Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Taphophile Tragics

I've pretty much run out of shots (and inspiration) so this week I'm cheating and bringing you something a colleague put me on to during the week. This is a reproduction of a blog post by Elizabeth Farrelly about the launch of an Aboriginal burial site at Woronora Cemetery in Sydney's Sutherland Shire. I though you might be interested in the concept and the beauty. I think it would be worth a trip down south to check it out - Julie?. The reported conversation says a lot about the "Shire".
This is an entry in Julie's Taphophile Tragics meme.

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Morning tea in the Shire

Funny, I’d always suspected that sprawl and xenophobia went hand in hand, yet I was still surprised the other day to find them ganging up together against natural burial.
It was at the launch of an aboriginal burial site at the Woronora Cemetery in the Shire. It was the brainchild of a friend, an amazing polymath of a man and Dharawal elder, Les Bursill AO. The Woronora Cemetery, of which he is a Friend, makes a point of being multicultural – signposted multiculturalism; RC this way, Greek Orthodox that.
My ideal cemetery is the one in Highgate where Karl Marx is buried, all overgrown to buggery and  dripping romanticism. But Australia eschew romanticism, and most Aussie cemeteries, for reasons that escape me, are either superr-shiny and regimented:
Or a bit random like this:
But both ways. they’re shadeless and overbaked, with all the romance of a .back yard barbie.
So what a delight to find that the indigenous burial place was set in a stand of remaining bushland. What a relief, actually, after all that buffalo grass. We all got mud on our shoes and the Minister, Victor Domicello, seemed in danger, for a moment, of getting mud on his nice pink tie.
And the idea is as lovely as the setting; A little wetland, created in the bush by a stone serpent (aka retaining wall) and making an enchanted spot for the scattering of ashes that i believe is a custom particular to the Sydney basin.
The design is by engineer Ian Baker and the serpent is in the top left. Here’s it’s head, under the heels (sharpish) of a staffer:
Here’s its tail:
And here’s the Minister (left, pink tie) and my friend Les Bursill (right) with the plaque, which reads:
It’s lovely – by far the loveliest spot and sentiment in the place – and makes you want to be an honorary aboriginal.
Which is what made me ask after, over tea on the lawn, if just anyone could be buried there.
“Of course,” answered companion, who introduced himself as a Trustee of the place. “But why would you want to?”
“Because it’s beautiful.”
But it was the rest of the conversation that really blew me away.
“Have you seen our new mausoleum?” said he.
“Oh, no?” I’m interested. Thinking gloom and shadows, incense and flowers, mystery, depth, even.
“You should have a look. it’s for the Macedonians – they’re Orthodox you know. They’ve always buried their dead at Rookwood, but they like to visit the grave every day for a year, and they didn’t want to see all the Muslims at Rookwood…”
“Really?” I’m thinking, this is a bit weird. Do you say these things to strangers? “So you had to build them a place here?”
“That’s right.”
“But – what – there are no Muslim burials here?”
“Oh no. We cater to everyone.”
“But not muslims…Why not?” (Eating sandwiches).
“Well, they don’t use coffins – and we have a policy of coffins.”
“They don’t? What do they use?”
“Shrouds. They wrap their dead in shrouds.”
“A, like Jesus. So why couldn’t they do that here? Bury someone in a shroud? Seems pretty harmless?”
“We have a policy of using only coffins.”
“It’s just policy.” (Smile, eat cake, sip tea.) “Policy.”
Resolve. Bite hard on anzac biscuit. Not, repeat not, going to say anything about policy and train timetables.
“So you could be buried with a tree in your mouth, to grow into a seedling, but you couldn’t encourage that process with no coffin?”
“Well, really, we don’t have room for the trees here. You can see we’ve already got all plenty of trees. The natural burial thing is in England, where you have a tight town and outside that it farmland. You need farmland.”
“They have farmland that’s not lived-on because they have planning that’s not deal-doing.”
“Yes,” smile. “But we have a coffin policy.”
“Right, so no danger of having to see muslims – or hippies – here?”
End. Scuttle right back to the ‘Fern.


Jim said...

The serpent is beautiful as is the cemetery. Sadly that Shire conversation is not surprising because I've actually overheard quite a few shockers there, over the years.

Nicola Carpenter said...

such a beautiful place and that serpent is amazing.

What an odd conversation though. What does it matter what anyone is buried in? Wooden coffins rot, so do shrouds, the only difference is the timeframe.

Beneath Thy Feet

Dina said...

"We lend this place to you while we sleep"-- my favorite part!