Country singers’ ashes flushed and put in rhythm shaker

Writing a hit song is a creative process for any musician. So it comes as no surprise to hear of the unusual, yet innovative, ways the ashes of two country singer/songwriters have been scattered.

Sharing stories around a fire during a Facebook live concert this week, Bill Chambers, father of well known Kasey Chambers, spoke about what happened to the ashes of good friend Audrey Auld.

Audrey, a Tasmanian musician based in Nashville, was 51 when she died of cancer in 2015.

Bill describes her as “an unforgettable character”. She was described in one record review as “sweet voiced but tart-tongued and no nonsense”.

Bill Chambers and Audrey Auld often performed together.
FACEBOOK: Good mates Audrey Auld and Bill Chambers often performed together.

“After she passed away her husband Mez came out to Tamworth, as he often did, and he brought Audrey’s ashes will him. He gave us all a little cylinder with some ashes in it which I carry in my guitar case.”

Some of her ashes were also sprinkled in the gardens of popular Tamworth music venue and hotel, the Pub.

“But the rest of the ashes… well … Mez and I went into the women’s toilets of the Pub and flushed them down the toilet.”

“He said, ‘I’m pretty sure Audrey would be happy with this’.”

“So, you ladies, every time you take a piss there, Audrey is watching,” smiles Bill.

Bill Chamber’s recounted the story of flushing Audrey Auld’s ashes during a Facebook concert this week. Scroll to the 56th minute to listen.

Another late songwriter may not be able to perform in person anymore but he’s still making music on stage.

Some of the ashes of Man in the Picture songwriter, Garry Koehler of The Bobkatz, have been put in a shaker and have become part of the rhythm section.

Garry died of cancer last year, aged 64.

The Bobkatz were country music festival favourites and won national awards at Mildura and received nominations for Golden Guitar awards in Tamworth.

Speaking on ABC’s Saturday Night Country, Garry’s bandmate Rob Mackay admitted that Garry was still playing in the band. Kind of.

“He was an amazingly understated percussionist, so his daughter Sarah put a bit of dad in a shaker and brought him on stage.

“It was the best idea!”

Sarah Koehler said she had the idea when she went into her father’s room after he had died.

“I saw it and thought ‘I need to put a bit of dad in that!’

YOUTUBE: The Man in the Picture, a song written by the late Garry Koehler. Some of his cremated remains are now kept in a shaker.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a journalist, death literacy advocate and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage.

Lisa Herbert is the author of The Bottom Drawer Book, a colourful funeral planning guide and workbook.

COVID-19s forgotten front line: Claims that mortuary staff and funeral directors have been left unprotected.

The workers who collect bodies from hospitals, homes and accident scenes are not receiving coronavirus protections because they’ve been deemed “non-essential” by the Federal Government.

According the Association of Independent Funeral Professionals, these ‘death workers’ don’t have priority access to protective clothing such as masks, gowns and other protective equipment because they offer a “non-essential service”.

The Association of Independent Funeral Professionals is calling for the reclassification of funeral workers and related industries as essential or critical care.

Association president Carly Dalton argues death workers should be given priority access to personal protective equipment to ensure they’re offered the same protections as health care workers.

“We face the same exposure and risk to the disease as those within the health care environment. We should be given priority access to all the personal protective equipment that is required for our workforce to undertake their roles safely and professionally,” she said.

These include “individuals who work in the industry of proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains should be included in the health care/public health category with doctors, nurses and others in the healthcare industry”.

In a letter today to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Carly said, “The ability of death-care professionals to safely carry out their duties during a mass-fatality incident is paramount. The government must recognise our role as funeral directors, cemetery, crematory and coffin manufacturing workers as critical to responding to a pandemic response.”

“The safety of these individuals are truly on the front line in helping to care for pandemic victims and their grieving families,” said Carly.

She hopes the Victorian Premier can lobby his Federal counterparts to make death workers essential service providers. I’ve sought comment from the Prime Minister’s office about this.

Just a few days ago the National Funeral Directors Association of Australia expressed similar concerns to the ABC.

President Nigel Davies agrees the industry is being forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic because the Federal Government didn’t recognise it as an essential healthcare service.

He said new health guidelines stipulated eye protection, mask, full-body gown, gloves and leak-free body bags to be used when moving a body suspected of having coronavirus.

But the guidelines failed to take into account the equipment was in short supply and reserved for hospital and nursing home staff, not funeral home staff who retrieve the deceased.

Meantime, Carly Dalton has taken to social media to request homemade masks.

“Who has sewing skills and could start making washable cloth masks? Our whole industry is in need of masks and so is the public. There are no masks anywhere in the shops.. so this really is something that anyone with sewing skills can assist us with. Need to be breathable cotton, high thread count and perhaps 2 or 3 layers,” she wrote on Facebook.

In the meantime the Federal Government has given guidelines about dealing with the deceased. That advice can be found here.

Part of the advice made available by the Federal Government.

Federal Government guidelines regarding COVID-19 contain some contradictions.

“Family members should be advised not to kiss the deceased. If family members touch the body, they should wash their hands immediately afterwards or use an alcohol-based hand rub.”

But the guidelines also say, “there is no evidence of an increased risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 during cremation and routine body handling”.

Yet the advice also says, “It is not clear whether embalming is safe to do on people who have died from, or with, COVID-19. Embalming is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19”.

Clear as mud?

Australian funerals limited to 10 people in total

As of March 25, 10 people can attend funerals. That includes funeral directors, clergy and cemetery workers. That leaves room for about six or seven mourners.

In Italy, where Covid-19 is overwhelming, funerals are not taking place at all. People are being buried or cremated without a funeral. That is a real possibility here and one that many funeral directors are preparing for.

Now, more than every before, technology will play a substantial role in funerals in Australia. Webcasting or the live-streaming of funerals is nothing new and funeral directors are well prepared for this.

Carly Dalton from Greenhaven Funerals in Melbourne says “virtual ceremonies” using a videographer and a ‘virtual ceremony’ may provide limited comfort at this point of time, but a memorial may be held at a later date.

“In six months time, on an anniversary of the death, perhaps a memorial can be held once this cloud has lifted from us all,” she suggests.

Carly Dalton’s new reality of social distancing and offering 4 metres per person. That is about to change at midnight when no more than 10 people can be present at a funeral.

Carly says despite these confusing times, she’s seeing the best in people within the funeral industry.

“We have funeral celebrants who are now out of work putting their hand up to volunteer with us to ensure that people are laid to rest in the best circumstances possible.

“This is new territory for us and everyone is coming together to help grieving families as best we can,” said Carly.

“We’re doing everything to comply with the new rules, despite not being categorised by government as an essential service.

“I’ve got a funeral on Friday and there are 30 immediate family. We are doing our best to find a solution for those mourners. We’ve moved the location to ensure we can ensure a space that caters for four metres for person and we’re seeking clarification about whether we can have the mourners in the cemetery in groups of 10, perhaps 15 minutes at the graveside per group.

“These people are bereft after losing someone and all this on top of that grief they’re having to deal with this.”

Carly says she’s thankful that funerals can still go ahead here in Australia. In countries like Italy where there are an overwhelming number of Covid 19 deaths, the deceased are being buried with no funeral.

My advice

If this blog has upset you or you are concerned your loved one won’t get the send-off “they deserve” because of Covid-19, now is your chance to change the way you look at death and funerals. Say what you have to NOW. Record a video and send it to your elderly loved one telling them what you like about them and how you remember them. Don’t grieve for a funeral that might not take place. Celebrate a life while you still can.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a journalist, death literacy advocate and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage.

Author, journalist and death literacy advocate Lisa Herbert.

Prime Minister's latest Covid 19 advice sees funeral giant's share price plummet.

The share price of Australia’s largest funeral provider has plummeted after the Prime Minister publicly announced funeral attendance restrictions of just 10 people because of measures to minimise the transmission of Coronavirus. This figure includes the priest or celebrant, funeral directors and cemetery workers. In reality, we’re talking about six or seven mourners.

Invocare’s share price has plummeted after the Prime Minister announced that just 10 people, including the celebrant and funeral directors, could be present at a funeral.

But Invocare has been quick in its attempt to communicate to the market that funerals will still going ahead, albeit from a distance.

In a statement to the ASX, Martin Earp, Invocare Chief Executive Officer InvoCare has reassured families that Invocare’s funeral homes will continue to arrange funeral and memorial services.

“We have live streaming / webcast and recording capabilities available in many locations. We want to ensure those family, friends and colleagues who are unable to attend a funeral service due to the current social distancing and quarantine requirements that they feel part of the farewell. We are focusing on the introduction of services to meet the needs of client families amidst the restrictions on social gatherings,” he said.

Invocare owns hundreds of funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

You’ll note the large share price jump in late February when word of the coronavirus and its predicted impacts started getting serious. This jump coincided with Invocare releasing its 2019 results which were positive (if you’re an investor).

“2019 results have seen a strong bounce back … driven by the number of deaths increasing … deaths up 2.9% against a drop of 3.3% in 2018.”

(It’s not uncommon for the share market to react to anticipated changes in rates of death. Last year I blogged about how the predicted flu season affected profit estimates of Invocare. And, as mentioned above, the predictions proved accurate – hence the positive 2019 results.)

Propel Funeral Partners, the lesser known but still significant funeral provider in Australia, has suffered similar losses.

Australia’s second largest funeral provider, Propel Funeral Providers has lost ground on the share market too.

I spoke with Carly Dalton from Greenhaven Funerals in Victoria as she was on her way to a funeral after just finishing another service.

She told me that amid all this uncertainty, funeral directors remain committed to providing the best possible service to grieving families.

The Prime Minister announced that only 10 people could attend a funeral, and that includes funeral directors, clergy and cemetery workers.

“We’re doing everything to comply with the new rules, despite not being categorised by government as an essential service.

“I’ve got a funeral on Friday and there are 30 immediate family. We are doing our best to find a solution for those mourners. We’ve moved the location to ensure we can ensure a space that caters for four metres for person and we’re seeking clarification about whether we can have the mourners in the cemetery in groups of 10, perhaps 15 minutes at the graveside per group.

“These people are bereft after losing someone and all this on top of that grief they’re having to deal with this.”

Carly says she’s thankful that funerals can still go ahead here in Australia. In countries like Italy where there are an overwhelming number of Covid 19 deaths, the deceased are being buried with no funeral.

Funeral director Carly Dalton’s new reality. Social distancing and new rules mean that Australian funerals are limited to 6 or 7 mourners adhering to a four metre per person rule. PHOTO: Greenhaven Funerals, Carly Dalton.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a journalist, death literacy advocate and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage.

Lisa Herbert is a journalist and death literacy advocate.

Coffins and company: the coffin club changing lives.

“See you next week… with a bit of luck.”

The cheery and optimistic farewell brought big chuckles from members of the Community Coffin Club in the north-west Tasmania town of Ulverstone. 

Jokes about death and dying are common-place here. The inevitable is approached in good humour.

Every Thursday a bunch of like-minded people get together for fun times, companionship, coffin making and learning. The group also provides a wide range of reading material and ‘death literacy’ resources for anyone who may drop in.

The Community Coffin Club operates out of the Central Coast Community Shed in Ulverstone every Thursday.

Meeting Ed

Coffin club member Ed King and I bonded over Kingston biscuits. A guest of the club, I’d been invited to talk about and my funeral planning guide, The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, and my cemetery wanderings. There’s always cakes and biscuits at these things and Ed and I were happily devouring the Kingstons one after the other.

An artist, sculptor and painter, Ed has been attending a well-provisioned shed to work on his coffin every other Thursday for the past two years or so.

“I’m on my way out,” he declares.

While his early onset dementia leaves Ed struggling to find some of his words as we chat, he’s engaging, witty and warm.

“Sometimes I can’t get up, sometimes I can’t do anything, but today I can talk,” he grins.

Ed King attends the Community Coffin Club where he’s building a boat-themed coffin for himself.

Six hours a week he’s assisted by support worker David and it’s clear Ed enjoys the time they spend together.

They share a love of art and enjoy bouncing ideas off one another.

“I look forward to it,” Ed says earnestly.

“And I look forward to it too,” David replies.

Support worker David and client Ed. Good mates.

They both reminisce and shake their heads about their first attempts to build Ed’s coffin.

“The first coffin didn’t quite work. It was a bit flimsy. We used the wrong wood,” says David.

But Ed’s second coffin is coming along nicely. He’s a creative artist so it’s no surprise that there are interesting little twists added to his coffin.

Coffins and company

But, as Ed explains, Thursdays aren’t just about building coffins. They’re about companionship.

“Everyone’s here for the same thing. You have a bit of a laugh. You meet people and you’re all in the same pot. We’re all going down eventually.”

I asked Ed how he’d describe the coffin he’s making.

“Getting there,” he quipped, which received widespread chuckles around the group.

Because he can’t afford a boat, Ed’s coffin has a rudder. Photo: Community Coffin Club Facebook page

“I can’t afford to buy my own boat. So we started to turn it more into a boat than a coffin,” he said, which explains why there is a rudder, made of King Billy pine, at the feet end of the coffin. Or should that be the stern?

The coffin itself is made from a combination of timbers – recycled pallets, a little bit of huon pine, and some wood that Ed had in his shed.  

“I got it for free, it’s oregon pine, beautiful. They were pulling down some old buildings and I got this and put it away for 18 years.”

As well as a rudder at the coffin’s stern, a set of horns will decorate the bow.

There are two shallow holes drilled into the coffin’s bow, just behind where the horns will be positioned.

“They’re for the two pennies. You know, to pay the ferryman,” Ed grins, clearly amused by this creative and mythical addition.

There are horns and holes for two pennies at the bow of Ed’s coffin.
Photo: Community Coffin Facebook page

Ed is quick to point out the help he’s received to build his coffin, er… boat.

“Dave is great, fantastic. He’s the engine of this thing,” he said gratefully.

Knowing his early onset dementia will bring about his death sooner rather than later, Ed faces his mortality very practically.

“I’m going to be cremated and chucked in the ocean, I hope.”

Because of restrictions at the crematorium, the horns and the rudder have been made so they can easily be removed. Ed’s two young sons will be able to keep those.

“David’s got it built so that as soon as it’s time to ‘go under’, they can just pick it up and the boys can take it (the horns and the rudder) with them.”

Shrouded in art

As an artist, Ed has travelled widely and has an extensive body of work from his overseas wanderings.

“I did do drawings in France, Spain and all over England, and all over the world really.”

David explained that Ed will be laid to rest in the coffin, wrapped in some of this artwork.

“A lot of the canvases that Ed painted, lovely churches, cathedrals and things, have a really lovely Gothic feel to them. There’s a lovely lady who’s cutting them up and stitching them together to make a shroud for Ed,” he said.

Ed nods and smiles knowingly at me. Again, he seems chuffed with this idea, chuffed to be sharing it with me, and chuffed to have a mate like David who’s able to help him when the words won’t come.

Ed shows me his awesome coffin.

And support worker David’s more than happy to spend a couple of hours on Thursdays at the Community Coffin Club with Ed.

“The feel of this place and the way they make you feel when you come here, it’s fantastic,” said David.

“And there’s lots of coffee and cakes,” interjects a smiling Ed.

The Community Coffin Club meets at the Central Coast Community Shed at the Ulverstone Showgrounds from 10 on Thursdays. All are welcome.

A gift to the Coffin Club, artist and sculptor Ed has crafted a miniature coffin artwork. A tin soldier rests in the top, there are pennies for the ferryman, a coffin handle, a bell and a drain, plus splashes of paint make it look like it’s been eaten by worms.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert has written The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide and workbook.

Where are the graves? A quick guide to natural burials

Look at the photo below.

Can you see them?

The two graves?

Two grave mounds lie beneath eucalypts in Queensland’s only natural burial ground.

Alberton is a relatively new natural burial ground. There are no headstones or grave markers. A coffin isn’t necessary. And bodies are buried shallower than conventional graves.

Grave depth is important when it comes to returning a body to the earth. Natural burial favours the analogy of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

So how do you find your loved one’s grave?

GPS coordinates.

No, I’m not kidding

IMG20190225154243
The Alberton Natural Burial Ground is in bushland halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

I took these photos at the Alberton Cemetery, half way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, not far from Yatala (of Yatala Pies fame). The burial ground is surrounded by farmland, mainly sugar cane fields.

There are no true standalone natural burial grounds in Australia, but there are a handful attached to established cemeteries.  It’s a good start.

IMG20190225152535

The Alberton natural burial ground is part of the Alberton Cemetery which was established in the late 1800s. Several early graves belong to German migrants and there are several farmers of that German heritage still in the area, many growing sugar cane.

Conventional graves are at one end of the two hectare block, natural burials the other. Burials in the natural burial ground are dug to 1.2 metres. Graves in the cemetery are dug to 1.8 metres.

IMG20190225153347
The traditional Alberton cemetery is in the foreground. The trees in the background form part of the natural burial ground.

There’s a beautiful sculpture at the entrance to the burial grounds. Loved ones can choose to attach a small memorial plaque to it.

Can I plant a tree on the grave?

No. The council responsible, City of Gold Coast, is encouraging a natural bushland environment to grow on and around the graves. Random tree plantings will disrupt the natural ecosystem.

Is natural burial a cheaper option than a burial in a standard Gold Coast cemetery?

No. 

Currently a plot at the Alberton natural burial ground will set you back $4,282. 

IMG20190225154927

Hearses enter the burial ground via this gate. The trees you see are the natural burial ground. Farmland surrounds the cemetery.

The use of coffins and funeral directors.

Here’s the weird bit.  While you don’t have to buried in a coffin in the Alberton natural burial ground, in Queensland, you do have to be transported to the grave in a coffin. Go figure. 

Fortunately there are cheap cardboard capsules available that will do the job (usually used for no-frills cremations). You might have to ring around a few funeral directors to find one who’ll sell you one. 

As for the burial itself – instead of a coffin – you can bury your loved one in a shroud made of a natural fabric such as calico, cotton or hemp.

A burial shroud is laid out a Death Doula workshop in Brisbane.
A burial shroud is laid out a Death Doula workshop in Brisbane. They can be expensive – about $1200 – but there’s no reason you can’t make your own.

In Queensland, you don’t have to use a funeral director to bury your loved one, but some local councils sure make it hard if you don’t want to use one. You need to engage the services of a funeral director to bury your loved one in Brisbane City Council cemeteries. And on the Gold Coast there is no local law that says you need a funeral director to bury your loved one in a cemetery there BUT, according to the City of Gold Coast, “if someone considers undertaking a funeral, we will require the person conducting the funeral to provide a copy of their $20,000,000 public liability policy naming the City of the Gold Coast as an interested party on the policy”. 

You’ll also need other documentation such as a risk management plan and a safe work method statement. The City of Gold Coast says it “assesses other requirements when a request is received on a case by case basis”.

(It seems odd, does it? FYI, here’s a link to an earlier blog in which I explore the state of Queensland’s funeral industry. Warning: The industry and Qld’s regulations are a debacle.)

No chemicals

The theory of natural burial is to let nature take its course and return your loved one to the earth. Chemicals aren’t welcome in this process so embalming is out of the question. Chemicals used to preserve the body such as formaldehyde can be toxic and persist in the environment.  Many coffins are made with lacquers, glues and paints. They’re not welcome in a natural burial ground either. Only biodegradable coffins, shrouds and urns can be used.

Low maintenance

Modern cemeteries are often highly maintained, particularly lawn cemeteries, and require pesticides, fertilisers, high water use and mowing to make them look presentable to families.

Natural burial grounds don’t need that, other than a bit of weed control.

For more information about the Alberton natural burial ground go to the City of Gold Coast website

Are natural burials the next big thing?

Considering there’s only a handful of graves in the bushland at Alberton, the idea of a natural burial seems to be slow catching on. Maybe because people don’t know it’s an option? Maybe the location is too far from families? Perhaps Australians aren’t ready green funerals?

What do you think? Would you consider a natural burial?

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

Telling stories from the grave: Gold Coast teen’s memorial becomes a technological world first

Strolling through a pretty memorial park nestled between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, I stumbled across technology that will revolutionise how the stories of the dead are told and how the deceased are remembered.

Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott died suddenly from a heart condition aged 15. His memorial is at Eco Memorial Park in Stayplton, halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

In between the headstones, plaques, photos, flowers and trinkets at Eco Memorial Park at Stapylton, there was a headstone that had a little white plastic-looking disk stuck to it. The disk is Bluetooth-enabled technology which enabled me to get to know Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott via an App I’d just downloaded on my phone. Sadly Lucas died in class last September.

The Memento is fitted with a Bluetooth beacon which connects to the modUrn App to reveal the story of the deceased. It provides a central place for photos, videos, voice recordings, music, documents – all sorts of things.

The little disk is called a Memento and it’s fitted with a Bluetooth beacon that relays information to the modUrn App (more about modUrn in a sec). Lucas’ parents and friends have uploaded photos, videos, documents and text on to the App. When someone like me comes within five metres of the memorial or grave, that information becomes accessible on my smartphone. But, as someone who’s not connected with Lucas or his family, I could only see a handful of the information that had been uploaded onto the App. Lucas’ family have the final say on who can see what. Just like social media, the information can be either public or private or a mix of both.

I took some screenshots of what I saw when I logged on to the App as I stood at the garden site of Lucas’ memorial:

Who was Lucas?

Sadly Lucas made the news when he died in class at Ormeau Woods State High School last September. The 15yo suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which can cause sudden cardiac death in one per cent of those with the disease.

Lucas liked technology and gadgets. Headphones sit on his memorial stone and his love of his Xbox is written on his memorial plaque. It makes sense that his grave is the first in the world to be using what’s called a Memento (developed by an Aussie company called modUrn).

Lucas would have been 16 a couple of weeks ago so his friends, family, classmates and his dog Leila attended a memorial day for him. Photos from that day have since been uploaded to the App.

Lucas’s mum Agneta Millott says it’s great that anyone who visits her son’s memorial will be able to see life events and photos of Lucas.

“I’m hoping that whoever goes there can scroll through the photos, enjoy great memories of Lucas and sit there with a smile on their face.

“Seeing new updated stories and new images from his friends and also messages when others are visiting Lucas’s memorial in the future is going to be great”, said Agneta. 

Who’s behind this technology?

Followers of this blog and my Facebook page know that I’m a cemetery wanderer who likes to give a voice to those who can no longer speak. Cemeteries can teach the living such valuable lessons about the past and this technology offers a very cool way of doing that. I’m in no way affiliated with this company but I am very excited by what I’ve seen.

As soon as I got home from the memorial park I rang the young creator of the Memento for a chat. Sonia Vachalec is a photographer by trade. (Just hours before I rang her she’d signed a deal for this technology to be distributed in three countries including the USA. SO COOL – a little Aussie company doing big things – the concept has been created, developed and manufactured here in Australia.)

Sonia’s dad died when she was in her 20s and her stepfather died five years ago. She had stacks of their photos, voice recordings and videos lying around. “I was hoarding so many things,” she admits.

Sonia wanted to collate all her memories in one spot “so there was a time capsule to capture the essence of the person that can be accessed at any time or any place”.

Urns have the technology too!

Sonia hasn’t just created the Memento, the little disk that sits on a grave or memorial. The same technology is included in a bunch of funky urns called modUrns. So now the cremated ashes (called cremains) of Granny Mary can sit in the lounge room and you can access all her memories, photos, videos, letter, documents, certificates, story tellings, family tree, whatever, via the App.

Yup, that’s an urn for cremated ashes. The world’s first Smart Urn! The Bluetooth technology sits in the top, powered by a small battery that will need changing every couple of years. When your phone is within five metres of the urn you can use the App on your phone to scroll through photos, videos, etc.

The modUrn is certainly not your traditional-looking urn. And it can’t hold all the ashes of Granny Mary. (They hold about a litre or 61 cubic inches but these days lots of people are starting to split the ashes of their loved ones anyway.)

Here’s a video explainer of what you can do with the modUrn technology. https://youtu.be/JGssGwnOK7E

Sonia has a six-year-old girl who’s too young to remember the times she spent with her grandfather who passed away when she was 2. But she now has a physical reference of her Pop in the shape of a modUrn that is filled with photos of her grandfather. It sits next to the TV in the lounge room.

“She picks it up and hugs it sometimes,” said Sonia.

Death in the modern era

When it comes to accepting death and talking about it, Australians are way behind the times. While other cultures have a very personalised and hands-on approach to death and funerals, Aussies don’t want a bar of it. So it’s great to see an Australian company that’s leading the way in offering people an easy way to remember their loved ones. And yes, that includes pets as well. There’s a pet range of modUrns as well!

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

Are you sure you want to die in Queensland? Getting the facts on funerals.

Dealing with a death in the family is hard. Trying to make sense of Queensland’s death-care and funeral rules and regulations is pretty difficult too because it’s all a bit of a confusing mess.

Ahead of Dying to Know Day on August 8, a day to bring to life conversations about death, dying and bereavement, I’ve spent days trawling through Queensland Government legislation, calling councils, chatting with cemetery operators and funeral directors, contacting hospitals and even visiting my local cop shop.

Here’s what you need to know about funerals and burying dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan*.

(*Joan is a made-up person; a little feisty grandmother who always wore floral dresses, swore a lot, enjoyed gardening, drove an old Corolla and drank cheap whiskey.)

1. Qld’s legislation regarding death care, funerals and cemeteries is a confusing mess.

Queensland doesn’t even have stand-alone legislation governing burials, cemeteries or funerals. There are more than a dozen Acts that make small mentions of them here and there but even combined they don’t provide a lot of guidance. Unlike most of the other states, Queensland has a confusing web of rules, regulations and blaring omissions. The Law Reform Commission attempted to work through some of those in its Review of the Law in Relation to the Disposal of a Dead Body  in 2011 and recommended lots of changes to Queensland laws and regulations but none of that has come to fruition.

There used to be a Cemeteries Act but that was repealed in the mid-1990s with the intention of introducing fabulous and thorough legislation soon after. But it all got too hard and cemetery and burial responsibilities were hand-balled to Local Government. While local councils have done a good job initiating their own local laws and managing this stuff, inconsistencies remain between local government areas.

2. Signing up to Queensland’s Funeral Industry Code of Conduct is voluntary.

Funeral directors around the country are working hard to redeem themselves after some pretty damning reports and inquiries in which the industry was accused of a lack of transparency and taking advantage of vulnerable people. These days there is a Queensland Funeral Industry Code of Conduct which aims to protect customers and ensure they are not pressured into buying products and services. This voluntary Code also endeavours to “ensure clients fully understand what is and is not included in the funeral plan or package they purchase” and “provide clients with accurate and timely information about the range and price of their services and products, including low-cost options”.

Not all funeral directors have signed up to this Code of conduct. And unlike states like New South Wales, funeral directors in Queensland don’t even have to be licensed.

So how is the quality of care afforded to dear ol’ Aunty Joan and her family regulated?

Um… It’s not.

3. Funeral services are bloody expensive and so are burials.

An increasing number of funeral directors now display funeral packages and their costs on their websites which makes shopping around when you’re grieving much less challenging. As well as funeral brokers, there are also some funeral comparison websites that can help find the type of service and price you’re after. Some of those websites are run by industry, others are not.

One of those independent ones is GatheredHere which has a database of costings for about 700 funeral options and companies around the country. Website founder Colin Wong said the site had 8,000 visits in June, proving the internet generation now expects online product comparisons and reviews.

“They’re accustomed to it and the demographic now demands it. “

Colin said he established the website because he wanted to protect vulnerable consumers.

“I want them to know there’s a range of options, cost-effective options. And a funeral service is different and separate to the disposal of the body.”

Colin has broken down funeral costings in this great article on the average cost of an Australian funeral. (You might need a glass of wine to help you read it – there are some big numbers in there!)

Country funerals and interments are much cheaper than in the city, mainly because real estate is much cheaper. Mark McGowan oversees 12 cemeteries for Southern Downs Regional Council. He tells me the average cost of a full funeral service and burial in Warwick Cemetery is between $10,000 and $13,000.

Cemetery plots cost thousands of dollars
Cemetery plots cost thousands of dollars. Headstones and monuments aren’t cheap either.

4. Now that I know how expensive funerals and burials are, do I have to have a funeral?

Finally, some good news! No, you do not have to have a funeral and you’ll be surprised by the growing number of people taking that option.  To cater for that there are now lots of funeral directors happy to provide a very simple body disposal service.

After 15 years in the funeral business, and disillusioned by the huge cost grieving families had to pay to farewell their loved ones,  Tim Button and mortician wife Casey started Just Cremate Me.

“It pissed me off watching so many funeral companies make so much money. It was wrong to charge grieving people like that,” he said.

Just Cremate Me is a small south-east Queensland business set up to offer a cremation service, including transport and a family viewing. Families can also help wash and dress their loved one in Tim’s parlour (which looks like a comfy lounge room) before Aunty Joan is driven to a crematorium in a cheap, cardboard coffin. The family later picks up the ashes from the crematorium and then quite possibly takes a trip around the world with the money they’ve saved by not having a funeral. (Thanks Aunty Joan!) One of Tim’s unattended cremations costs $1,250 – about a quarter of the price of a really basic funeral service.

The popularity of an inexpensive, simple cremation has even surprised Tim. After just one year in operation, Just Cremate Me cremates 40 people per month, and Tim says the reasons behind his service’s popularity isn’t necessarily financial.

“Some people just don’t see the need for an expensive funeral. Sometimes families are overseas or interstate and only get together once a year so it’s at that time when they will hold a memorial for the person.”

“I’ve cremated multi-millionaires,” said Tim Button.

Watching the rise in demand for the direct cremation model is David Molloy from the Queensland Cemeteries and Crematoria Association. After nearly 30 years in the funeral business, he believes the importance of a funeral should not be underestimated.

“Without one, the grieving process isn’t able to start. A funeral doesn’t bring closure. It brings opening,” said David.

But he’s quick to point out that a funeral needn’t be a formal event held in a chapel or cemetery.

“It could be held at someone’s house. It’s a ritual, a memorial, a chance to simply talk, tell stories, laugh and cry. It’s for friends as well as family,” he said.

5. Do I have to use a funeral director?

No, but with so much confusion around Queensland’s rules and regulations it sure makes it easier. Do It Yourself death-care and funerals are not unheard of and there is certainly an increased interest in taking care of dear ol’ Aunty Joan home for a vigil instead of sending her away with a stranger.

The paperwork is pretty straight forward. You need to register a death and apply for the death certificate with the Department of Justice and Attorney General.

HOWEVER, the problem you might encounter is that some cemeteries will only liaise with a funeral director, not Aunty Joan’s daughter. For example, the 12 cemeteries managed by Brisbane City Council will only deal with funeral directors. It’s a different story on the Southern Downs where the Brethren religious community organise their own funerals.

6. Can I put dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan in the back of my ute?

Yes, you can.

Weekend at Bernie's was a 1989 black comedy.
Weekend at Bernie’s is a 1989 black comedy in which one of the main characters is dead.

While it might seem like a scene from “Weekend At Bernie’s“, you can transport dear ol’ dead Aunty Joan in the back of your ute (or the Corolla) in Queensland. While the New South Wales legislation clearly outlines its rules for the private transport of the dead, Queensland rules and regulations are a bit of a debacle in this space.

It’s cut and dry in NSW — you can transport a body as long as the journey is less than eight hours and Aunty Joan isn’t infectious. I’ve had coffee with one lady in NSW who moved a man’s body from an unhelpful funeral director’s premises to a house for a home vigil using an old van, four blokes and a door.

Yes, a door.

In Queensland, the Coroners Act makes no mention of private body transport; neither does the Cremations Act. The Public Health Act briefly makes mention of not spreading an infectious disease. Section 236b of the Criminal Code makes it “an offence for a person, without lawful justification, to improperly or indecently interfere with, or offer any indignity to a dead human body”. That seems to leave itself wide open for interpretation and that’s why I sought clarification at my local police station.

“That’s revolting,” was the response from the woman at the counter when I asked about the private transport of Aunty Joan. So I made a more official inquiry to the Queensland Police Service and received this response:

“The QPS is not in a position to answer these questions – this depends on individual circumstance and it is not something that QPS has come across at this time and as such is a hypothetical.”

The consensus among the industry folk I’ve chatted with is that the private transport of bodies is allowed, though one did admit that funeral directors are probably better equipped and therefore are able to do it in a more dignified manner. But, in another example of the confusion and ignorance in Queensland’s rules and regulations, some hospitals will not release a body to anyone other than a funeral director. That’s despite it being “legal for any person that has the authority to control the body to take physical possession of the body as long as the death was not from an infectious disease”. (Section 3.2.2 It’s Your Funeral Report, Sandra van der Laan, Sydney Business School).

7. Bodies at home and home vigils.

The subject of death, dying and funerals was only until recently very taboo. Of late there has been a noticeable shift in thinking and people are looking to take more control. But there’s still a long way to go. Mackay funeral director Belinda Hassan said, “As a society we’ve been conditioned not to deal with death. We become immune to it.”

She told me many people want their loved one taken to a funeral home soon after they die in the home.

“They want them out of sight as soon as possible,” said Belinda.

But not everyone wants to shift dear ol’ Aunty Joan off to a funeral home as soon as she dies in front of the telly. Home vigils can offer families a personal and private opportunity to say goodbye and connect with family members and friends during a time of grief.

A body can be kept in the home for a few days, often laid out in the bedroom or lounge room while life goes on around them and loved ones come and go. Obviously the body may undergo some changes during that time and the air con will have to be turned on, but people who do take part in home vigils report it to be a very positive experience.

Shop around and prepare.

But home vigils aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Dealing with death and grief is a personal journey and there are people who can help guide you through the process. For most, it starts with a funeral director. Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask questions. Ask for an itemised quote and check out if they funeral director you’ve called has signed up to Queensland’s Code of conduct. And remember, just because you decide not to spend $15,000 on dear ol’ Aunty Joan doesn’t mean you didn’t think she was the best aunt ever.

An even better way to make the funeral decision process easier is to discuss your wishes before you or a family member dies. It needn’t be a long or morbid discussion and it will help clear up any confusion when the time comes. I wrote a book called The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan that’s practical, colourful and filled with dad jokes to help make that happen.  Your ideas, funeral plans, and life’s reflections will sit quietly in its pages until they’re needed, which most likely won’t be anytime soon.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Author Lisa Herbert.
Stupors outside a temple about 40 inutes from Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Stupa: a high rise for generations of human remains

It’s easy to look past the colourful monuments that surround the large, majestic and eye-catching temples of south-east Asia. In size and elegance, there’s no comparison.

Yet outside these magnificent houses of respect and worships, there are a plethora of smaller buildings. They may just look like decoration but each of these ‘stupas’ house the created remains of several generations – with the urns of family elders placed on the top shelf of three orternal shelves and subsequent generations on the lower shelves. Much expense is spent on these little buildings. Traditionally they held the possessions of those departed but, these days, they house the cremated remains of family members.

A worker builds a stupor close to a temple on the outskirts of Siem Reap in Cambodia
A worker builds a stupor close to a temple on the outskirts of Siem Reap in Cambodia. The great grandparents or grandparents will be moved into the top storey of the monument.

While Cambodia is a poor country with many families struggling to even reach the poverty line, a lot of money is spent on stupas. This stupa below is being built about an hour from Siem Reap. The cost? About US$3,000, which is an extraordinary amount when some Cambodians struggle to make $1.50 per day.

A crematorium sits in the distance behind a temple in Cambodia.
A crematorium sits in the distance behind a temple in Cambodia. Mourners bring wood as final and practical offering.

For westerners, temples are an intriguing unknown. Am I allowed in? Why do have to take my shoes off? What religion is practiced here? Will I burst into flames if I enter? A myriad of religions are practiced often side-by -side and often with elements of several religions combining. You’ll be excused for confusing Buddhism, Hinduism and Animism which all seem to go hand in hand in countries like Cambodia. While most Cambodians identify as Buddhists, Hinduism, for example, influences significant events such as weddings and funerals, and the use of astrology to determine the most appropriate dates for important occasions.

Buddhists believe in cremations and that’s why there are crematoriums very close to most temples. Here, in a village not far from near Siem Reap, this wagon is offered free to anyone using the nearby crematorium.  Inside is the body in a bamboo coffin. The ceremonial casket is not burned and lives to provide pomp and ceremony for other village members for years to come. Mourners bring wood to fuel the cremation which usually takes about three hours.

This ceremonial wagon or cart leads a procession to the crematorium.
This ceremonial wagon or cart leads a procession to the crematorium where the deceased will be burned using donations of wood from mourners who also bring food and water and monetary donations for the family.

 While tens of thousands of tourists flock to the well-known temples of Ankor Wat, few realise they’re scampering through crematoriums as well as temples.  Pre Rup temple was a Hindu temple built in 961AD (Yes, it’s more than 1,000 years old!). It’s believed funerals took place at this temple, with two crematoriums within the temple itself – one for men, one for women.

Pre Rup is a Hindu temple near Siem Reap. The building on the left is thought to be a crematorium for men.
Pre Rup is a Hindu temple near Siem Reap, not far from Ankor Wat. The building on the left is thought to be a crematorium for men.

So the next time you’re in Asia or India keep an eye out for both crematoriums and stupas. You’ll be surprised how common they are and the pride of place they hold. It’s the opposite approach to that of western society and its treatment of the dead and their remains isn’t it?

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage. (Overseas orders will incur an additional AU$8 postage.) Lisa enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Colourful fireworks over Brisbane.

Ashes scattered by fireworks means loved ones go off with a bang.

As you look skywards tonight, you might just see some particularly special fireworks.

The scattering of ashes via fireworks is taking off. These days there are several companies that offer the service for both people and pets.

Fourth generation pyrotechnician Andrew Howard is co-ordinating 75 fireworks shows in towns and cities across the country tonight. While none of those events include someone’s ashes, he told ABC Darwin that ashes being spread using fireworks is becoming more popular.

“We got our first inquiry over a decade ago. It was a little bit weird but it’s certainly very common now.”

“We do several throughout the year but there won’t be any on New Year’s Eve this year,” said Mr Howard.

Ashes are put into handmade aerial shell fireworks that are launched high into the sky over the location sought by the client, usually somewhere of significance to the deceased or their friends and family. The colour of the fireworks becomes an important component of the ceremony, with the colour chosen to reflect the personality of the deceased.

In 2010 the Sydney Harbour New Year’s fireworks incorporated the ashes of two dogs, Gyprock and Zeus. They were the beloved pets of Craig Hull, who has since become a successful pyrotechnician. His company, Ashes to Ashes, specialises in “the scattering of one’s cremated ashes by way of a beautiful and spectacular fireworks display”.

Mr Hull’s first clients were Mikala and Stephanie Dwyer. The sisters sent their mum and grandmother up in fireworks in Sydney in 2014. Speaking to The Feed, Mikala said the ashes had been “hanging around for quite some time”.

“My grandmother’s been hanging around in cupboards since 1994 so this is a way of setting her free a bit,” said Mikala.

“My mother loved fireworks so this was the perfect thing.”

“It seemed totally right and I realise it’s not right for everyone, but for us it was quite wonderful,” she said.

What do you think? Would you like to go out with a bang at a memorial service with a difference? You can make your wishes known in your will or simply tell your loved ones or write down your wishes in The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.

I hope you have a safe and memorable New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the fireworks! And I’d love to know your thoughts about sending your friends and family skywards.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage. You can buy it here.

Lisa Herbert is a journalist and author.