Over the past few years, many of the morgues in Australia’s Northern Territory have either lost power or broken down, leading to the decomposition and odd storage of bodies. Across the vast and remote territory, there are close to 20 morgues in business, most of which are staffed by volunteers and no agency is specifically in charge of them.
The apparently empty north represents the real Australia, the real Outback, with its amazing, diverse landforms, harsh climate and unfamiliar customs. But its dead body storage system is a complete disaster.
According to VICE, last year the Northern Territory Ombudsman inquired about the questionable practices going down at the volunteer-run morgues, like the one time a corpse had to be stored in a doctor’s kitchen for a week while he was out of town, or the body that was held up in a courtroom when the volunteers couldn’t find any other place for it.
Just in the past few months, the corpses of two Aborigines were buried in the wrong graves. Reportedly, the bodies were exhumed and reburied, but their families never actually received an apology for the mix-up.
Other people still awaiting some sort of an act of contrition is the family of Charlton James. When he committed suicide in 2011, James’ body was taken to a morgue in Kalkaringi, but when a power failure shut off the refrigeration system, his corpse began rotting in the Outback heat. Sadly, by the time his mother arrived to view his body, it was so terribly decomposed that she could hardly recognize him.
What does the Australian government have to say about all this? Morgues are not the responsibility of the government unless they are attached to a hospital.
“The safe and appropriate handling of deceased persons in remote areas is particularly challenging in the Northern Territory given the population spread over the Territory’s 1,349,000 square kilometers,” said a statement from the local minister’s office.
Apparently, it is both difficult and expensive to provide adequate services to people living out in the bush and many people, especially those with degrees and licenses, aren’t interested in the job.
“It is difficult enough to entice professionals to work in remote locations without storing dead people in their homes,” Former Northern Territory Ombudsman Carolyn Richards told NT News.