Sydney’s newest cemetery will have 136,000 burial plots, but they will be discreetly located in “burial rooms” behind hedges designed to be slightly higher than the headstones they mask.
By Julie Power
The Sydney Morning Herald
February 27, 2020
After eight years of opposition from residents in the Scenic Hills of Campbelltown, the first sod of the Macarthur Memorial Park cemetery at Varroville was turned on Thursday after an Indigenous smoking ceremony to remove bad spirits. Construction will begin in March.
For many, including the NSW government, the cemetery comes just in time to avert a grave shortage as death rates increase.
A 2017 government report forecast that greater Sydney would deplete its entire cemetery capacity by 2051 if there was no change to the rate of cremation and burial.
About 65 per cent of people in greater Sydney choose cremation over burial. And a report by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) last December forecast that even if cremation rates rose to 86 per cent, Sydney’s entire cemetery capacity would be “completely depleted” by 2084.
The fight to get the cemetery approved had taken eight years in the face of “some pretty strong opposition”, said Peter O’Meara, the chief executive of the non-profit organisation Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria (CCC). The CCC-run cemetery at Varroville will be non-denominational.
The NSW Independent Planning Commission last July directed the Sydney Western City Planning Panel to approve plans to build the cemetery on rural land known as the Scenic Hills. But it rejected plans by the Catholics to build another large cemetery near Penrith.
Over the next 100 years, the new cemetery will ultimately surround historic Varroville House, which was once owned by British explorer Charles Sturt. Its owner, Jacqui Kirkby, and her husband, Peter Gibbs, and the cemetery’s neighbours, Carmelite nuns, opposed the cemetery because of the heritage value of the site.
“For all intents and purposes, they are not cemeteries but beautiful open places,” Mr O’Meara said.
For Muslim and Jewish communities, which bury their dead, the need for additional burial space was urgent.
Kazi Ali, the chairman of the Riverstone Muslim Cemetery Board, said that cemetery was down to its two last spots. Nearly half of all other sites for people of the Muslim faith at other Sydney cemeteries had been pre-bought. The new cemetery would provide 10,000 graves.
Macarthur will provide 28,000 grave sites in a separate Jewish area, and provide a dedicated area to prepare people of the Jewish faith for burial according to tradition.