One of our wonderful 10 group members, Murray, died during week 5 of the Eco Coffin Project. His death was sudden, unexpected and so very sad for all who knew and loved him. Murray died of a heart attack, at home in the early hours. His partner Jan, who is also a group member of the Eco Coffin Project, was with him.
It was all very serendipitous that during the project Murray had discussed, with his two daughters and Jan, what he wanted to happen when he died. Until that discussion they had not known. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered as close as possible to the farm land he grew up on that is now under water as a reservoir for Adelaide. Murray had also designed how he wanted his coffin to be decorated. He had even drawn out the design to scale on paper, sadly he never discussed his design fully with Jan “as we both thought we had plenty of time for that so I had to improvise in places”.
Some of our group came together and worked with Jan to decorate Murray’s coffin as he had designed it.
The added complexity was that we are under Covid-19 physical distancing rules meaning we need to maintain 1.5 meters distance between each other at all times and in South Australia no more than 10 people can gather at any time.
Assembling the coffin
Jan setup 2 trestle tables on her back patio; one table for the coffin base and the other for the coffin lid. Abby and her partner, Shane came up to work with Jan on assembling the coffin and then Gem Congdon came up the following day to start decorating it by transferring Murrays full size drawing on to the coffin lid and starting the painting. Gem came again the next day to complete the lid.
Below is an explanation of the design on the coffin from Jan with images.
The White triangle depicts the white light, flanked by the colours of the Chakras. Below the Chakras is a Caricature of Murray himself which was originally drawn by one of his employees.
The green, yellow, green shapes are actually S’s, which was his business Logo for St. Agnes Sign Shop. These are mirrored on the other side thus showing a balance. I then added Yin Yang into Murrays circles on either side again for balance. The house at the bottom depicts the house he designed and built in the Riverland. It is a Stand-alone home, Solar Power only, with batteries and rain water for the house backed up with a River water allowance for the garden. There the obvious stopped for me and the rest was my input from the fun life we shared.
We had recently bought a caravan, in August but sadly never went away in it as Murray was busy ‘improving’ it. Part of this was to design an outdoor area and change the curtains of the van. After 2 fabrics being ‘discussed’ and discarded, on third time lucky we agreed on the fabric shown in the largest circle. Below that there are 3 roses, yesterday, today and tomorrow, under that a red heart for love. Beneath that is a picture of the ‘famous’ caravan.
On the Head end is a photocopy of a picture we did when we first got together. We each drew our hands, cut them out and linked them together for Unity and Support. I printed the words of the song ‘With These Hands’ as I love the words of that song and also loved his hands, they were so talented in Art and building and Music. Murray added the Hearts.
On the Foot end, I drew a picture of Mousey Pus, his dearly loved cat who adhered herself to Murray as his constant companion and confidant.
Our meeting location for week 5 of the Eco Coffin Project was again via zoom. We are in the midst of the global covid-19 pandemic; creating new routines and ways of being. In addition, at a local level, we were all shocked and saddened to hear that one of our Eco Coffin Group members died suddenly and unexpectedly during the week. Just incredible and so shocking. I am working on a memorial post with his partner, also a member of our group, to honour his memory and share how our group came together to decorate his coffin as he had designed during Eco Coffin Project. Life and death are very much entangled now that sudden death is back in our everyday lives – both locally and globally – it’s everywhere. It seems timely to be having a chat with our guest speakers this week, Claire and Margaret, from our local family owned Funeral Directors, Taylor & Forgie.
Claire Forgie is a 6th generation funeral director and the General Manager of Taylor & Forgie (T&F) which opened its doors in 1855. Margaret has been in the funeral industry for nearly 29 years with 13 of those years working for T&F. These kind, caring, compassionate and extremely experienced and skilled leaders understand the industry and our local community needs. They generously stayed with us for 1.5 hours; considerably longer than originally expected, and it was a Sunday. No question was out of bounds. It was like the ABC TV series: You Can’t Ask That. Here is a summary of what we learned.
Interestingly, Funeral Directors are currently not considered an essential service during the pandemic. T&F are working hard to understand the new rules, how they apply to funeral director services and how they can keep their staff and clients safe while keeping their doors open to keep serving our community. You can see that Claire and Margaret were practising physical distancing in the zoom photo. They explained that T&F have two types of Covid-19 strategies; what happens if someone comes into their care who has died from corona virus, and what happens if someone in their workplace or a family member of a staff member contracts the disease. T&F have split their staff into 2 teams – a morning crew and an afternoon crew. So if one crew had to isolate then there would still be another crew to keep working. The new rules allow a maximum of 10 people per funeral service in the same physical space with 4 meter squares per person as a minimum which includes family, friends, staff and celebrant or minister.
There is a portable hand washing station at the front of each chapel which everybody is asked to use before they come into the chapel. Seating is 1.5 meters apart and everyone is reminded to keep a 4 meter square distance around themselves. Live streaming is available at their Adelaide Road chapel for an unlimited number of people.
Part 1 – Body care
Having the body at home
During the week Claire emailed our group handouts which she explained in more detail during our zoom session. One of the files was: The dying person’s bill of rights. We can have a person at home from the time of death for a few days as long as they are in a room which is kept as cool as possible with air conditioning. There are some cultures that part of their funeral ritual is to have their loved one at home. So a person who died in say a hospital or aged care facility can be transferred to their home for a few days. This allows for family and friends to come and say an intimate goodbye before the more public funeral service. The body can be transported directly from their home to a burial site or crematorium.
There is no legal requirement to use a funeral home or transfer the body away from their home on their death, unless the Coroner is involved. The body needs to be formally identified and certified as deceased by a GP within 24 hours of death. A GP needs to also provide certificates for burial or cremation. So as long as those legal requirements are fulfilled, there’s no requirement in the regulations to have the person taken from home.
Care of a deceased person immediately after death
Basically. it’s just keeping a person in a cool environment, raising their head, and doing gentle things to close their mouth and their eyes so it looks like they are sleeping. You can also dress the person. You can be as hands-on or off as you would like.
We had a few questions around body leakage. Everyone is different. The stomach contents is important, whether they have just eaten. When someone is moved they may have a little bit of fluid come out of their mouth and this is called purging. In terms of their bowels, that’s also a possibility, usually when moved. So it’s suggested to have an incontinence sheet or something under the person, just in case.
Sometimes there is air still in the lungs after death. When the body is moved or the muscles relax, which could be hours later, the lungs will express the air and it sounds like a groaning or a moaning. That’s just the body relaxing the muscles as it expels the excess air from the body.
Here are 7 steps to care for the body immediately after death:
Step 1. Wash the deceased person
Step 2. Place teeth in the mouth
Step 3. Raise the head by using a pillow
Step 4. Place a sandbag or rolled up towel under the chin
Step 5. Close the eyes
Step 6. Do not tie the limbs
Step 7. Dress the deceased person
Why are plastic liners used?
It’s a health and safety issue. Plastic liners stop leakage from the body and/or condensation escaping the coffin or transport receptacle. People handling and transporting bodies do not want to come in contact with bodily fluids. If leakage occurs inside a hearse, that vehicle is taken out of action and cannot be used while it is cleaned and decontaminated; a costly outcome.
One of our participants shared how she was grateful that her Mum’s hair was coloured for the viewing which covered her grey roots. T&F said it’s their goal to make the final memory as natural as possible. Sometimes a person’s worst time is in the lead up to their death, when they’re having a slow decline. They aren’t eating, they become drawn out from being in a lot of pain so they take a lot of comfort when people tell them that their Mum/Dad looked better than she/he was. Mortuary work includes body preparation such as washing, dressing, hair, applying makeup and embalming if required.
Sutures from autopsy
A participant shared the poignant story how she saw the stitches under her brother’s chin after the autopsy and would have thought it would be standard practice to hide them or to tell the family before the viewing.
A coroner’s investigation such as an autopsy will leave lasting effects, especially in and around the face, neck or head area. T&F advised that generally they do speak with the family advising them about suture lines or other marks. They will ask families to supply high necked clothing or a scarf or hat to try and cover the marks. T&F Mortuary staff spend up to half a day carefully preparing and presenting the person the best way to be possible after a coroner investigation.
Why do Coroner Cause ff Death reports take so long?
The partner of our participant who died this week was told by the Coroner that the cause of death report will take about 18 months. T&F said there are 2 parts to the Coroner’s reports. The body is released with a death certificate with no cause of death so that probate, the funeral service and burial or cremation can go ahead. Like all Government departments they have a backlog of cases so they are dealt with on first in first out. It can take up to 2 years. Then an updated death certificate is posted out with the cause of death.
Part 2 – Burial Grounds
We’re going to talk about different types of burial in Australia: earth burial, vaults, capellas and natural burial.
Earth burial means the body is buried in the earth. You can have single, double or triple depth, meaning 1, 2 or 3 coffins on top of each other in the same grave site. There are no restrictions on coffin or clothing materials.
Vaults are concrete-lined graves in the ground.
Capellas or mausoleums are individual vaults in walls above ground.
grave depth 1.4 meters to allow 1 meter from tip of nose to top of ground,
no headstone – GPS markers for body location,
biodegradable materials for clothing and coffin or shroud
Indigenous plantings on grave
Click in the interesting links below for more information
T&F do not have a problem with people using their own coffins or shrouds. All they ask is that they can look at and test the coffin beforehand to ensure structural integrity for handling and transport. They just want everything to run as smoothly as possible and avoid emotional glitches on the day that will live in people’s memories for a log time.
T&F have tested the coffin-in-a-box that we are using for the Eco Coffin Project. Mark Forgie, Director, 6ft tall, was pall beared by 6 of his staff into a hearse and back agin onto the ground with no problem at all. The flat-pack eco-coffin fitted perfectly so now T&F are happy to use this coffin. It is just incredible to think that so soon after the test, it is now being used by our participant who died suddenly this week. Life is certainly very uncertain.
“It’s normal if it’s right for you“
T&F gave some beautiful, encouraging advice: “So don’t hesitate to ask if you can do it. I often get asked, what’s normal or what does everybody else do and my response to that is, it’s normal if it’s right for you. So we’ll do what we can to accommodate everybody’s family’s wishes. If it’s a bit different, that’s great because it makes it more personal.”
So the message is as long as you stay within the relevant state based legislation and regulations you can be as creative as you like with dying and body disposition in Australia.
As far as timing goes, some people feel that they just want to get through the arrangements quickly. The person has died and they have people going away at the end of the week. So they feel let’s get it down and then they can privately relax and start dealing with the grief. Some people need a lot of time to analyse and go over things about the decisions and choices which is okay too – in saying that once a person has died if they’re kept in a cool environment, the service can be up to 2 weeks after and they don’t need to do a funeral in 3 days.
Ideally a shroud will have an inner pocket to insert a base board to make handling and transporting easier and more dignified. A base board as part of the shroud supports the head and ensures the body will not fall off the platform during handling and transport.
The shroud can be used for cremation as well. There is no regulation about a person having to be cremated in a coffin. Bodies must be transported in a solid container as per act. T&F have a coffin used just for transporting shrouds. It’s a bit wider and larger as it’s a rectangle shape.
T&F always have a stock of shrouds on hand. Over the years they have used about 40 shrouds and have about 15 natural burials a year, which can use either an organic shroud or biodegradable coffin.
T&F have the majority of their transfer from hospitals and aged care facilities with less than 4 a week of home transfers. With more people being cared for at home maybe this number for people dying at home will start to increase over time. It is interesting to note the language Claire ad Margaret use, for instance they use ‘transfer’ rather than ‘pickup’ as they feel to pickup something implies the item is an object rather than a person.
View the charge
View the charge means watching the body being placed into the cremator. People like to do it because they want to be part of that final bit of seeing their loved one off, similar to being at a graveside burial. It becomes a cathartic process and T&F offer that service is a safe and respectful way through a glass viewing window.
Show ‘n Tell
In the second half of our zoom meeting, each person gave an update on where they were at with their coffin or shroud. With the sudden death of our group member and adjusting to our new way of being in this world with Covid-19, it’s been a really tough shocking week. Our shared stories centred around how we each had been adapting. Some of us in the group had been helping assemble and decorate the coffin for our group member who died but more on this in the special blog post we are creating to honour our friend.
Here are few snapshots of various group member progress.
The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners:
Helen Roberts was our Guest Speaker this week. Helen does so much in the space of supporting people around death and dying. She is an end-of-life guide, Heartfelt photographer and volunteer palliative care worker. She is physically based in Adelaide, South Australia but her work reaches people across Australia and the world, thanks to the internet.
Helen joined us online via a zoom meeting. This is our first week using zoom to meet as we are no longer able to meet face to face due to the Corona virus social distancing rules. She called her presentation: Doing Death Deliberately which summarises how she does her work in this space.
There are many terms that people are using to describe the work Helen does including Death Doula, Deathwalker, Deathtalker, Griefwalker, Soul midwife, Death midwife, end of life companion, end of life guide.
The term ‘midwife’ is a trademarked name in Australia so that term cannot legally be used. ‘Death Doula’ terrifies some people. Doula is a Greek word meaning woman servant which is the work women have done throughout the centuries, helping women give birth at home and people to die at home. Helen calls herself an ‘end of life guide’ because this is not so shocking as some of the other terms and she feels it engages people in a more gentle, kind, caring way.
Helen sees her role as one of service, providing families and the dying with non-medical support anytime from diagnosis to death.
An end of life guide can include many components such as community education, providing information, supporting the family and the dying person through the dying process, helping to organise the funeral or memorial service and being there for the grieving process. Some Death Doulas specialise in specific components such as just being there to help people die at home.
Training for the role is currently not certified, meaning you will get a bit of paper saying you have completed a course but there is no peer body for certified end of life guides at this stage. Some of the courses currently available are the Soul Midwives course in UK which is what Helen did to get started. Also Zenith Virago’s Deathwalker training in Australia, another course that Helen did. The Australian Doula College in Melbourne also offers a comprehensive course.
Helen brings a diverse set of skills and experience into her
role which converge into a powerful mix. She was a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit
Nurse (PICU) nurse for 28 years where she witnessed child deaths and learned about
life, love and how to bear witness to suffering and be with families in that
kind of trauma.
After leaving nursing she became a Professional Photographer. For the last 12 years she has used her photography skills volunteering for Heartfelt. From the website: “Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from all over Australia and New Zealand dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.” She finds this work humbling, sometimes hard, always sad and sometimes very beautiful work. She hopes to continue this work for many years to come and feels it provides great comfort to the bereaved parents at a time of great trauma. Sadly in this time of social distancing because of Covid-19, Heartfelt is unable to provide their services for the moment.
Helen is also a Volunteer for Palliative Care where she can have one to two clients at a time and visits them between 3-5 hours each week. Her opening line is asking people “where did you grow up”. People light up and share wonderful stories with her and the relationship of trust begins. Helen’s role finds her doing whatever the person needs and wants each visit. She plays cards with a 90 year old man for 3 hours a week or takes others more mobile out for a coffee or shopping, whatever is required. During this time of social distancing, she continues to take one of client’s dogs for a walk, where the dog goes in and out through the doggy door and Helen doesn’t need to get close or even see her client. She has been doing this work for 5 years and finds being with her clients in those hours a humbling, privileged experience.
Helen easily forms relationships with people from all
backgrounds with no judgement, offering a friendly face and lightness. Her
greatest gift is being light in dark places.
Helen is passionate about the power and benefits of everyone having an Advance Care Directive. She has ongoing work with Ongoing work with Palliative Care SA creating and facilitating sessions that help people write their own Advance Care Directive. Next week is Advance Care Planning week and Helen had several sessions planned ready to go. Sadly, because of Covid-19, these sessions are now cancelled. Palliative Care and Helen are planning to run these sessions online.
Helen also facilitates community education around death and dying including running Death Cafes and workshops. She stressed how important it is that we all tell our families what our wishes are, document those wishes and put them in a folder and tell people where that folder can be found.
We were captivated with Helen’s session, hearing her stories and ending with lots of questions. Helen is such a kind, caring, compassionate being with a unique mix of professional qualifications, skills and life-experience that she brings to her role. As my beautiful friend, I can vouch that she does indeed shine light in dark places. Here are her contact details:
In the second half of our zoom meeting, each person gave an update on where they were at with their coffin or shroud. We must all remember to take lots of photos of our making progress which will form part of our stories for our exhibition.All of us have been adjusting to the changes in our day to living this last week, working out what it means for each of us and changes to our normal routines.
Sadly we had to postpone our Death Café and Exhibtion
scheduled for 18 April due to the Corona Virus social distancing and essential
services only regulations coming into force. The upside is that this will give
all of us more making creative time with out he stress of a deadline. We may
also be able to exhibit as part of SALA for an even wider dissemination of
knowledge from our project. Always a silver lining!
Tracey & Eloise
Tracey is working on a coffin and Eloise is working on a shroud. Spotlight had a 40% sale so they snapped up some linen/cotton material for the shroud. Embellishments will be stitched on such as feathers and buttons. Tracey found a blue that she liked and the paint man was able to make it up in the cheaper paint for her because the blue she liked was of course the more expensive paint. It’s a low sheen paint. Tracey and Eloise are very creative and crafty and enjoy experimenting with natural dyes such as boiling eucalyptus leaves which makes the house smell like a cough-lolly and produces a liquid that will dye a red to brown range of colour. Also wrapping material tightly around rusty pieces of metal and boiling produces incredible patterns and red-brown colours.
Kathy is working on a nuno shroud that will be used as a blanket until needed as a shroud. Nuno is a felting process that felts together wool and natural fibres like silk. During the week Kathy had another practice and make a scarf. She bought 11 meters of silk from Perth from http://silkwholesalers.com.au. She ordered it on Sunday night and it was here on Tuesday. She also sourced offcuts from sari silk from a shop in Salisbury run by Luba Chambers at https://woolchambers.com.au. Another natural fibre Kathy is using is called SeaCell which is celulose and brown algae (seaweed) from the Icelandic Fjords also at https://woolchambers.com.au. Another supplier Kathy used was: https://knitspinweave.com.au in Clare SA.
She asked the group: Do you know how they actually get the silk? The answer is your boil the cocoons with the little grub in it and then spin the silk. Kathy found this distressing that living creatures were killed to make silk for humans. Then she learned about peace silk which is a process that waits until the little bug comes out and turns into a butterfly and then they make the silk out of the cocoon. However peace silk is very expensive. So Kathy is aiming to do as much of her shroud in peace silk as her budget will allow.
She said: “I haven’t actually started it yet. I’m hoping to be able to start soon. I’m just really reluctant about starting because I don’t want to muck it up. It’s just getting started and cutting the silk. I just have to make that first cut and that’s going to be the hardest because I’m worried about wasting”. Kathy now has all her materials and the gorgeous colours she is after: yak and merino wool, corn silk. A concern is whether 11 metres of silk will be enough as the process requires 30-50 percent more material than you end up with due to shrinkage. Kathy also needs 4 trestles for her making space. Felting is a very physical process. which we will drop off to her place during the week.
Murray did a lot of research during the week on paints,
assessing their eco friendliness. He found the mineral earth paints that we
used for the launch worked better without a white primer underneath. But the
quantity in the packets was not sufficient for anyone to do a whole coffin.
Also not all the colours of the rainbow were available with these mineral
Murray found that acrylic house paints really don’t have a
lot of toxic material in them – very minimal. Will only need about half a litre
to do a coffin.
As Murray wants to be cremated there will be filters to catch
any of the small amount of toxins in the paints he will use on his coffin.
He suggested that anyone using paint on a coffin should start
with a primer or even a ceiling white to
seal the wood so not so much paint needs to be used for the design.
Could also use water-based spray paints that had brilliant
colours – all the colours of the rainbow. Bunnings offers paints with very low
toxicity with refillable spray cans.
Murray is a creating a design for his coffin that will use
all the colours of the rainbow.
Jan is working on creating stencils made from cardboard to
get her design on her coffin and will then use paint. Gem and Murray suggested using
small rollers to roll the paint over the stencil for an even finish.
Maursie is working on a shroud. She showed us a sketch of her design. It’s a small boat with her in it on the sea. The colours will be oranges and yellows with white caps on the blue sea. She would like to use hemp I will use the hemp but hearing the others today is now also open to linen/cotton or seacell fibre. Maursie is thinking she will use a combination of gluing her design onto her shroud with fancy stitching like Gem showed us. Her main focus at the moment is finishing her wicking bed because she is keen to grow her own veggies with these changing times.
Ash is working on a coffin. Her first step will be to get a
base layer of paint down to seal the wood as Murray suggested. Ash will be
making and using stencils to get her design onto the coffin.
Gem gave some great tips including using old x-rays to make
Carol was having audio problems so used the chat typing box
to share her progress.
She is looking for lemon scented gums and Tracey advised
there are plenty around the Gawler racecourse.
Carol has spent the week taking to people about the Eco
She is working on a shroud and is starting to experiment with
tie dying gum leaves and lemon scented grasses with different types of clothes.
Carol is probably going to use old Scandinavian sheets from
great grandmother. Very special.
“I’ve decided that I’ll do a quilt that would cover the
coffin and I’ll try and use fabrics that I’ve got already. I’m thinking of
perhaps having a floral theme.” Gem went to a local garage sale this week and
bought a $10 bundle full of bright silk material pieces that she will
incorporate into her coffin-quilt.
I continue making balls of yarn from old t-shirts and then
crocheting my shroud which will be used as a floor runner until I need it as a
shroud. Am thinking that I will soon run out of Robbie’s t-shirts and will do a
shou out to family and friends for their old tshirts. Am thinking it will be
special wrapping my body in clothing worn by people I have loved in my life.
I find it interesting that the corona virus has brought back sudden death into our world, our psyche – where someone is sick and in a few days they are dead. We haven’t experienced that before in our lifetimes since antibiotics and penicillin came into being. The main way we have been dying is a slow fading away through frailty. Corona virus is a new way of dying for us in the 21st century.
Eco Glue Recipe
For those of us making shrouds and decorating the eco coffins for natural burial we need to be mindful that all our materials we use must be biodegradable as per the SA Burial and Cremation Act 2013. I found a glue recipe that I made a few batches that we used at the launch. That was 5 months ago and all the material and paper that we stuck on the coffin are still stuck on and there is no smell. Plant material that we stuck on like leaves has come off but that is because they were fresh leaves and they have now turned brown and dried up and come off. The eco earth mineral paints still look vibrant and strong.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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:
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
What happens to the ashes after the body has been
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners:
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.
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.
SAVE THE DATE: DEATH CAFE 10:15am– 12:30pm Saturday 18 April, Niina Marni Café, Gawler Civic Centre
SAVE THE DATE: ART EXHIBITION LAUNCH 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.
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.
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
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:
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 GawlerMayor, 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.