I WAS DELIGHTED to learn today from a radio interview that the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, a Government agency in Western Australia, has a 95% satisfaction rating in its services. Presumably that means that only 5% of its inhabitants are turning in their graves in disappointment.
Seriously though, it seems death is big business. The radio discussion was prompted by rumours that the Government was considering privatisation of all or part of cremations and burials. Cremations are a profitable business, burials less so but the former subsidises the latter. Privatisation of the cremation side of the business already happens in New South Wales and critics in Western Australia argue that this is pushing up the cost of death.
It is also a growing business. The number of funerals handled by the six cemeteries under MCB control in Perth and Fremantle rose by 3.5% from last year to a total of 11,239 in 2014/2015.
British writer and journalist Will Self argued recently that tending the garden was really about digging your own grave. Writing in the BBC online magazine, he cited a well-meaning psychotherapist who advised his dying mother to let go of her fear of death by imagining herself rising from her sickbed and walking out into a beautiful sunlit garden.
“Why the hell would I want to go into the bloody garden!” she responded. “It’s bad enough dying of cancer without being reminded you haven’t done the weeding.”
As Will Self put it: We may be ostensibly digging up a rose bed, but really we’re preparing ourselves psychologically for the time when we’ll be pushing up the daisies.
Even so, there is a universal association of the serenity of a beautiful garden with our final resting place.
The new trend for the MCB in Perth is for natural burials which promise “a unique and sustainable funeral resting place with minimal disturbance to the natural bushland environment”. The downside is that there is no headstone or plaque to mark where your loved one might lie.
Such is the picturesque quality of our government-owned cemeteries in Perth that one of them, in the northern suburbs, has become a must-do visit for international tourists.
“Where can we go to see kangaroos?” our visitors from England enquire. “I have just the place,” I reply. “We’ll go to the cemetery.”
I wonder, will the kangaroos be the first victims of the cost cutting exercises when the private organisations take over?