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A young girl is taught by her mother how to roast a turkey. Her mother cuts the legs off the bird, seasons it and places it in the roasting dish. When the girl got older she continued the tradition with her own daughter and showed her how to cut the legs off the roast, season it and place in the roasting dish. When the third generation daughter had a girl of her own she began showing her the process of preparing the turkey.

The inquisitive girl asks her mother, ”Why do you cut the legs off the turkey?” The mother becomes puzzled with the realisation that she doesn’t know and responds with, “That’s how my mother did it”. Now curious, she calls up her mother, “Mum, why do we cut the legs off the turkey?” and gets the same reply, “Well, that’s how my mother did it”.

Next Christmas, the women were in the kitchen preparing the turkey, and they took the opportunity to ask the great grandmother. She smiles and replies, “I never had an oven large enough to fit the whole bird”.

This tale was used by blogger Amanda Badgero to relate how traditions can come into being, how sometimes we continue doing things a particular way because that’s how we were taught.

Too often in history have we see people following tradition without ever questioning the rationale, or whether the process is still relevant. As circumstances change, and larger ovens become available, it is desirable to know the reasoning behind the tradition in order to determine whether it should still apply.

When someone’s life comes to an end, or if you are pre-planning your send-off, traditionally there have been two basic choices – cremation or burial.

A problem facing many urban Cemeteries these days is the same issue facing urban living – lack of space and a greater need for valuable land.

Escalating demand for burial plots forces the prices up, and increasingly, tenure is for a limited period of time.

Cremation was a solution devised to help alleviate this issue, and is widely popular, however the process of incinerating the body does not appeal to all. Additionally, the environmental cost of cremation is more of an issue, with about 90 kg of gas required for each firing, and the resulting “black balloons” (carbon dioxide emissions) are significant.

With a traditional burial, the body is positioned horizontally in a coffin, in an “at rest” pose, and for some, the position has significance.

In some cultures, being buried face down is the ultimate sign of disrespect for the dead, whilst others have chosen to be buried head down and feet pointing to the sky, believing when Judgement Day comes, they would be resurrected right way up in a world turned upside down.

Similarly, evil people were buried standing up so that they would “burn their feet on the fires of Hell”, whilst Indian chiefs have been buried vertically mounted on their slaughtered horses so that they could ride off into battle in the afterlife!

In recent times public attitudes to death and burial have been changing due to many urban and environmental pressures, and people have become more open-minded to alternative processes.

There are countless engineers all over the world coming up with solutions for making the funeral industry more environmentally friendly and less complicated.

An innovative Victorian company called Upright Burials decided there needed to be a change to the available choices when it came to a burial. They took the phrase “thinking outside the box” literally, and came up with an original “old” solution. No box, no headstone, and the body is buried upright, making for efficient use of both materials and space. Upright Burials caused a gazetted cemetery specifically for vertical burials to be established near Derrinallum in Southwest Victoria, and this first ever vertical cemetery provides a simpler and more economic option to the traditional burial process.

Its cemetery trust manage it to remain as native pasture with no landscaping or individual grave markers, just a memorial wall with the details and locations of those buried there.

The innovative cylindrical graves (700mm diameter by 3 meters deep) are dug by auger, the same equipment that digs holes for power poles, and the body is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud of cornstarch and hessian. Once at the graveside, the body is tilted to the vertical and slowly lowered feet first into the grave in a dignified manner using a purpose built catafalque.

In addition to solving the issues of space and unnecessary use of resources, Upright Burials aim to deliver an environmentally friendly option that will provide families with a reduced financial burden, and fewer decisions needing to be made in a time of grief. Upright Burial’s service is simply one of respectful collection, holding and burial of the deceased’s remains in a timely manner.

All necessary administration is taken care of and families desiring a memorial service or celebration are encouraged to organise that themselves in what is seen as an important part of the grieving process.

As a link to the local community and district of Derrinallum, for each burial performed, a tree is planted and maintained on nearby Mt Elephant.

This sign of support for the community’s initiative in revegetating the mount also provides an enduring connection for the bereaved to the cemetery, and the growing tree helps capture some of the greenhouse gases generated through the refrigeration and transport phases of the burial process, making probably the most carbon neutral burial service in Australia.

Alan Haywood, a 64 year old Vietnam Veteran was the first to be interred at the new cemetery. He was pleased to know that he would be the first, saying that “everyone wants their little piece of history”.

Since then, some of those to have followed Alan to the cemetery have expressed similar sentiments when preparing for their burial.

Environmentalism is certainly the main motive for choosing Upright Burials, but the cost (about one third to one half of a traditional funeral) is a major consideration, and the dignified simplicity of the process is an attraction. As one delightful retiree put it, “Now my family can have a better standard of champagne at my wake!!”