Chapter 4
Burial in New Zealand today: an overview of the current practice

Denominational burial grounds

4.75Unlike the United Kingdom, New Zealand does not have a long history of burial within the confines of a church parish. With a few exceptions, churches are not a significant provider of burial and cremation services in contemporary New Zealand.

4.76However, there are a significant number of small denominational burial grounds that were established on land set aside by, or gifted to, the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches early last century. As for trustee-managed cemeteries, there is no central register of these denominational burial grounds although many local authorities have built up comprehensive databases on the burial grounds in their area.

4.77Many of these burial grounds were intended to serve the needs of rural communities but as the size and demographic make-up of rural communities change, many of the associated parish churches have been amalgamated or transferred to larger population centres. As a consequence it has become relatively common for small provincial churches to find themselves in the difficult position of wishing to sell deconsecrated church property containing old burial grounds.

4.78This contemporary phenomenon is not something the 1964 Act was designed to provide for. At this stage, we have only a partial understanding of how extensive these problems are. In consultation following the release of this Issues Paper we anticipate receiving submissions on this issue to ascertain the best reform options from the perspective of churches and the wider community.

4.79We note that not all denominational burial grounds are associated with small churches. A significant exception is Purewa Cemetery. This is a large and historic denominational burial ground that now caters to the general public. Purewa Cemetery is located on St John’s Road in Auckland and was established as an Anglican burial ground in the 1890s.182 Although still operated by a trust under the supervision of the Auckland Diocese, the burial ground is open to anyone who wishes to be buried there.183  Fees are $5,000 for the burial plot and $1,030 for interment. There is strong demand for burial at Purewa, and the Diocese anticipates that there will be sufficient reserves to establish a $10 million perpetual maintenance fund when the cemetery reaches full capacity in 2030 (the fund is currently at $4 million).
4.80Alongside these historic burial places we are also aware of at least two recent instances where the perceived inadequacy of local authority cemeteries or an inability to be buried on private land was a driver behind applications to establish denominational burial grounds.184
4.81Auckland Memorial Park was established in 1999, after a group of Auckland businessmen were granted approval to establish a denominational burial ground on privately owned land north of Silverdale (then part of the Rodney District Council). The application for a denominational burial ground was lodged on behalf of the Friends of the Auckland Buddhist Religion Trust and stated that the burial ground was intended to cater for the unmet needs of the region’s Buddhist community. The manager of Auckland Memorial Park informed us that dissatisfaction with both the quality and cultural responsiveness of the local authority cemeteries was the key driver in the decision to develop the park. Before applying for approval, the founders undertook significant market research in a number of Asian countries with a view to establishing a burial ground that would meet the needs of migrants from these countries. However, the burial ground is not used exclusively by a particular ethnic group or religious denomination, and the Buddhist community has no ongoing formal involvement in the management of the cemetery.185

4.82 More recently, in 2012 the Ministry of Health approved an application from a Taupo couple to establish a Jewish burial ground on a portion of their farm adjoining native bush and reserve land administered by the Department of Conservation. The couple, who are long-standing members of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, had originally applied for permission to be buried on private land, but this application was declined. They then put forward several arguments in support of the establishment of a Jewish denominational burial ground. These included concerns about desecration of Jewish graves in the Taupo cemetery, the Jewish prohibition on cremation and requirement that a body be buried within one day of death, and the wish to be buried in Taupo near family and home.

4.83Supporting documentation, provided to the Ministry of Health by the Health Protection Officer at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, noted that the closest local authority cemetery, which was 12 kilometres from the proposed site, did not make provision for denominational burial sites. In addition, the closest alternative site with suitable facilities was two-and-a-half hours’ drive from the applicants’ property. The forwarding letter prepared by the district health board noted:186

This application has identified a lack of provision for the burial of denominational people in the Taupo district and other local authority areas within Bay of Plenty and Lakes District Health Board areas. It is anticipated that applications for denominational burial grounds and burial in a special place will increase if sufficient provision is not made.

4.84In the next chapter we consider the wider question of how religious and spiritual diversity should be catered for in the provision of places of for burial.

182Although called a cemetery, Purewa is legally classified as a burial ground.
183Under s 31(1) of the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 the managers of a denominational burial ground may make provision for the burial of other persons who are not adherents of the religious denomination for whom the land was originally set aside.
184Ministry of Health records indicate that since 1993 only six new denominational burial grounds have been established in New Zealand.
185The underlying land is owned by a charitable trust established for that purpose (“Hibiscus Trust”), and the cemetery is operated by Auckland Memorial Park Ltd.
186Letter from Annaka Davis (Health Protection Officer, Bay of Plenty District Health Board) to Keith Gardner (Population Health Protection Goup, Ministry of Health) regarding the application to establish a denominational burial ground at Whakaroa (5 January 2012).