Death is a phenomenon like no other. It touches all dimensions of human experience, as a biological process and as an event of profound cultural, spiritual, economic, legal, and social significance.
Despite this, we lack a comprehensive system for dealing with death that respects people’s wishes and dignity, that is sustainable from both environmental and financial perspectives, and that responds to diverse and changing needs and values in our society.
And this is a serious problem because as baby boomers age, Australia will enter a period of “peak death” and the need for creative, effective and lasting solutions is now urgent.
How might disposal of the deceased be designed in the 21st century? Imagining beyond burial and cremation – in a world of rapid social, technological and environmental change – seven artists respond to this question, presenting moving and provocative new work.
The DeathTech Research Team is pleased to present the results of the Future Cemetery Survey 2021. Based on a nationally representative sample taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, this research provides a snapshot of Australians’ experiences with and attitudes towards funerals, cemeteries and technologies for the treatment and commemoration of the dead.
Cremation is by far the most popular choice for what Australians would like to be done with their body after they die (selected by 48% of respondents in the survey).
Substantial minorities of Australians would choose to donate their body for use in medical research and education (12%) or have it converted to soil through the process known as ‘human composting’ or ‘natural organic reduction’ (5%).
A majority of Australians (58%) are in favour of cemeteries being used for secondary purposes such as nature conservation, tourism or education.
A majority of Australians are in favour of renewable gravesite tenure—making the interment rights to a grave temporary rather than perpetual—either as an option (49%) or as a mandatory standard (14%). New South Wales recently joined Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in allowing renewable tenure, whereas Victoria, Queensland and the Territories currently mandate perpetual tenure for all interments.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of Australians (46%) had attended a funeral service. One in eight Australians (12%) had attended a funeral remotely via online video.
Many Australians are open to services that offer ways to commemorate the dead via the internet. Online funeral streaming, online memorial websites, gravesite webcams and gravesite-care-hire services all received more positive responses than negative responses in the survey.
Australians are generally sceptical of digital technologies designed for use at the cemetery unless those technologies have a clear justification.
Younger Australians are more positive than older Australians towards digital commemoration technologies. It remains to be seen whether this is a durable shift in attitudes that could lead to digital commemoration technologies becoming more accepted over time.
The research was conducted through an online survey platform in mid-2021. A total of n=1,053 respondents completed the survey. All respondents were 18 years of age or older. Respondents were screened to ensure a representative sample of the Australian adult population, stratified by age, gender and state or territory of residence.
All the commemoration technologies presented in the survey were based on real-world examples. These were drawn from prior work by the DeathTech Research Team, including the Encyclopedia of Cemetery Technology: https://cemeterytech.omeka.net/
About the project
The Future Cemetery project aims to identify and critically assess the potential of innovative technologies to enhance the public’s experience of the cemetery, diversify service offerings and strengthen community connections, all in the context of rapidly changing circumstances. For more information, please see our projects page.
Questions of what or who is critical to managing the COVID-19 pandemic have been at the heart of media discussion, public recognition and government policy on a global scale. Such concerns – of what constitutes critical workers, material resources, public services and community responses – are being addressed and prioritised at local and national levels in different ways, even as collective anxieties over the COVID-19 pandemic vie for attention with other social, economic or political crises in given places. In this context, it becomes important to consider what is hidden or unseen amid a global pandemic, of how individuals, communities and other key workers are excluded from ‘frontline’ imaginings of crisis and pandemic.
Drawing on research expertise and insights from Australia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, India and Indonesia, this Critical Issues panel event will explore these issues, asking what is both critical and hidden in the time of COVID-19.
When: Thursday, 4 November from 5:30pm to 7:00pm AEDT
Where: Online (Zoom link will be sent by email following registration)
Deathcare is an essential service, one that upholds the dignity of the dying and the deceased, addresses the emotional, cultural, and spiritual needs of the bereaved and their community, and protects public health. However, the ongoing lack of recognition for deathcare as essential during the COVID-19 crisis, both within public health directives, and more broadly, by the media, non-governmental and commercial bodies, and the wider community, has impeded the sector’s ability to delivery high-quality care and to protect the welfare of its workers.
The report presents the results of a scoping investigation for the period between June 2020 and June 2021. It is based on qualitative data collected via a survey of Australian deathcare providers and semi-structured interviews with workers representing different segments of the sector. It focuses on the professional and personal impacts of COVID-19 and makes several recommendations for future policy and research.
Endline is a photo series by Bri Hammond, created in collaboration with the researchers Hannah Gould and Samuel Holleran. It pays tribute to the diverse people who work in deathcare, from palliative care clinicians and funeral directors, to morticians, religious celebrants, crematoria operators, and cemetery staff.
Endline will be issued as a photo book accompanied by essays. Endline will also be exhibited in Melbourne at the beginning of 2022. See the website for a preview of the images.
In this public seminar for the University of Melbourne School of Computing & Information Systems, Dr Fraser Allison presented several studies from The Future Cemetery project.
He introduced the major challenges that cemeteries face in the 21st century, described notable examples and a typology of digital cemetery technologies from around the world, and summarised what we have found about public attitudes to digital cemetery technologies in Australia.
The Encyclopedia of Cemetery Technology is a global map and directory of technologies that augment the experience of interacting with a cemetery. It was created by the DeathTech Research Team as part of the Future Cemetery project, based on a systematic review of academic, industry and popular publications about cemeteries and technology.
The Encyclopedia summarises the type and function of existing cemetery technologies. The major application categories are:
DeathTech Team member Dr Hannah Gould recently talked to ABC News Sunday Extra about the problem of capacity facing Australia’s cemeteries today and in to the future, and how we might solve it by adopting the international practice of reusing graves.