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Cremations overtake burials as final choice

Burials are taking a back seat to cremations in Brisbane.

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.

10 comments

  • Bequeath your body to a university, Or medical study, if you can. Let your body play an important role in education, and the future!

    Commenter
    Tris
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 10:57AM
    • Good idea, but how many cadavars can they use a week? And, what do they do with the bits after use.

      Commenter
      Blanik
      Location
      Central Victoria
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 11:48AM
    • Cadavers can be put in storage, in most states required by law to be replaced about every 5 years, Except ACT, they had no limit. They had a low bequeath rate, and their cadavers were getting pretty nasty.

      I believe the leftover "bits" are probably burned.

      Commenter
      Tris
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 12:53PM
  • I’m not so sure it’s religion that is an influence. My family all go to church and hold to Christian beliefs, but all 4 of our family members that have passed away in the last 2 years have been cremated and half of my great grandparents were even cremated and interred in their local church. So burial is not really a “Christian” thing. It’s really a cultural thing.
    To be honest I did not like the idea that remains do not remain in cemeteries indefinitely, they are removed after a certain period.
    Ashes were also important for when we were deciding how to lay one family member to rest. He had grown up overseas and it was a deeply spiritual journey for the family to take his remains back to his birth place and where he grew up.

    Commenter
    Brit
    Location
    Camp Hill
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 11:44AM
    • I agree. There's nothing in the Bible requiring burials, which is why many many Christians opt for cremations. It is a cultural thing for some, especially Islander people and also Greeks and Italians.

      Commenter
      Brad
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 3:17PM
  • "...when internments were outnumbered for the first time."

    Don't you mean 'interments'?

    Commenter
    Jon
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 11:45AM
    • Correct. "Internment" means the act of putting someone in jail. Interment is the word that the article should have used.

      Commenter
      Brad
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 3:16PM
  • I recall seeing some of the Scandinavian countries with high emissions standards freeze the body with liquid nitrogen and blast it to dust with sound/ultrasound waves - sounds like the plan to me.

    Commenter
    Harry Potter
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 12:45PM
    • There's also aquamation, where bodies are essentially dissolved in a solution of water and lye. The end product is sterile, and can be recycled as fertiliser or safely disposed of. It's the cheapest and most sanitary and environmentally-friendly option out there for disposing of bodies.

      And yes, when my time comes I'd happily have my body disposed of that way. If my remains in an urn are something my family wants, the process leaves the bones behind in a state where they can be ground to dust by hand.

      Commenter
      S
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 4:57PM
  • Had reason to visit Balmoral cemetery late last week. The state the graves are in is a disgrace. Multiple graves have been neglected to the point where the dirt has sunk considerably, causing the covering structures to collapse bringing down monuments and grave markings. BCC worker who we were dealing with stated that BCC is not responsible for the up-keep. It is the family's responsibility. But when the graves date back to the early 20th century, a lot of families are no longer interested in the up-keep or may even have died out. It is really sad. A lot of history is being lost.

    Commenter
    LC of EHills
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 1:36PM
    Comments are now closed
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