Hindu leaders push for open-air pyres at Melbourne’s Harkness Cemetery

By Our Reporter
Representative image // Photo by Rajat Kashyap on Unsplash

Leaders of the Hindu community in Australia’s largest temple are pushing for the inclusion of open-air funeral pyres in the upcoming Harkness Cemetery in Melton. The detailed designs for this nontraditional cemetery, set to be Melbourne’s largest in a century, are expected to be confirmed this year, according to a report by The Age.

The 128-hectare Harkness Cemetery, scheduled to open in 2026, is envisioned with a ‘cultural spine’ featuring areas for picnics, barbecues, children’s play, running and cycling trails, and retail spaces.

Community leaders are urging the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust to consider a proposal for a traditional yet radical space within Harkness where devout Hindus can perform cremations on open-air pyres, a practice believed to be essential for an auspicious reincarnation, the report says.

Gurpreet Verma, Vice-President of Australia’s largest Hindu temple, Sri Durga, quoted by The Age emphasised the desperation of many community members who currently send deceased family members overseas for cremation due to the lack of suitable options in Australia. He stated that a small space within the cemetery, away from high-traffic areas, would provide dignity to grieving families.

While Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust CEO Andrew Eriksen acknowledged the evolving attitudes towards funerals and emphasised environmental sustainability, he expressed reservations about the Hindu community’s request for traditional cremations at Harkness. Eriksen cited the need for further research, investigation, and community engagement, citing concerns about air pollution and timber consumption.

Steve McGhie, the MP for Melton, and a member of the Allan government, also told the paper that open-pyre cremation would not be part of the initial cemetery stage and would require wider community discussions before approval. He recognised the growing Indian community’s cultural impact and emphasised the need to address cultural issues for various groups.

Vivek Sharma, a Melton resident, found the Trust’s refusal culturally demeaning but remained committed to lobbying for acceptance. According to The Age, Damien Laing, a visual artist documenting migrant communities’ practices in Melbourne’s west, praised the aspirational and extensive efforts of the local Indian community in asserting their culture and religiosity.

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