New cemeteries council

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The new body aims to ensure that the quality of interment products and services meet community expectations, and that interment practices are affordable and accessible for all. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria has established a stakeholder engagement council to represent the diverse needs of people of all faiths and none when it comes to the care of their dead.

Fifteen community representatives including members of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Indigenous, Catholic and other Christian communities will meet four times a year with the aim of ensuring that the interment practices and beliefs of all religious and cultural groups are respected and implemented.

The new body aims to ensure that the quality of interment products and services meet community expectations, and that interment practices are affordable and accessible for all.

Its formation comes after a period of uncertainty over the future of cemeteries in New South Wales.

“We’re coming through a period of uncertainty where the Jewish and Muslim communities in particular have been very concerned there wouldn’t be enough room to bury their dead and I think the Catholics have the solution to that problem.”

As suburbs expand, Sydney has been running out of burial space. The state government attempted to take over the management of cemeteries from faith-based operators including Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria which operates four cemeteries at Kemps Creek and Rookwood and is developing two more at Varroville and Wallacia. However a vociferous reaction from religious groups saw the push deferred.

The council’s first meeting was held on 23 June, chaired by community and consumer campaigner Christopher Zinn who has served on the board of the NSW regulator of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria.

“We’re coming through a period of uncertainty where the Jewish and Muslim communities in particular have been very concerned there wouldn’t be enough room to bury their dead and I think the Catholics have the solution to that problem,” Mr Zinn told The Catholic Weekly.

Rookwood Catholic Cemetery. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“It’s a tremendously exciting time in cemeteries. While we can’t always honour people in life the way they might deserve, in death it’s incumbent on us to honour them as cemetery providers as much as we can. It’s a noble guiding principal.

“We’re prepared to do what it takes so we have more accountable, respectful and affordable cemetery offerings not just for Catholics but for everyone, regardless of their faith or lack of faith.”

Mr Zinn said the council will advise and help the board to better understand how cemetery operators can deliver the best possible experience to families, consumers, cultural and faith groups.

“Helping these families when a loved one has died is very rewarding work …”

President of the Muslim Cemeteries Board Kazi Ali, one of the community representatives on the new council, said the CMCT has provided much-needed support to people across multicultural and multi-faith Sydney.

He said that the need for the Muslim community in Sydney’s west and southwest is great, with 8,000 plots requested at the Varroville site alone.

“Helping these families when a loved one has died is very rewarding work, following our rituals in the way we wash the body, transport the body to the burial place, and then following up with the family afterwards as well,” Mr Ali said.

“They do need help with that, and they are very appreciative.”

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