Burials are taking a back seat to cremations in Brisbane. Photo: Michele Mossop
Religion, space and economic rationalisation are all contributing to a funerary movement set to challenge long-held expectations about proper dealings with the dead, according to experts.
Council figures show the number of cremations at Brisbane city sites jumped ahead of burials twice last financial year, though now the difference has almost doubled, which suggests a real and growing trend.
There were approximately 1300 burials and 1400 cremations in Brisbane in 2011-12, a council spokeswoman said, compared to 1355 burials and 1396 cremations the previous year, when interments were outnumbered for the first time.
By contrast there were approximately 1600 burials and 1160 cremations a decade ago, the spokeswoman said, with most burials taking place at Mount Gravatt Cemetery.
Funeral director Gary Osborne, of the six-generations firm KM Smith, says cost was the main reason for the change in death-rite preferences.
Cremations were usually at least $1000 less expensive than burials, he said, and burials could easily cost more than $10,000.
“Plus, there's also the fact that we're going to get to the stage when we run out of room [to intern people at the city's graveyards],” he said.
“For example, the only way we can get people buried at Cleveland [cemetery] is if they go on top of someone else, and then you've got Toowong, Dutton Park and Lutwyche – it's surprising how quick these places are filling up.”
But the increasing popularity of cremations also showed a cultural shift in Brisbane, Mr Osborne said, as rites for the body after death were influenced by religion.
And while Australian culture had long been dominated by the idea of a “proper Christian burial”, the existence of different faiths and customs was now apparent.
Krystine Hastings, principal of Cremations Only, said many people in the Chinese, Indian or Thai communities preferred cremations in line with their Buddhist beliefs.
And while some followers of Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox creeds rarely deviated from their traditional burial customs, Ms Hastings said there was less opposition from Christian churches, including proponents of Roman Catholicism.
“Also, a lot of people who aren't religious prefer to have their loved ones cremated,” she said. “They may still have a service with a casket before the cremation, but that doesn't have to be lead by a minister – it is often a celebrant.”
In fact, Ms Hastings said, many baby-boomers burying their parents were governed by a desire to have funerals with “no fuss”.
“They just want to keep it simple – 'just put me in a cardboard box' is what their parents are saying,” she said.
“So we're seeing a lot more unattended cremations as a result, where the funeral houses take care of the body and cremation, and there's usually no memorial service until after the ashes are handed back to the family.
“Memorial services can be in a chapel, you could still have a celebrant or a minister, you don't always have to have the ashes present.”
Brisbane City Council manages nine historic cemeteries, three other cemeteries and three crematoria catering for burials, cremations and memorials for ashes.
The sites have been developed in co-operation with Brisbane's Greek, Serbian and Russian orthodox churches, and members of the Italian, Croatian, Vietnamese and Chinese communities and orthodox Jewish and Muslim faiths.