Indigenous people at 'heart' of cemetery design

Victoria's biggest cemetery in a century will have the experience and knowledge of Indigenous people at the "heart" of its design in a commitment to advancing reconciliation.

The master plan for The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust's Harkness development has been unveiled, with the project expected to break ground in the next three years.

The sprawling 128-hectare cemetery, about 40 kilometres northwest of Melbourne's CBD near Melton, will be built on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people.

Wurundjeri elders have given their feedback through the design process, leading to the trust's vision of a cemetery that "celebrates" Indigenous culture in a departure from historical trends.

"Recognising Indigenous culture, and particularly the celebration of country, people and spirit, are all elements which are fundamental principles to a site like this," trust chief executive Andrew Eriksen told AAP.

"We've certainly heard from the Indigenous community about the opportunity to educate through these spaces, and that's quite powerful."

The finer details of the cemetery are yet to be hashed out, with design work for its first stage to take place over the next 12 months.

The master plan, though, depicts a cultural smoking ceremony space, and flags the potential for trails with sculpture, art and interpretation to embed Wurundjeri culture.

A "cultural spine", described as a quiet place for reflection where visitors are made aware of environmental and cultural values, will run through the cemetery.

The majority of Melbourne's interment plots are forecast to be depleted by 2035 and the cemetery will serve the city's rapidly growing population in the western suburbs.

It will also reflect society's shift away from thinking about cemeteries as solemn, serious spaces to less formal, reflective and sometimes celebratory spaces.

"(It's also about) recognising that death is a part of life, so people need a space that can recognise and support all of the emotional states that someone experiences over their lifetime," Mr Eriksen said.

The cemetery's first stage will be focused around its southern precinct, described in the master plan as including a "community hub" for mourners and other visitors to come together.

The precinct will have capacity for events, picnic and barbecue facilities, and areas for running and cycling.

The cemetery's initial design has three specific "axes" or areas around a designated core - one of which, Arnolds Creek West, is naturally occurring.

The master plan raises eco interment land as a potential inclusion in designs, with options for more sustainable interment like natural burial.

Mr Eriksen cautions, though, that such an element wouldn't be included in the cemetery until down the track, with legislation yet to reflect more modern burial options.

"At this stage, it's probably going to have something of a traditional shape very early on," he said.

"The alternative disposition methods are an emerging market, so over time, we allow for the site to do that."

The cemetery's master plan is subject to a 100-year development timeline.

The key themes behind the project are sanctuary, inclusivity, sustainability, innovation and trust.

Victoria's largest cemetery is the 169-hectare Springvale, established in 1901. The Harkness site is more than three times the size of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.