Heritage town turns to the sun to bury use of fossil fuels

Posted on 14 Nov 2022

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Yack Launch Group Photo IMG 2514
The launch of the Yackandandah's "energy for life" renewalable project celebrated the group's long-term climate action commitment. Pictures: Supplied.

An historic cemetery with an eye to the future has ended its reliance on fossil fuels and embarked on a climate action plan with a 100-year horizon.

Yackandandah Cemetery trustees Paul Anderson and Ian Jenkins, treasurer and sexton (seated).

It’s part of a larger project to create one of the first totally renewable towns in Australia.

The Yackandandah Cemetery, a not-for-profit in the picturesque former gold rush town in north-east Victoria, is now well under way with its “energy for life” project, having invested $42,000 in:

  • an off- grid solar and battery system
  • a suite of electric tools for all its maintenance, comprising electric ride-on and push mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws.

Cemetery trustee Paul Anderson was prompted to tell his organisation’s story in response to Our Community’s request for examples of climate action for our Net Zero Heroes campaign.

Mr Anderson said that as a custodian of people’s remains, the cemetery was required to take a long-term view.

“We must always ask, ‘What impact does today’s decision have for the cemetery and the trustees in 100 years’ time?’”

Yack launch
The cemetery won the support of local authorities, with (L-R) Indigo shire climate change and environment officer Floret Meredith joining Paul Anderson, Indigo Shire deputy mayor Peter Croucher and Ian Jenkins at the launch.

He said combatting the climate emergency was part of that commitment, which tied into the wider Yackandandah movement in favour of green energy.

Yackandandah has made a huge transition since the formation of the not-for-profit Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) group in 2014.

Since then, solar panels have sprung up on nearly every home, business and organisation in town, and large-scale community batteries have been installed.

“Yack” and its 2000-odd residents hope to be fully solar powered by 2024.

TRY guided the cemetery project alongside its other initiatives.

It is no surprise that the cemetery and other local organisations are acting on climate change with the town vulnerable to bushfires and floods, and local dairy farmers understandably nervous about rising global temperatures.

Solar meters
The cemetery also installed a new solar system as part of its upgrade.

Mr Anderson said the cemetery trust was already enjoying a wide range of benefits from the move to renewable energy.

He said electric equipment was safer because it didn’t need fuel or chemicals, was much quieter and lighter, and vibrated less, all of which was better for its volunteers.

The trust estimated the equipment would save more than $1,000 a year in running costs while avoiding the need to store fuel in the bushfire-prone area.

The organisation sought a combination of grants for the project, with successful funding from:

  • Department of Health Cemetery Grants Program
  • Indigo Shire Sustainability Grants Program
  • Yackandandah Community Development Company (YCDCO) Community Sponsorship Program
  • Yackandandah Community Centre Community Investment Grants.

Mr Anderson said as part of its ongoing push for environmental sustainability, the cemetery was developing a “natural burial section” which allows for “burying human remains in the earth in a manner that allows for natural decomposition with minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem”.

That area of the cemetery would be plastic free and use natural rock headstones, he said.

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