Ask LH: How Deep Does A Grave Have To Be In Australia?

Ask LH: How Deep Does A Grave Have To Be In Australia?

Hey Lifehacker, What is the law in Australia in regards to human burial? Is it really mandatory for it to be six feet under? And does it have to be in a cemetery? Thanks, Grave Digger

Grave site picture from Shutterstock

Dear DG,

While regulations differ from state to state, “six feet under” appears to be a slight exaggeration across the board. For example, human burial legislation in NSW requires the top of the coffin to be buried no less than 900 millimetres below the natural surface level of the soil. This works out to around three feet.

When you take the cask dimensions into account, you’re looking at an overall single-coffin depth of four to five feet. Presumably, this is considered deep enough to avoid remains being easily disturbed by people or animals; anything more is just needless digging.

With that said, there are plenty of circumstances where a coffin might be buried deeper than the law dictates. Some cemeteries bury their coffins vertically to save on space, resulting in deeper, narrower graves. Other cemeteries allow families to “stack” coffins so they can share a single tombstone. Naturally, this means the coffin at the bottom is buried much deeper than normal.

Human remains need to be interred in a public cemetery unless approval has been granted by a local government authority to bury the body privately. Permission must be granted prior to burial and all relevant health regulations need to be strictly adhered to. (For example, a body cannot be buried in a location that could potentially contaminate a supply of drinking water.)

Generally, you need a pretty good reason for a private burial application to be accepted. “I can’t be arsed visiting a cemetery” unfortunately isn’t good enough. If you’re keen to bury a dead relative in your backyard, cremation is probably the way to go.


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  • “If you’re keen to bury a dead relative in your backyard, cremation is probably the way to go.”

    But make sure there’s not a total fire ban in place first.

    • Generally, religious and sacred ceremonies are exempt from total fire bans (though must still adhere to certain restrictions)

  • Of course, it is well known that politicians are buries at least 3 metres (10 feet) down. Because really deep down they are supposed to be good people.

    • And at least if you bury them that deep, there’s less chance of them digging their way out.

  • What about Viking funerals? I always fancied the idea of being despatched in a burning long boat out to see (not that I would care at that point). If you took the boat and body beyond the territorial limit in the sea could you do it?

    • What about Tibetan sky burial? Your body gets left on a mountainside (or sometimes it gets cut to pieces first) and then vultures eat your remains, then your bones are crushed into a paste for crows and hawks to eat after the vultures leave.

    • You’d be in violation of MARPOL, the marine pollution regulations, which apply to ships from almost every country in the world.

      If your ship was Somalian you might be ok.

  • Well, I’m 5″7′ so they’d probably need a 6″ hole to drop me into.

    • I chuckled a bit. I think you got the feet and inches notation the wrong way around, the double quote is inches. You just said you’d need a 6 inch hole to drop into 😉

  • In the late 19th century in Victoria, executed criminals could be claimed by relatives.
    One woman claimed her husband and displayed him in a shop window, I forget if he was frozen or stuffed.
    After that, the government said that all executed criminals remain the property of the state.

    • Workaround:
      If you’re going to be executed by the state, donate your body to science.
      Your widow can purchase your corpse from whatever scientific institution gets it.
      Bodies are plentiful, funding is golden.

  • Surely the correct answer to this question is “Why do you want to know?”, asked with a quizzical eyebrow.

    • I know this is an old thread but I would like to know because they buried my Father 300mm below the surface.

  • So basically, if you kill somebody and bury them in a shallow grave, even if you miss the murder rap they may be able to get you for burying the corpse incorrectly.

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