A Cemetery for the Community: Enfield Memorial Park, South Australia

Thus we come full circle to view the cemetery not as a necessary inconvenience to be isolated on the edge of town and visited once every few years but as a resource that can make a positive contribution to the community.

It is three-thirty on a weekday afternoon. A couple of teenagers stroll by on their way home from school; an elderly man pedals along on his bicycle while in the distance a young woman is wheeling her baby in a stroller; a middle-aged couple walk arm in arm as their dog tugs anxiously at its lead and across the green lawns a woman and her small grandchild pack away a picnic. First impressions would be that these familiar activities are taking place amongst the rose gardens, enclosed lawns, expanses of grass and plantings of native and exotic trees of a public reserve. Closer examination reveals the memorial plaques, tablets, floral tributes and occasional monuments of the Enfield Memorial Park or, in other words, the Cemetery.

Some would argue that cemetery should remain a sanctuary, set apart from the normal activities of daily life, where the dead can rest in peace and the living make special journeys to pay their respects. This argument may have been valid in an era when the experience of death was a more familiar part of daily existence. In the European-based culture of the late twentieth century, however, few have first- hand encounters with death and its associated rituals. Fearing that with which we are unfamiliar, we should be seeking opportunities to encounter aspects of death in ways which recognise it as a natural and inevitable part of life. It is from this philosophy that the principles underlying the development of Enfield General Cemetery have grown. The recent change in name to Enfield Memorial Park in part reflects this philosophy” by removing some of the more feared connotations of the word cemetery. It can be argued that this is a denial of the primary function of the park but observation of the way in which it is used by a wide cross-section of the community, generally with a considerable degree of respect, would seem to counter this argument.

At its opening in 1947, Enfield General Cemetery, at the time situated on the northern fringes of the Adelaide metropolitan area but now surrounded by residential suburbs, became the first and remains the largest lawn cemetery in Australia. The design for the layout originated from a public competition and the sweeping burial lawns, uninterrupted by vertical headstones, and the concentric circulation pattern emphasised by avenues of trees remain central to today’s planning of the park. Over the years, changes in management, the construction of a crematorium and social and population changes have all given rise to significant developments and adaptations to the design, but the overriding impression is still one of serene and uncluttered space.

The concentric circulation pattern serves a number of functions. Apart from giving coherence to the general layout, there are practical advantages. A cortege can be led around the sweeping arc of the circle, allowing ready access and parking adjacent to burial sites. The pattern also allows for allocation of sections to different religious denominations.

There are no areas set aside for specific ethnic groups represented within the wider community, but styles of memorial are available which fulfil certain cultural expectations. Inscriptions can be found in many languages and it is not unusual to observe certain rituals associated with death such as the burning of money or the releasing of a white rooster by Chinese and Vietnamese bereaved families. The small circular garden at the centre of the park is designated as a Children’s Memorial Garden, reflecting the growing desire to physically acknowledge the death of an infant as an important part of the grieving process. Here, spring flowering Prunus and daisies form the principal plantings.

The development that has had most impact on the cemetery landscape has no doubt been the introduction of the crematorium. Generally, cremations outnumber burials by four to one and the possibilities for disposal of cremated remains provide far greater scope for ‘memorialisation’ than is offered by burial sites. Initially, the sites for cremated remains were restricted to kerbside garden beds - not the most peaceful of resting places. In recent years, however, the enormous potential for memorialising ashes has been realised through the vision of the current General Manager, Mr Kevin Crowden. Under his direction a number of projects have been initiated which create a wide range of alternatives for memorials and which have had a major impact on the landscape of the Park. In order to incorporate these new developments, a master plan was prepared which identified those areas where more intimate and enclosed gardens could be introduced without destroying the basic structure and character of the park. Small lawn areas have been most successful, especially when planted with roses. Landscape Consultants Cielens and Wark have been involved in a number of these developments. At times this has resulted in rare opportunities to initiate principles of site planning, with architectural structures being integrated into, rather than dominating, the landscape.

The most recent project to be completed is the Campbell Memorial Garden. A large, sloping wedge of land lying on the north/south axis of the park had, over the years, been raised and levelled using excess fill from graves and was therefore unsuited as burial ground. This became the site for a Memorial Book Room, a small building designed to house two types of memorial - a vellum- bound book in which inscriptions are entered in illuminated (illustrated) calligraphy, and a cabinet in which urns and caskets are displayed. The building is a very simple, glazed structure with a rolled lead roof. It sits at the lower level of the site on the central axis of the park surrounded by a formal pond, on which the building appears to float, and is set within a grove of birch trees under-planted with spring-flowering bulbs. The upper and lower levels are separated by a three metre high curved sandstone memorial wall into which ashes can be placed. The wall encloses the space in which the pool and Book Room are situated but is sliced, as it were, by a channel of water which runs along the central axis and cascades through the wall into the pool below. When standing in the Book Room to read the Memorial Book the view is enclosed by the wall and focused on the cascade but allows a glimpse along the ‘rill’ to a distant garden beyond.

The simple, formal lawns, pool and birch grove that surround the Memorial Book Room are complemented by two informal ‘woodland’ gardens through which narrow paths weave and open on to intimate, enclosed lawns. The design intent was to evoke a spiritual atmosphere, but one which was not bound to any particular religion, or culture. It is hoped that individuals may respond to and interpret the surroundings in a personal way without having a particular ideology imposed on them. The majority of sites allow for a degree of ‘personalisation’, with, in some cases, vases supplied for floral tributes. It is recognised that, in the months immediately following a bereavement, the appearance of the individual site is important[1], but the management process enables this to be balanced with the overall appearance and maintenance of the Park.

Future developments for the Enfield Memorial Park will be focused on an adjacent paddock owned by the Trust and include initiatives with benefits that extend into the wider community. Boundary planting has been carried out in collaboration with Trees for Life using adjacent Folland Park as a seed source. Owned by Enfield City Council, this park is one of the few sites within the Adelaide metropolitan area where remnant endemic Adelaide Plains vegetation can be found and thus the stock of vegetation is being extended. The Trust is also examining the possibility of recycling ‘grey’ sewer water to help reduce mains water consumption.

In terms of future landscape planning, the development of the paddock area will take the form of a more informal parkland in contrast to the relatively formal layout of the established park. A proposed chapel, set at the edge of a lake and surrounded by woodland is seen as a potential setting, not only for memorial services, but also weddings, baptisms and other functions.

Thus we come full circle to view the cemetery not as a necessary inconvenience to be isolated on the edge of town and visited once every few years but as a resource that can make a positive contribution to the community.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Frances Clegg ‘Cemeteries for the Living” Landscape Design October 1989, pp 15-17.