Yarramundi in the lower Blue Mountains will be the site of the first human body farm in Australia and the southern hemisphere.
A body farm, or taphonomic facility, observes and researches the decay of human corpses.
The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) owns the 49-hectare site and will operate the 200-metre by 250-metre facility on Springwood Road near Lynchs Creek after its completion this year.
UTS professor of forensics Shari Forbes has worked in body farms in the United States and is looking forward to her first such job in Australia.
“Most of the work is focused on criminal investigations,” Professor Forbes said.
“We estimate time of death and sometimes identify the victim, if we find bones or teeth.”
She said it was sometimes possible to tell where the person lived and what their lifestyle was like.
She said police investigators could then apply such knowledge when examining murder or accident victims.
Professor Forbes said the Yarramundi facility would not at any time have more than two or three bodies left in the open or in shallow graves.
“We try to do the most work on a single body for as long as we can, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for as long as a year,” she said.
She said the site was chosen because it was sufficiently remote from residential areas but easily accessed by police and forensic teams.
Hawkesbury Council approved the application by delegated authority in April.
Hawkesbury Council city planning director Matthew Owens said the body farm would be an interesting development for the region.
“This research and training facility is the first of its type in Australia,” he said.
“It will benefit employment in the local area as well as facilitate longer-term partnerships with universities and other training providers.”
Professor Forbes said an Australian body farm was needed because no researcher could extrapolate from overseas conditions.
“Australia has a different climate and the rate of bodily decay varies, depending on temperature, moisture and other factors,” she said.
She said it was a privilege to work at the country’s first body farm.
“Someone needs to speak for the dead,” Professor Forbes said.
“We can also help identify disaster victims or missing persons, especially those who may have been missing for decades.
“At least that gives closure to their families.”
PEOPLE who decide to leave their body to science for research can choose to donate it to the Yarramundi body farm, where scientists will watch it decompose.
University of Technology Sydney professor of forensics Shari Forbes said bodies donated to science and used at the facility would be left exposed or partially buried so forensic experts could observe how bacteria, insects and weather influenced the process.
She said anyone interested in donating their body for research would have the option of selecting the Yarramundi facility on the form.
“The donor will be asked to check the box if they agree to their body being used for research at the facility or leave the box un-checked if they do not,” Professor Forbes said.
“Their relatives can request that this does not happen after their death, as they can with any aspect of the donation program.”
She also said that donors or their families can decide how long they want their body to be used in the project.
“Some researchers may only study the remains for weeks or months, whereas others will study them for longer,” Professor Forbes said.
She said once the research was completed, the remains would be returned to UTS and then disposed of according to the donor’s final wishes.
She also said people working at the body farm would follow the NSW Public Health Act’s guidelines for licensed anatomical facilities, and that a security assessment was done to ensure no trespassers, acting on a dare or out of morbid curiosity, disturbed the area.
“The facility will be surrounded by a high-security, anti-tamper, anti-climbing fence with CCTV cameras that have a live feed to UTS security. We also have a caretaker who lives on-site and will patrol the facility and notify police of any trespassing or illegal activity,” she said.