A cemetery with standing room only

Posted on February 8, 2016 | Comments Off on A cemetery with standing room only

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upright scene

The site of the upright cemetery within view of a much-loved local landmark Mt Elephant, Derrinallum. Image taken by G. Arkinstall.

Words by Louise North

Tony Dupleix is a Camperdown sheep farmer with an unusual sideline business – human burials – and even he can’t work out what title he should give himself.

He’s not a funeral director, or an undertaker, he could be a ‘burialmeister’, but then he gives it some more thought: he has “dreamed up” the title EAVIO or an Environmentally Aware Vertical Interment Officer.

You’ve probably guessed by now that Tony has a wonderful sense of humour.

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And he needs plenty of it because over the years he has endured resistance to establishing the world’s first vertical burial business, Upright Burials.

“I’m a farmer principally, but some days I change my boots, clean my finger nails, wash the ute – it is a bit agricultural – and go and do a burial instead,” Tony said.

When the idea for Upright Burials was first mooted in 1984, Tony, his wife Lois, and 20 shareholders received “hate mail”  suggesting that the business was “ungodly”, and that the idea of interning people upright was appalling.

Despite this, Upright Burials was established in 2010 with its prime purpose to provide a cheaper and environmentally friendly alternative to a traditional funeral.

Almost 30 people are now buried on a 4ha farm paddock on Kurweeton Rd at the base of the majestic Mt Elephant – and a further 100 have prepaid for a funeral.

Business is not really booming, and is now probably more a testament to Tony’s philanthropic side than any big business ideals. Which reminds me of the other ‘title’ he came up to describe his occupation – “a farmer that helps people”.

“I doubt we’ll ever be highly profitable and we could get left behind in the stampede (of traditional funeral services who are now offer environmentally friendly options) so I suppose what we do is more philanthropic.”

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Camperdown farmer Tony Dupleix who, by his own reckoning, as also a Environmentally Aware Vertical Interment Officer.

Tony’s motivation for starting the business came after a series of personal experiences, and those also shared by his shareholders.

“We’d all been to funerals and buried family members and felt we could do more. We felt a bit cheated by the process (of a traditional burial).”

There were limited options for people, Tony told Bluestone, and he wanted to change that.

“You could be buried in a box or burned and there were no choices other than ‘what colour box do you want?’. We wanted to offer an alternative and we thought, ‘how could we rattle the cage a bit’ and simplify the process.”

But how did the idea arise of burying a body vertically?

“I think it came from someone (in the shareholder group) seeing the SEC (power company) digging a hole to put in a power pole and they thought ‘that is the same size as a human body’.”

Tony had been looking for points of difference and it fitted the criteria of minimal costs and being environmentally friendly.

But the cost of the burial ($3250) is a point that has less impact than anticipated.

“We’ve realised it is not about cost. It would make no difference if we charged $3250 or $32,000, we’d still get the same number of takers.”

tony dupleix and Doug Smith.

Doug Smith, Chair of the Darlington Cemetery Trust, right, and Tony Dupleix at the graveside of the first burial in 2010.

For most people, the choice of an upright burial is about the environmental aspect, but how does that play out?

I admit, I had a macabre desire to know the process and Tony was happy to explain.

Tony meets the family of the deceased at the cemetery at a set time.

“There are a few moments of conversation, it is a bit confronting because it is stark, it is just a paddock.”

The body – which has been frozen, rather than embalmed with toxic chemicals – is wrapped in a corn starch shroud and also a hessian shroud, and is moved from a van into a vertical position above a three-metre-deep x 70cm circular hole, and is gently lowered into it by a specially designed catafalque.

“I stand back and give people time by the grave, often they will place mementos into the grave, sometimes music is played.”

Tony recalls that one of the “loveliest burials” was an artist from Adelaide whose family placed boxes of pencils and crayons and reams of paper into the grave “to keep him going for eternity”.

“I also remember one where a bottle of (Penfold’s) Grange was thrown into the grave. That has been the only time I’ve been tempted to jump in,” Tony laughs.

Tony then shovels dirt in to fill the grave and says he carries a couple of extra shovels in the ute because sometimes family members like to help in that process.

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There are no headstones, the names of the deceased and the location of the plots are placed on a plaque on a memorial wall.

For each body buried, a tree is planted on Mt Elephant to offset the carbon from the transport and refrigeration of the body.

That happens once a year when the Mt Elephant revegetation committee has a mass planting of trees and Tony contributes to the cost.

And sometimes family members of the deceased come back each year to help plant more trees.

So far, Tony has met everyone who is now buried on the property.

“There are no reserved plots. It is on an as-needs basis, so at the moment we have started (the plots) from the eastern fenceline.”

Both Tony and Lois will be buried at the site, but Tony says that he hopes by the time that day comes “we’ll be in the middle of the paddock, not near the fenceline”.

“We want to be remembered for what we did in our lives, not where we are buried,” he says.

If you would like more information about Upright Burials, you can visit the website here.

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