during the process

What happens to metal and surgical implants in the cremator?

A magnet separates all the metal from the ash when the ash had cooled including nails, pins, knee and hip joints, and these are sold for recycling overseas to a Dutch company. The money is used to repair vandalism and in restoration projects at the historic West Terrace Cemetery.

How deep are the graves in Natural Burial?

The graves are dug 1.4 meters to meet the legal requirements that there must be a distance of 1 meter from the tip of the nose to the top of the ground.

Where do the plants come from for Wirra Wonga Natural Burial Ground?

The adjacent Folland Reserve has original plants for this area. It is one of the last places on the Adelaide Plains with remnant vegetation indigenous to the area. Trees For Life collect seeds under licence and provide Wirra Wonga with the plants.

Do people add personal items into the coffins?

Some of the prohibited items include bottles of beer and other liquids, books, marijuana leaves. These items create problems such as glass bottles exploding and damaging the cremator, books create extra ash and burning marijuana leaves can be harmful for staff when inhaled.

Can you use your own urn for the ashes?

Yes the family can provide whatever vessel they want to use for their loved one’s ashes. Note that the plastic containers we use never disintegrate. This means that if a family wants to have their person’s back at any time we just dig up the container and return the ashes fully in tact.

Buddhist section

After the fascinating crematorium tour we wandered down to see the Natural Burial Ground. Sunday was a glorious Autumnal day – a beautiful day to be outside. We noticed the different areas with different icons, plants and headstones. There is a spot in the cemetery for every culture and religion. It was interesting to ponder how a cemetery is one place in the world where all cultures and religions can coexist in harmony.

Maintaining the various gardens uses a lot of resources because they are not native plantings and are highly landscaped. The water usage and resulting annual bill is very high. There are 25,000 lawn tablets that need to be individually whipper-snippered on a regular basis. The wide expanses of green lawns need to be mowed regularly with ride-ons. The power tools and equipment have a lot of embodied energy and require fuel to operate them.

Humans do some interesting things with our bodies driven by beliefs and cultural norms – most of them result in our body being kept separate and disconnected from nature forever. We wrap the bodies of our person in plastic (to stop leakage) and place them in coffins filled with synthetic lacy lining and soft padding (so they are comfy) made from various woods from chipboard (toxic glues) to specialty woods like rosewood that have many costs of glossy varnish and metal or plastic handles. These coffins can then be placed in a few different options such as a hole in a wall called a Mausoleum or a concrete lined hole in the ground called a vault or in a deep hole in the ground that can hold up to 3 coffins on top of each other. Even our ashes are placed in a container before they are interred in a wall called a columbarium or buried in the ground, which is a good thing because a high concentration of ashes actually kills plants.

Eloise enjoying becoming one with the creative pieces in the gardens
A family mausoleum
Outside the public mausoleum precinct offering resting places in the walls
Inside the public mausoleum precinct offering resting places in the walls

Life cycle analysis conducted by independent research for ACA concluded that 3-deep earth burials have a larger carbon footprint than cremation and cremation has a larger carbon footprint than natural burials.

We were keen to see Wirra Wonga which is one of the 2 public natural burial grounds in South Australia. Wirra Wonga is a Kaurna term meaning ‘bush grave’. The indigenous plantings come from the adjacent Folland Reserve. Bodies buried here must meet the requirements of the SA Burial and Cremation Act 2013 and Regulations 2014. Bodies are not embalmed. They can be buried in a shroud or coffin made from biodegradable materials; no plastics, metals or chemicals. The graves are shallower at 1 metre from the tip of the nose to the surface which allows for anerobic soil activity for more rapid decomposition. Headstones are not used as that detracts from creating a natural bush environment. Identification of bodies is required by law and that is done using micro-chips at the head and foot of the body that record the GPS location along with other details about the person. At the entrance to Wirra Wonga are 3 large stone tablets where the names of people buried in the natural burial area can be engraved at an additional cost. I noted that these are nearly full now showing the popularity of natural burial continues to grow.

Headstones compact a person’s life into just the dash between their birth date and death date. Technology with microchips allows for as much information about the person’s life to be recorded as the software allows. Imagine linking in with a person’s social media accounts.

Whilst I would like to think that the motivating factor for natural burial was because it has a low carbon footprint, that is not always the case. Natural burial is the cheapest and best value for money burial option at ACA with a 99-year period included in the price of $6,600. So people who want to be buried but are driven by budget will also consider this option. Click here for a price guide of Adelaide Cemeteries Authority.

The Eco Coffin Project group members at the entrance to Wirra Wonga Natural Burial ground

On the way home we stopped in at Pilyu Yarta at Smithfield Memorial Park. Pilyu Yarta is the other public natural burial ground in South Australia that is in the Gawler region, a fact not known by many people in our area and is one of the reasons for running the Eco Coffin project – to raise awareness of natural burial and the fact we have a natural burial ground in our area. Pilyu Yarta is a Kuarna term for ‘peaceful ground’. Australian natives and wildflowers make this an inviting place for all beings, human and more-than-human, to wander through.

Instead of headstones, names can be placed on these stone tablets at the entrance to Wirra Wonga Natural Burial ground
Wirra Wonga Natural Burial ground showcases and expands the indigenous plantings from the adjacent Folland Reserve. Hard to believe this is a burial ground in this environment teaming with life.
The Eco Coffin Project group having a tour of Wirra Wonga Natural Burial ground. Note the earth graves in the foreground that will have plantings on them soon once the earth ahs settled.
Wandering through Pilyu Yarta Natural Burial ground in the Gawler region.

It was a wonderful day out seeing and learning new things, challenging each one of us to rethink our options for what is possible with our bodies when we die. Eloise, one of the participants, is very creative and she gave me this beautiful gift of 2 origami dinosaurs that she whipped up during the car trip on her way to the site visit. In week 1 each person took home a pack of “Dying To Talk” cards to help them become clear on their values around death and dying. The logo for the cards is two dinosaurs pondering the cause of their extinction – let’s hope that is not a metaphor for us. Maybe bodies wrapped only in biodegradable shrouds that are either cremated in hydrogen powered cremators with zero emissions or buried naturally in bush settings teaming with life are what we need to be focussing on. What do you think?

A beautiful gift of 2 origami dinosaurs pondering the cause of their extinction – let’s hope this is not a metaphor for us.

The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners:

Eco Coffin Project thanks its sponsors
Thank you to our sponsors!

Eco Coffin Project: Week 1

Pushing Up Daisies workshop

A lot has happened since our last post in November when we launched the Eco Coffin Project at the Sustainable Living Festival and the program was FULLY BOOKED within the hour with a waiting list started. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of Natural Burial as a sustainable option for what can happen with our bodies when we die.

Eco Coffin Project week 1

During the last four months, we found the most incredible venue for our six week program at Riverdell Spiritual Centre, five eco-coffins arrived, guest speakers arranged, artists interviewed and a behind the scene tour of Adelaide Cemeteries Authority’s crematorium organised along with tours of the two natural burial grounds in South Australia. The project will have a big ending, thanks to Gawler Council, where the wider community can come and see what we have learned and created. Mark the following two events in your diary so you don’t miss out!! Bookings will open soon.

10:15am– 12:30pm Saturday 18 April,
Niina Marni Café, Gawler Civic Centre

1:00pm Saturday 18 April,
James Martin Room, Gawler Civic Centre

Gawler Councillors felt strongly that our community needs to know about natural burial so they unanimously voted to generously provide the James Martin room in the new Civic Centre for an art exhibition of the decorated eco-coffins and shrouds at the end of the project. A public Death Café will also be held in Niina Marni Café in the new Civic Centre right before the art exhibition launch. See the SAVE THE DATE 18 April details above for both events.

The first 10 lucky participants met for the first time on Sunday 1 March for week 1 of the six week program. We met in the Sanctuary at Riverdell, a beautiful venue nestled in a peaceful bush setting. The session started with each of us selecting a card that had an image on it that best represented our feelings to the questions from the Death Letter Project: What is death? and What happens when we die? We quickly learned so much about each other from seeing the cards that we selected and listening to the deeply intimate stories that each of us so generously shared. Such a wealth of experience and insights into death and dying in our group.

We also shared whether we were working on an eco coffin or shroud for the project and what our initial vision was. Some chose a shroud as they like the idea of the wrapping concept, as in wrapping a snuggly blanket around yourself, it has a comforting feel about it.

At the back of the room we had the two types of eco-coffins we are using on display. The Coffin-in-a-Box is made from eco-plywood and was on display in its flat-packed form and we had one assembled. The BioBoard is made from virgin Australian wood pulp and is an eco-cardboard option using corn starch which is fully biodegradable.

Eco Coffin Project: Week 1 - Coffin-in-a-box and BioBoard coffin on display
Coffin-in-a-box and BioBoard coffin on display

The creative decorating and making ideas for what people are thinking for their shrouds and eco-coffins were pretty exciting. The only stipulation is that the materials must be biodegradible. Initial ideas included felt, paint with colours of the rainbow, sea-shells, seaweed, paper mache, recycled clothes made from natural fibres, plants and a variety of fabrics including hemp, nettle, muslin, silk and there was the mention of including aromas from the bush as well and this was just week 1.

Abby from Our Family Celebrant then facilitated her popular Pushing Up Daisies workshop. This workshop empowers participants to confidently navigate their way through the rapidly changing landscape of the Australian funeral industry. Participants then think about their own values-based situations and creatively review their own end of life planning which goes much further than just a having a will.

Eco Coffin Project: Week 1 - Pushing Up Daisies Workshop
The room is setup for the Pushing Up Daisies Workshop

A sample of the new things participants learned included:

  • What Natural Burials are,
  • I never heard of an Emotional Will before and I’m looking further into this to see if this / or similar is something we can do for an auntie that has already passed,
  • The biggest thing that struck me was the fact that we can keep our ‘newly dead’  loved ones close to us for some time without the need to call a funeral director and can actually take care of our loved one ourselves. I was never offered that opportunity which is rather sad,
  • The options available for preparing for death,
  • That I did not feel alone, so many have experienced the grief of losing someone and I felt comfortable talking about my [situation]. 
  • Knowing there is Natural Burial Ground in our area (Gawler).

Actions that participants committed to take after the workshop included:

  • Talk with my family more about my thoughts and wishes, also advise them about the death folder and its significance,
  • Start the process of gathering information for death folder and research material to use for my coffin,
  • My action will be to encourage others to feel comfortable with this concept [keeping bodies at home after they die], no preaching, just comfortable chats,
  • Clean my stuff out!!!!! I do not want my family to deal with having to sort my things out when I am gone,
  • I will start the process of getting a will and all the other legal documents needed, 
  • Working on my end of life plan
  • Complete my advance care directive form [that we received in the workshop].

We were so engrossed in this first week’s session that none of us remembered to take photos. So we only have a few photos of the room setup before the workshop started.

Next week we are out and about with a tour of the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority Crematorium and the 2 Natural Burial Grounds – Wirra Wonga and Pilyu Yarta. You can be assured we will take more photos of our courageous pioneering group members to share on our blog!

The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners:

Eco Coffin Project thanks its sponsors
Thank you to our sponsors!

New Gawler Repair Cafe is coming soon!

We are very excited to announce that the GEC will soon be launching a Repair Café for the Gawler community! Repair Cafes provide a free meeting space where community members can work with skilled volunteers to repair items that would otherwise go to waste. Repairs can be made available for items such as furniture, clothing and jewellery, toys, bikes and small electrical appliances. Services are provided free of charge by volunteers but customers can choose to make a small donation to support the service if they wish. 

We will soon commence planning our services and looking for skilled volunteers so if you are keen to be involved please contact GEC Coordinator Kathy on 8115 4620 or

We are grateful for the support provided to this project by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science through the Communities Environment Program. 





Eco Coffin Project: The launch

The Eco Coffin Project was successfully launched at the Sustainable Living Festival on Sunday 27 October, 2019. A good crowd gathered in the Speaker’s Zone at 10:30am to hear the project facilitator, Abby Buckley, give a short presentation explaining the project and the environmental issues.  Then the Town of Gawler Mayor, Karen Redman, shared some personal stories in her presentation and officially launched the project. It was encouraging to then have lots of interested people ask questions and register for the 6-week program. We were soon SOLD OUT and created a waiting list.

Abby Buckley, Eco Coffin Project Facilitator, with opening presentation at the lauch
Abby Buckley, Eco Coffin Project Facilitator, with opening presentation at the launch

The project aims to increase our death literacy and raise awareness of Natural Burial. Did you know we have a Natural Burial Ground in Gawler? Standard responses are: “Do we? Where? I never knew that! What’s a natural burial? Can we really use our own coffin/shroud? Is it legal?

Mayor, Town of Gawler, Karen Redman (3rd left) launching the Eco Coffin Project with Facilitator, Abby Buckley (2nd left) and project supporters, Betty Allan (left) and Sandra Sullivan (right)

The Eco Coffin Project stall looked so creatively colourful with lots of craft materials that drew people in to have a look and ask what we were doing. We had a rectangular, home-made coffin on display that Abby’s husband, Shane, made from donated planks of raw wood.

All ages stopped to decorate the eco coffin
All ages stopped to decorate the eco coffin

People of all ages stopped to help decorate the coffin with bio-degradable craft materials. The glue was made by Abby from flour, water, sugar, vinegar and bicarb soda. Craft materials were donated by friends and the members of the Gawler Buy Nothing Group and included paper, fabric, dried and fresh flowers and leaves, feathers, old sheets of music, newspaper cuttings about climate change.  Glue and paint were applied with brushes, cardboard, sponges and fingers. Lots of colour and texture made for some beautiful creative designs.

Creative designs all over the eco-coffin
Creative designs all over the eco-coffin

We met heaps of interesting people, had some great conversations and learned so much, gaining lots of inspiration for the project. I learned that the place the Festival was being held, Pioneer Park, was the site for Gawler’s first cemetery from 1847 to 1870 with 471 burials. I learned that a new Natural Burial ground may be opening up in Gawler in the not too distant future. I met the Anglican Minister who, in December 2016, officiated the first natural burial at Aldinga Arts Eco-Village. The conversations were rich and broad and continued all day.

Rich conversations all day at the Eco Coffin Project stall
Rich conversations all day at the Eco Coffin Project stall

On display was our assembled, flat-pack, sustainable-plywood coffin called “Coffin-In-A-Box”. It is lined with paper and calico and uses part of the cardboard packing as a headrest. Five lucky participants in the Eco Coffin Project 6-week program will receive one of these eco-coffins to assemble and decorate and then they can flat pack it up to conveniently store until needed. It’s theirs to keep. The other five participants will make and decorate a shroud. Lots of creative ideas emerged on materials to use for shrouds such as fabric made of cotton, linen or bamboo; hemp/jute bags, macramé, crochet, knitted, quilted or even paper-mache. All will be on display at our art exhibition on completion of the project.

It was so encouraging and enlivening to be positioned amongst the other ‘eco-makers’ at the Festival. Our neighbours were Gem and Philippa with the weaving looms, basketry, face-painting and Elisabeth with come-and-try mosaics from colourful plastic bottle tops.

A collective collaboration of love decorating the eco coffin
A collective collaboration of love decorating the eco coffin

The Eco Coffin Project is possible thanks to our generous sponsors from State and Local Government and local business: Gawler Environment Centre (GEC), Town of Gawler, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Adelaide & Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board, Link Edge, Abby Buckley Our Family Celebrant.

Thanks to all the people who donated organic and biodegradable craft materials. Thanks to many of the other stallholders and the GEC team who popped in to have a look and offer kind words of encouragement.

Thank you to our sponsors: Gawler Environment Centre, Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Town of Gawler, Link Edge, Abby Buckley Our Family Celebrant
Thank you to our sponsors

Eco Coffin Project: The idea

A few years ago, I came across the Coffin Club concept and have been inspired ever since to start one up in my community in Gawler, South Australia. What is a Coffin Club? It’s a place where people come together to build and decorate their own coffin. Why would you want to build your own coffin? Well to buy one from a funeral director can be very expensive so building your own significantly reduces your cost from thousand(s) of dollars to a few hundred dollars. And you can have fun decorating it to reflect your values and life. You can even get your family and friends involved to help. Plus you can build it out of the materials you choose; in my case environmentally friendly, sustainably-sourced materials.

I had personal experience of the love that shines through when decorating my son’s coffin with family and friends back in 2012 after he died in a car accident when he was just 22. Robbie was doing his Master of Architecture on his way to making his dream a reality of designing sustainable biophilic spaces and places. So when I flicked through the pages of the coffin catalogue handed to me by the funeral director at our kitchen table it felt like every page showed a coffin that was not only more expensive but also was more ornate with more metal and varnish and shiny synthetic linings. None of the offerings used sustainably-sourced, environmentally-friendly materials so I knew none were suitable for Robbie. I had seen a doco that showed an Italian family decorating a coffin in their lounge room so I asked the funeral director for a plain wooden coffin we could decorate made from sustainable wood. He looked uncomfortable, squirmed a bit in his seat and finally said that all he could offer me was a simple coffin that a local person made for them for people who could not afford much; previously referred to as a ‘pauper’s coffin’. I replied that sounded perfect. So the coffin was delivered to our home. Sadly it was made from MDF which is a combination of wood chips and glues with lots of toxic chemicals. The handles were metal. But it allowed us to decorate as we wanted. I thought it would just be our immediate small family involved in the decorating but word got out and soon I was receiving emails with photos, poems, drawings, letters to be decoupaged onto the coffin from Robbie’s friends around the world. Living on campus at uni for a few years meant he had friends from all over.

Family and friends decorating Robbie's coffin
Family and friends decorating Robbie’s coffin

Then we thought well maybe friends of Robbie who lived locally may like to pop in a decorate the coffin. So we put the word out that we would have an open day. We had Robbie’s fav radio station playing, Triple J, in our light-filled room with lots of craft materials. I was amazed at the steady stream of people, young and old, who came to our home that day. Responses were so varied. Some of his mates tentatively walked in asking if Robbie was in the coffin. He wasn’t. If I was doing it now with all I have learned these last 7 years, Robbie’s body would definitely be in the coffin. Anyway, some people stayed a short time, others stayed for hours. Some actively worked on the decorations, cutting, pasting, sticking, painting while others sat silently on the couches or just stood and watched. Sometimes there was laughter, sometimes there were tears, sometimes there was silence. Lots of Robbie stories were shared: “Remember the time when …” At the end of the day the coffin was covered in love – nothing in the coffin catalogue could match what we had collectively created – it was priceless. The coffin lid was a collective message for Robbie, starting on the outer edge and spriralling its way to the centre, where each person who came wrote something from their heart. There were so many printed email offerings that we had run out of space on the coffin so I placed them all on Robbie’s heart, under his folded hands. From this amazing experience I know first hand the value in being creatively hands-on as a collective group decorating a coffin of someone you love.

Collective messages spiralling in for Robbie from all who decorated the coffin
Collective messages spiralling in for Robbie from all who decorated the coffin

Coffin Clubs do much more than just build coffins; they build community by bringing people together, overcoming loneliness, learning new skills, encouraging creativity, increasing death literacy and having fun together.

The original Coffin Club was founded in 2010 in Rotorua, New Zealand, by Katie Williams, 77 years old; a former palliative care nurse. During a brainstorming session at a University of the Third Age (U3A) gathering, Katie got the idea of building her own coffin. With the help of some friends with carpentry, building and decorating skills she built her own coffin in her garage. It looked so good, her friends helped each other build their owns coffins as well. Coffin Clubs have since sprung up across New Zealand, Ireland, England and in 2016 the first one in Australia was started by Care Beyond Cure with the support and drive from passionate volunteers like the wonderful Lynne Jarvis. It’s called the Community Coffin Club and is located in Ulverstone in Tasmania’s north-west. To understand the concept of Coffin Club and put a smile on your face take a few minutes to watch the award-winning doco/musical by clicking on the image below.

Click on image to watch the doco/musical [4 minutes]

So what to do in my community? I contacted Katie in New Zealand and she was very encouraging and helpful. For the making space, I was thinking of inviting our local Men’s Shed to be involved with the hope they would mentor us with woodworking skills and tools and maybe even be inspired to make their own coffins. For the decorating space, I was thinking about approaching Riverdell Centre, a beautiful location for creative work. Issues that seemed too hard to nut through were: where would we source our eco wood from?, would it be too expensive going eco?, where would we store the coffins during the making/decorating process? Was it safe for unskilled people to use power tools? What if someone cut off a finger? My head was spinning.

An easier question to answer was around the design: what shape would the coffins be? I asked Lynne down in Tasmania what patterns they used for their coffins and she said they just did a Google search. Following her lead, I found some excellent patterns and here are the most helpful links:

I had heard somewhere about a coffin that could be turned into a bookcase but I could not find it anywhere anymore on the net. Then synchronicity worked its magic when a friend and I were ride sharing to an event and it came up in conversation that she had the pattern I was after. By the end of the day my friend had emailed it too me. Whilst writing this blog I did another search and lo and behold I have just found the original link with not only the pattern but a photo of the finished item – stunning!!

Then nothing happened for a few years – but the idea still burned in my head and heart.

Then last year I became Treasurer of the Gawler Environment Centre Committee. I had found my tribe; working with like-minded people combining our passion for the environment and sustainable living (and dying) with community engagement. The Gawler Coffin Club was our initial vision which was going to be modelled on the original Coffin Club in New Zealand and the Community Coffin Club in Tasmania. However as it was important for our sole focus to be on sustainability and only using organic biodegradable building and decorating materials the name then changed to the Eco Coffin Club. As Natural Burials were to be our desired resting pace for our participants we would also be creating and making beautiful shrouds which are allowed by the SA Burial and Cremation Act 2013.

We decided the upcoming Sustainable Living Festival, that is a biennial project for the Gawler Environment Centre, was the perfect place to launch our new project. My wonderful husband said he would make us a couple of demo coffins to use at our launch for festival-goers to decorate. It would give us a chance to see how the patterns worked that I had found on the net. Many people do not realise you can build and decorate your own coffin so even this one activity at our launch would inspire some people in the wider community, even before the actual project began.

We needed wood and that came from a kind large donation of rough-hewn untreated pine planks from our Chairman’s employer, Link Edge. My husband beavered away for many intermittent hours over a week in the shed and created our first coffin in a rectangular shape. This can be used as a storage box and bench seat until needed as a coffin. We will use this for decorating at the launch.

Our first demo hand made coffin to be used for decorating at the launch
Our first demo hand made coffin to be used for decorating at the launch

But we were still overwhelmed by the ongoing task of sourcing materials, tools, storage, skills and time to start up a club. A club maybe a small word but requires a large ongoing year in year out commitment with a passionate group driving it all the time. None of us felt up to that challenge. In addition the Gawler Environment Centre’s strategic direction around community engagement is project focussed rather than club based so we needed to remind ourselves to stay true to our organisation’s mission.

Then synchronicity struck again. I came across an article about the great work of the London Coffin Club and saw that one of the many activities they offer is a short course. Then the idea emerged that we could create an annual community project to creatively engage people to consider what a sustainable death means to them. From that seed, the Eco Coffin Project sprouted.

We have decided not to build coffins from scratch for our project. Again synchronicity led us to a cost effective, sustainable solution that is perfect for our participants and the direction our Eco Coffin Project is taking.

To find out just what our fabulous, game-changing Eco Coffin solution is come along to our launch, being opened by the Mayor at 10:30am on Sunday 27 October at the Sustainable Living Festival, Pioneer Park, Gawler for the big reveal!

Our next post will be written after the launch of the Eco Coffin Project at 10:30am on Sunday 27 October at the Sustainable Living Festival, Pioneer Park, Gawler. Come along and then stay to help decorate the coffin.

Thank you to our sponsors
Thank you to our sponsors

Eco Coffin Project: The program

The Eco Coffin Project is looking for 10 curious people to participate in a 6-week program commencing early in 2020 to explore, inform and create a very personal story of what sustainable death means to each of them.

The group will meet weekly in Gawler for a 3-hour session from 9am-12pm with morning tea provided.

Over this consecutive 6-week period we will have guest speakers, site visits, workshops and making and decorating time for either an eco-coffin or organic shroud that each person will own and take home at the end of the project.

The project will culminate in a Death Café and public Art Exhibition of the decorated eco-coffins and organic shrouds as a way to further engage the wider community in starting the conversation around what is a sustainable death?


The exciting Eco Coffin Project program for 2020 is shaping up as follows:

Week 1: The Big Picture

  • Program overview
  • Introductions
  • Pushing Up Daisies workshop

Week 2: Out and About

  • Crematorium site visit
  • Natural Burial Ground site visit

Week 3: Inspiration

  • Guest Speakers: Local Artists
  • Plan your design
  • Eco-Coffin assembly and organising shroud materials

Week 4: Making & Decorating

  • Guest Speaker: End-of-Life Guide
  • Decorating eco-coffins and shrouds

Week 5: Making & Decorating

  • Guest Speaker: Funeral Director
  • Decorating eco-coffins and shrouds

Week 6: Making & Decorating

  • Group reflection activity
  • Decorating eco-coffins and shrouds

Public Art Exhibition & Death Cafe

Program facilitator

The program facilitator is Abby Buckley. Abby is a Social Ecologist, Bush Adventure Therapy Leader and Celebrant who finds guidance and inspiration from nature on how to positively embrace death in our everyday lives so we feel connected, empowered and enlivened. Death Cafes, Before I Die Walls, Death Over Dinner and Dying To Know Days are some of the conversation-starting community events she has facilitated in Gawler over the last 5 years along with being an event speaker on topics such as Natural Burial. She facilitates her Pushing Up Daisies workshop for participants keen to develop a toolkit to create their end-of-life plan that matches their budget and sustainability values. Her network and knowledge of the industry developed during her year at Adelaide Cemeteries Authority. She is so passionate about this topic that she is currently doing social research on embracing death in our ordinary everyday for her PhD thesis. Through her celebrancy business she creates personalised, values-based ceremonies and rituals to assist people meaningfully navigate love, loss & life; making moments matter.

Thanks to our sponsors

This is a not-for-profit community project hosted by Gawler Environment Centre. Thanks to the generous support from our sponsors: Town of Gawler, Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board via the Gawler Environment Centre, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Link Edge and Abby Buckley, Our Family Celebrant; the investment to be part of this exciting new initiative is reduced to just $50 per person.

Register your interest

There are only 10 places available – so be quick! To register your interest to be a participant in the 2020 Eco Coffin Project send us an email with your contact details to and we will be in touch.

In our next post, we will share where the idea for the Eco Coffin Project originated.

Thank you to our sponsors: Gawler Environment Centre, Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Town of Gawler, Link Edge, Abby Buckley Our Family Celebrant
Thank you to our sponsors

Eco Coffin Project: The issues

Increasingly in Australia more of us strive to make changes to live a sustainable life but what are we doing to ensure we have a sustainable death? What does a sustainable death even mean?


The majority of us in Australia will be cremated – around 70%. We have become very creative with what we do with the ashes of people we love. Ashes can be scattered by hand or by drone over a favourite place, buried in a container in a cemetery in a wall or the earth with a memorial plant, contained in an urn that starts on the mantle and ends up forgotten in a cupboard, buried at home in a pod under a tree, crafted into jewellery, blown into a glass paperweight, shot into space, cemented into a reef, inked into a tattoo, blown up in fireworks, loaded into ammo to be used on your next hunting trip or even turned into a favourite tune in a vinyl record.

Cremated ashes turned into a vinyl record
Cremated ashes turned into a vinyl record

So, we asked the question: How is any of that good for the environment or us? Burning a body to ash in a cremator takes on average about 90 minutes using non-renewable fossil fuels, usually natural gas. Harmful toxins and greenhouses gases including carbon monoxide, embalming agents (such as formaldehyde), mercury found in dental fillings, heavy metals and known carcinogens like dioxins are vapourised and emitted, depending on the body, and pollute the air, depending on the filtration system. Technology is working to reduce the amount of non-renewable fossil fuels required by the cremator and increase the amount of toxins captured in the filtering system but the fact remains non-renewable fossil fuels are still being used and toxins emitted. There is no such thing as a ‘safe level of a toxic chemical’. Interestingly and surprisingly, if using the latest more efficient cremators, cremation has less impact on the environment than traditional burial.

Drone scattering cremated ashes
Drone scattering cremated ashes

The Australian Bureau of Statistics report that over 160,000 of us die each year in Australia so with 70% of us choosing cremation that is around 112,000 bodies being burned every 12 months. That is over 168,000 hours of burning non-renewable fossil fuels every year in Australia just on body disposal. This number does not take into account the additional gas required to pre-heat the cremator. This number will continue to rise with an increasing population resulting in eventually more deaths per year and with the popularity of cremation continuing to rise, due in part to its lower cost than burial.


The rest of us – around 30% – will keep our bodies in the one spot by being nailed into a coffin. This box will be either placed in a hole in a wall in a mausoleum (bit like an apartment block for the dead) or in a concrete cocoon in the earth called a vault or in a hole in the ground that is often so deep to make room for three coffins to be stacked on top of each other. Each of these options happen in a cemetery.

Again, we asked the question: How is any of that good for the environment or us? Toxic chemicals from the embalming process and non-organic coffin materials leach into the soil, and expose funeral workers to potential hazards. Concrete, metals, synthetic textiles and plastic are some of the non-bio-degradable materials buried with a coffin. Maintaining the garden memorial plots requires a lot of land, uses a lot of water for the lawn and plants and burns up a lot of non-renewable fossil fuels that power the earthmoving and lawn-mowing equipment, which also have embodied energy from the manufacturing process. Highly landscaped, sculptured, urban cemeteries discourage native animals and vegetation.

Highly landscaped, sculptured, urban cemeteries discourage native animals and vegetation.
Highly landscaped, sculptured, urban cemeteries discourage native animals and vegetation.

A miniscule few of us donate our bodies to science (if they are accepted – it is certainly not a given) or are buried on private land or are given the OK to be dumped in the sea. Each of these options require a lot of pre-planning and written approval long before the death happens.

With pre-planning a few of us donate our body to science
With pre-planning a few of us donate our body to science

Disconnection from death

Sadly, in recent generations in our culture we have become not only disconnected from nature but also disconnected from death. Many of us are afraid of death, or feel it is a taboo topic, or are just not comfortable talking about it. Our burial practices ensure our bodies are eternally separated from and harmful to nature by injecting them with chemicals, wrapping them in plastic and either burning them or encasing them in various combinations of metal, wood and concrete. The idea of scattering the ashes of your person over the roses they lovingly cared for in life is beautiful and romantic. But did you know cremated ashes are actually harmful to plants and would kill those roses in such a large quantity?

Most of us are unfamiliar with our death system and what we can and cannot do e.g. Can I bring or keep the body of my person at home when they die? If so, how long for? Do all bodies need to be embalmed? Can I make and use my own coffin? Can I be buried in a shroud? Are there other options to cremation and burial? What is a natural burial? Many of us have never even thought about what we can and cannot do when either we or someone we love is dying or dies. Many of us simply outsource death. We think: “Well, by law don’t we have to get a funeral director to do everything?”.

Maybe there is more to this story for us to learn. Then we can make more informed, more meaningful, more cost-effective and more sustainable decisions when death comes into our life.

Pilyu Yarta Natural Burial Ground, Smithfield, South Australia
Pilyu Yarta, Natural Burial Ground, Smithfield, South Australia

The Eco Coffin Project aims to uncover, explore and share this unfolding story of sustainable death in an interactive, inclusive, creative way with our community.

In our next post, we will reveal the 2020 Program for the Eco Coffin Project

Thank you to our sponsors: Gawler Environment Centre, Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Town of Gawler, Link Edge, Abby Buckley Our Family Celebrant
Thank you to our sponsors

Sustainable Living Festival: Sun 27 Oct 2019

Sun 27 Oct – hold the date – Gawler Environment Centre is proud to present the Sustainable Living Festival again in 2019!

The Festival will feature exciting guest presenters, including foodie Simon Bryant from Dirty Depot and the Cook and the Chef, Almost zero eco-blogger Niki Wallace, beekeeper extraordinaire Mademoiselle Bee, plus a range of workshops, kids activities and live entertainment.

As we get closer to the event we will be releasing further details so please watch this space!

Simon Bryant – Sustainable Cooking Demonstration – 12.30pm in the Speakers Zone!

Simon will share his thoughts on what makes a sustainable dish, looking at issues such as water use, alternative proteins and use of native foods. He will then demonstrate some meal options with sustainable produce, and invite attendees to jump up and roll their own delicious rice paper rolls, with ingredients such as bower spinach, native mint and desert lime. Yum!!

He will have some of his books for sale and signing including Vegies and Vegetables and Grains and Other Good Stuff, and will also have some of his own-grown dirt(y) brand lentils for sale.

We are very excited to welcome Simon back to Sustainable Living Festival in 2019. Get there early for a seat!

Some bio highlights:

A 25 year career starting in Thai and Indian fast service restaurants, a stint as a butcher, event caterer, brasserie line chef, and Chef de Partie in Cheong Liew’s much applauded, The Grange Restaurant. Hilton Adelaide’s Executive Chef for 7 years from 2003 with various international posts showcasing South Australian produce in Russia, USA, Japan, China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Co-host of 152 episodes of ABC Television’s “The Cook and the Chef” broadcast nationally from 2006 to 2009, with South Australian food icon Maggie Beer.

Author of “Vegies” (2012) and “Vegetables, Grains & Other Good Stuff” (2015); cookbooks published by Lantern Penguin, with 200 seasonal vegetarian recipes.
Festival Director for Tasting Australia 2018 and 2019 – Australia’s preeminent Food and Wine festival. Creative Director 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Director and Providore of dirt(y); single origin, traceable, non GM, Australian grown wholefoods. A keen and semi-competent organic home vegie gardener.

A passionate advocate of using menus to throw light on the minefield of ethical issues surrounding food. Whether it be fair prices for producers delivering more thoughtfully produced food; using best practice ingredients with minimal environmental impact; the responsible and culturally appropriate use of Australian native foods; or the ethical treatment of animals in the food chain.
Above all, a hands-on cook of simple, pared-down, produce-driven, honest cooking that tastes better than just a bunch of words on a menu…

Join Terry Langham from the Friends of Waite Arboretum at 1.30pm in the Workshop Tent for a demonstration re all things bee hotel! Learn all about native bees, the different types of bee hotels, and the materials, tools and techniques for making them.

‘Australian native bees need food, they will love you forever by: 1. Growing flowers, 2. Growing more flowers 3. Creating flower smorgasbords and flower restaurants and 4. Creating a native bee hotel’. 

Sustainable Living Festival Performer profile: Meryl Schiller. Meryl has been playing on and off gigs around Australia at pubs, family dos and campfires for the last 17 odd years, mostly covers with occasional originals thrown in. Meryl’s influences are The Waifs, Regina Spektor, First Aid Kit, Yuna, Fiona Apple and Brooke Fraser and she tends to play acoustic folky rootsy bluesy tunes. Meryl loves to play the 7th, 8th and 9th songs from albums so you might know the artist, but perhaps not the song! Check her out at 12.30pm.

Stroll over to the Rotunda from 11.30am to hear some sweet tunes from local song bird Cloudy Davey. A genuinely diverse diva of rich talent, Cloudy Davey’s refreshingly individual sound is a wonderful mix of musical temperaments that draws from both traditional and contemporary roots.

Join Vanessa Hoo (Mademoiselle Bee) in the Workshop Tent at 11.30am to glean some top tips for bee-keeping and bee-care. 

Vanessa Hoo is a 2nd generation beekeeper, Horticultural Therapist, Mother, Environmental Philanthropist. Vanessa is a fervid advocate for bees. She rescues our pollinators, by offering a diverse range of services around South Australia. From mentoring, to education sessions, to live bee removal, and adoption/sponsorship programs, and public talks. 

Vanessa’s Vision is;
“I see myself developing a better future for the bee population, as well as scientifically improving our knowledge in the world of Bees. Creating a better environment and greener Australia“

Wanna find out how two people and two dogs created only one jar of rubbish in one year? Niki Wallace from sustainability consultancy Almost Zero will share her top tips for a low waste lifestyle in the Speaker’s Tent at 11am. 

Niki Wallace is a designer and researcher whose work focuses on design for transitions. She founded Almost Zero in 2017 in response to questions from family and friends about how to reduce their waste and improve their carbon footprints. Niki is an experienced lecturer, coach and facilitator whose expertise in sustainability and zero waste lifestyles spanning homes, workplaces and schools, helps others to transition towards more sustainable futures.