Tucked away in a secret location in the Australian bush is a morbid township of departed souls that is home to 100 people – and all of them are dead.
It is the country’s first ‘body farm’ where humans are laid to rest on a sprawling property in Yarramundi, on the outskirts of Sydney, which looks more like a grisly crime scene than a cemetery.
The bodies are left exposed to the harsh elements where they decompose for scientific research aimed at helping to solve Australia’s worst murder and missing person cases.
Led by Professor Shari Forbes, the Australian Facility For Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) calls itself a ‘unique body donation facility’ and farms human remains in the plight to understand how dead bodies can be identified and properly investigated.
It is a macabre UTS research experiment which has proved invaluable to criminal investigations in the U.S. and provides previously unobtainable forensic tools to help identify and examine badly decomposed bodies.
Inside the facility is hectares of corpses strewn across the dirt and bushland, with some decayed to the point of being merely skeletal remains.
The bodies are housed inside protective cages to safeguard them from animals, but are otherwise laid bare to let the natural stages of decomposition set in.
According to 60 Minutes producer Grace Tobin, the farm emits a pungent stench and is full of ‘flesh, facial features, fluid and flies’.
The idea of human body farms was first introduced in the 1970s after scientists realised how profoundly little was known about the decomposition of human flesh.
Prior to using human bodies, pig remains were used to help forensic pathologists understand how the process of putrefaction worked.
‘Some of our research focuses on enhancing our ability to search and locate victim remains, such as the use of cadaver detection dogs,’ Professor Forbes said.
‘Other aspects of our research will focus on the identification of the victim, whether that be through fingertips, DNA or the use of isotopes.’
Scientists at AFTER provide valuable assistance to the police force and forensic technologists for missing person cases, homicides or other large-scale or natural disasters.
A walk through the bizarre graveyard might turn even the strongest of stomachs, but it has offered a crucial insight to help solve crimes and it could even lead to the reopening of cold-cases.