Rookwood open day

    The Rookwood open day was a blast.  There was so much to see and do, even though I was there almost 5 hours I only saw a few of the things on offer.  Everyone was nice and happy and the atmosphere was wonderful.

    Overall this was a great day, easily able to compete with any festival or open day in Sydney.  You can read my detailed explination of the day below.

    You can view more photos of the day here.

    You can read my inside look of Rookwood here.

The Program

    There were a few information booths set up.  One at every major site.  Each booth had a free program outlining where and when the events would be.  The program was quite good as it had a map and major locations marked clearly.  However the street names on the map looked squashed and blurry.
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Click to enlarge.

Funeral Company & Hearse Display at Rookwood Gardens Crematorium

Lady Anne Funerals hearse and Elite Funerals stand.
Bus stop in the distance, TJ Andrews Funerals hearse to the left and a
historic Guardian hearse to the right.
Stage ahead, later hosted a band.  And the eating area at the front of
the crematorium.
    I decided to stop and look over the displays.  Before they got too busy and while staff had time to talk.  My first stop was the Elite Funerals display.  I have never really had much to do with Elite, so I was interested.

The Elite Funerals hearse on display.

    The Elite Funerals staff were all sitting down, chatting.  As I was looking at the hearse one of the staff got up and came over.  He was quite happy to open up the hearse so I could take photos.  A true Holden Caprice hearse.  He told me how they had customised a Caprice sedan rather than a Commodore sedan like InvoCare.  Obviously very proud of the difference.  I found him a little hesitant to talk with, but quite friendly and open.  He was more than happy to open up the hearse so I could take photos.

    He told me how the had a trademark on the design of the hearse.  Those bars, that slope of the roof, all his.  Nobody else could build a hearse like this without his approval.  A lot of undertakers do this, going to great lengths to make and keep their hearse unique.

Showing off the wing door. 
Opening the wing door on the driver side.

     I was surprised to discover that this is the only hearse for Elite Funerals.  To me WNBull was a small company, yet it had four hearses which were used regularly.  Elite Funerals only does a bit over 200 funerals per year on average.  Again WNBull did about 50 to 60 per month.

    They also had a mourning car on display by the hearse.  But this was less impressive, it was just a Holden Caprice sedan with their logo.  Even the Elite guy didn't talk about it.  But what is interesting is that this was the only mourning car on display in the whole of Rookwood.  No other company had a mourning car (that I found).

Caprice mourning car with the hearse in the background
    He also told me about the coffin on display inside the hearse.  It was made in and imported from Italy.  A high quality coffin that sold for about $5,000.  A standard price for Italian coffins.

Detailed carvings on the sides.
    Lady Anne Funerals had their display right next to Elite Funerals.  It was amusing when the Elite guy commented on the Lady Anne hearse.  Stating that he thought it was less than pretty to put it politely.  Stating that it was "tacky".

    The Lady Anne hearse certainly has a distinct style to it.  And it isn't my taste.  But it was interesting how he was quite negative about the hearse.  It is such as thing with the funeral industry where so many undertakers are so negative about the other funeral companies.  Seeing them as competitors and 'lesser' than them.

    I decided to inspect the Lady Anne Funerals display next.  It was close and he was negative about it, so now I was interested.  The staff were chatting, but as I walked up they both stopped and greeted me. A big difference from the Elite staff who mostly sat and talked with each other.

    Their display table was one of the nicer at the open day.  At least in my opinion.  They had lots of little paper butterflies on a purple tablecloth.  Apparently they had to hand cut and fold each and every butterfly, which had taken them ages.  One of the women even joked about how her wrist was still sore.
Focusing on butterflies and purple as their theming and branding.
    The Lady Anne people were very nice, we had a lovely chat.  The owner/founder was there, she told me about the sexism in the industry.  Something I have heard a few people comment on and even seen a bit myself.  She joked that because the staff were all women it meant there was no sexism.  She also told me how she pays well above award wages, as a way to keep and reward quality staff.  Something the funeral industry also has an issue with in Sydney.

    When I commented on the butterflies she admitted to being a "little obsessed".  To which the other woman laughed.  Saying how she use to be much more obsessed with butterflies, even having butterfly wind chimes once.  It was nice to see such a friendly and casual interaction.  They were obviously on good terms with a good banter.  It made the whole thing so much nicer and warm.

    They also kept giving me stuff, which is always great.  First they gave me a pamphlets, but next thing they gave me two little butterflies.  The same ones they had painstakingly cut out the night before.  Also on the table was a jar filled with mints.  If you guessed the amount you won $1,000 off a pre-paid funeral.  I was tempted to enter, it'd make for a great Christmass gift.  But I decided not to bother.

    Lady Anne also operate only one hearse.  Again I was surprised, but more so as I hear a lot about them and they have such a big looking building.  Most nursing homes I visited in the area had a Lady Anne brochure on display.  The owner told me how she put a lot of effort into promoting the company, so the word gets around.

A purple coffin on display.

    They only do a bit over 200 funerals, which isn't bad for a company which started in about 2006.  Lady Anne only has a handful of permanent and part-time staff, the majority are casuals.  This is due to the small nature of the business.

Driving through the parade later. 

    We talked a bit about InvoCare.  The owner had originally worked at White Lady Funerals owned by InvoCare, but SCIA at the time.  She broke away and started Lady Anne Funerals as a similar alternative.  But the White Lady influences are clear.  From all female staff to the style of the hearse, there are a few similarities.  Again, this undertaker had little good to say of the 'other' undertakers.  Obviously not a fan of InvoCare or White Lady Funerals she told me of a few of their undesirable practices (which I already knew or had an idea about).

    I've noticed that to discuss the funeral industry one must at least mention InvoCare.  So far the Elite guy had emphasised that his hearse was built differently to the InvoCare ones.  And the Lady Anne person had also talked of how she was different from InvoCare.  Basically InvoCare is so entangled with the funeral industry that the two are inseparable.

    So far it would appear that these tiny companies struggle in the shadow of InvoCare.  A massive and powerful organisation which dominates the industry.  It certainly dominates discussion of the industry so far.  Yet in this post I question that assumption.  My research indicates InvoCare doesn't do the amount of funerals many assume.  Having said that it is by far the biggest single company in Australia.

    Walking away from these two displays I did think that perhaps more open and researched discussion of the funeral industry is needed.  There is a lot of assumptions, born I suspect out of envy and competition.

    I made my way over to the TJ Andrews Funerals display.  At the Macquarie Park open day the TJs guy had been quite good.  This staff member was not disappointing.  he was nice, informative and we had a great chat.  Honestly the two best discussions I had at the open day were with the Lady Anne owner and the TJ Andrews guy.

    When I told him about having worked at WNBull Funerals for a year he simply said "oohhh" and laughed.  He actually said some good things about WNBull and the staff.  This was the only undertaker who was mostly positive about other funeral companies.  He had very little bad things to say about anyone really.

    We talked about the hearse a bit.  He explained how it was a prototype, made from a ute and fiberglass back.  Normally they use a sedan or station-wagon then cutting it up and attaching a back.  Instead they simply made a special body and fused it to a ute.  TJs had put a lot of effort into making it look streamlined.

    Again I was surprised to find TJs doesn't have many hearses.  They only operate about 3 regularly, but have a fourth that can go out if desperate.  This is a bit of a shock as TJs is basically the single biggest competitor for InvoCare in Sydney.  At least as far as i know.  Yet they only operate 3 hearses regularly.  InvoCare has this at just one garage, and they have several garages.  It also means that WNBull is obviously bigger than I thought.

    Having said this TJs is very efficient with the hearse.  He told me how with just 3 hearses they can do 8 funerals in a day easily.  Perhaps TJs is as big as I thought, but just efficient with the resources and thus needs fewer cars.

    The TJs guy told me they had a horse drawn hearse at Rookwood.  Over by the Anglican Office, but it would be moving to Rookwood Gardens soon.  I had never seen a horse drawn hearse in person before.

    As we were talking something rather unexpected happened.  A guy riding a penny farthing casually rode by.  He was wearing a green suit and had a live Rainbow Lorikeet on his top hat.

    It was just so unexpected and random.  We all stopped talking and watched him slowly float by.

    I took the opportunity to inspect the Guardian Funerals display.  To be honest it was rather disappointing.  The guy there was nice, and we did have a decent chat.  He was not an undertaker, he sold and arranged pre-paid funerals for InvoCare (who own Guardian Funerals).  So we talked a bit about his job, he said how he loved it.  Stating the usual reason of it being rewarding but also because it was a decent job.  Better than other sales jobs he had.

    They had a historic hearse on display, so naturally I took a few photos.

    I quickly moved on to the LifeArt Coffins display (another company owned by InvoCare).  LifeArt are cardboard coffins that are environmentally friendly.  The guy here was very tall, and fairly nice.  But he felt like a salesman displaying things and trying to be informative instead of giving a usual sales pitch.  He was a nice guy, and quite friendly.  But he just felt out of place.

    One of the big things about LifeArt is their environmental aspect.  But he said there was a bit of hesitation about this.  He was quite round about in answering my questions regarding the environmental attitudes.  Not avoiding the questions, but simply not able to answer them directly.  however when I asked if there had been hesitation adopting cardboard coffins he exclaimed "yes, definitely!" without hesitation.  Before I could finish asking who was more hesitant he said "definitely the funeral directors".  He explained how a lot of undertakers do not like it, change is not their thing.  Then they give their personal negative views to the mourners, which hurts sales and adoption of the coffins.

The LifeArt display
    It was surprising when he made a point of telling me how LifeArt, while owned by InvoCare gives no preferential treatment to other InvoCare funeral companies.  This was something I had not even thought to ask, nor would I mind.  Personally I see nothing wrong with InvoCare companies giving preference to each other.  As long as other funeral companies do not suffer or are not excluded then no harm done.

    What was striking about this was his need to tell me, without being prompted.  Obviously this is something that has come up in the past.  At some point LifeArt might have been accused of referencing InvoCare companies after it was bought out by InvoCare.  It demonstrates the desire for rhetoric in the industry.  How companies feel the need to explain themselves to others (especially outsiders).

Horse Drawn Hearse

    The horse drawn hearse was provided by TJ Andrews Funerals.  I have heard they rent it out to funerals instead of a hearse for about $4,000.

The horses were happy to be petted by people. 

    It's quite an impressive hearse, while expensive it would make an impression.  People were very interested in it.

    The horses must be well trained as they did not bat an eye at the traffic or people.  In the parade they were near a loud hearse and yet had no trouble.  Then later at Rookwood Gardens the carriage was parked in the shade next to the bus stop.  The horses didn't mind the buses stopping and driving right by them.

Showbags & Free stuff

    Over the day I managed to collect a few free things handed out by companies.  These showbags are promotional devices for the companies.  And they work well because most people like free things.

Everything I was given over the day
    Lady Anne Funerals - This included a pen, 2 little hand cut butterflies, a bookmark and a pamphlet on what to do after a death.
The Lady Anne Funerals stuff
         Guardian Funerals bag - The bag itself is quite decent, like one of the 'green' bags available at the shops now.  Inside were 6 lollies, a pen and a booklet.  Inside the booklet is a notepad, a card promoting pre-paid funerals, a thing on coping with grief and a small book titled "All you need to know about funerals".  I'm not sure if they were generous with the lollies or if I was just lucky.

         TJ Andrews Funerals bag - This bag was a standard plastic bag, more what I would expect of a showbag.  Inside it had a pack of tissues, a pen and velvet case, a pamphlet promoting pre-paid funerals, a booklet titled "Being prepared" with information to assist in planning a funeral and a notepad.  The notepad was very Australian, with the flag as the cover.  The card with the horse drawn hearse was on the table.  It promoted "the elegance of yesteryear" through the use of a horse hearse instead of a motorised hearse.

          LifeArt Coffins - Possibly the most unique of the lot was this showbag.  It had an pice of cardboard that they use in the actual coffins.  It was a really good idea, letting people take a pice of the coffin home to inspect.  This way they can see the different patterns, but also feel the material.  Putting to rest any doubts about the strength or quality.  Also in the bag were a few pamphlets outlining the benefits of the coffins.

         Rookwood Gardens handouts - This handout wan't anything special.  Just a few pamphlets promoting the benefits of pre-paid funerals and why to chose Rookwood Gardens.

Friends of Rookwood

    The Friends of Rookwood organisation was managing the information booths, helping people and collecting donations.  This group is a passionate and friendly volunteer group who's aim is to maintain and restore Rookwood.  They look into the plants on the site, they conduct historical tours regularly, they maintain mausoleums and graves and do much more.  But one of the most important things they do is to promote and use Rookwood, through things like the open day or the Hidden art exhibition.

    One rather cool lady I was talking with told me how she specialised in the plants and gardening of Rookwood.  Once she found a magic mushroom growing between the graves, which she took a photo of and put on the facebook page for the group.  She commented on how nobody has asked her where it was growing and that it was a shame it had to be destroyed.  She thought it was rather pretty.


    Throughout the day there were free buses driving about the place.  One of these bus stops was right by the funeral display, so I took a few photos.  They were using historic buses, perfect for the day.  It was just such a great idea to use old buses like that in Rookwood.  Not only was it a useful service but these buses helped to set a fun festival atmosphere.

    There were plenty of car parks and only one taxi all day.  Obviously people were using the buses, so they did their job .  Keeping cars and traffic down, which was good as it did get blocked up in certain areas.

    People were using the buses to get around.  But they also became a tour type of thing.  I noticed people taking photos of the cemetery as they went by in the bus.
The lady leaning out of the window with her camera completes the picture.

Digger Display

    On my way I went past the Catholic office where they had all kinds of digging machines set up in the car park.  They had a gravedigging display, which wile plane was interesting.  I took photos but unfortunately many didn't work out due to the light.  The large digging machines were quite impressive.  It was a good reminder of how a cemetery is similar to a construction site.  With large machinery and digging out of sight of the public.

The biggest by far, and the most impressive.

Traffic & Driving

    As I got close to the Anglican Office the traffic started to stop.  Everyone was banking up, and I could see a bus in the distance completely stopped.  Occasionally cars would pull out and try to do a U-turn in the narrow street.  Seeing all this and knowing how cemeteries are designed I just turned right into a side road and parked.  It was only a very short walk to the Anglican Office, so rather than sit in the car for 20 minutes I could just park here and spend 5 minutes walking to the office.

    It was quite stilly and pointless really.  The way people were just sitting in their cars stuck in traffic rather than filtering down the side streets.  If more went down the side streets or parked further away and walked (as I did) there would be less traffic and everyone would get about easier.

    The driving in general was a good demonstration of how so many people do not understand cemeteries.  They clung to the main roads, slowing them down when there are so many side streets.  And all the side streets lead back to the main roads again.

    Many were also driving inappropriately.  Many were driving excessively slowly.  One should not speed in a cemetery, especially when so many people are about, but driving 5 to 10 km/h is not acceptable.  I have seen this before in cemeteries.  Many feel the need to drive as slowly as possible to be "respectful" failing to remember that there are others behind them.

    Another issue was with those who would drive into an intersection, stop and debate which way to go.  Being lost and without a map was very odd on the open day.  They had maps and signs everywhere making it very easy to navigate the place.  Yet I came across a few cars, blocking intersections while they thought about where to go.

    Parking was also a problem.  Not because there were few spaces, there were plenty.  But many would park too far out from the gutter, on tight corners and so on.  Making it difficult to drive past.  I found it fascinating how people got around the cemetery, that it really illustrates their views of the place.  The way they perceived it as place deserving reverence and respect, demonstrated by driving excessively slowly.  Or as a place of confusion and hesitation by avoiding side roads and stopping in intersections.  Yet then treated it as a normal suburban road when parking.

    There was a noticeable difference between these cars and those who were use to cemeteries.  Occasionally other cars would zip down side streets, park in the shade and walk.  The way they drove, with such a sense of direction was strikingly different to the others.  It was just amusing and caught my attention.
The Independent Office, nothing much happening here.

Restoration Hearse

    Outside the All Souls Chapel in the Anglican section was an odd hearse.  It will be a really nice hearse when finished.  But for now the driver door is held on by rope.

     It was a shame that there was no information display about the hearse.  Nothing about its history or what will happen to it.  If particularly interested the Friends of Rookwood organisation might be able to provide more information.

The Parade

Getting ready to start.
Lining up the hearse.
    Leading the parade were two Chinese dragons.  They were rather fun and energetic, dancing about.  I did doubt how long their enthusiasm would last with such a long walk in the heat.

    Behind the dragons was a bagpipe marching band.  A good way to announce the presence and progression of the parade.

    Next the bicycle guy went ridding past.  Casual as ever with his green suit and bird.

    Then the police style motorcycle escort came along.  So far they were the most impressive, with their motorcycle hearse and deep rumbling.  Even without sirens they were very loud.

    This is when the TJ Andrews horse drawn hearse came by.  Clip clopping away it was a big difference from the Harley motorcycles.

    An old 70s style hearse was next in line.  It had a deep and strong rumble to the engine, more felt than heard.  Unfortunately I couldn't tell who owned or operated the hearse.  There was no badging or name on the bodywork, only an "IF" on the numberplate.

    Following this was a black Guardian Funerals hearse.

    Finally the Lady Anne hearse was able to jump in the parade.  It had been sitting to the side since the very start.  They were playing music out the speakers in the back.  Between the open windows and powerful speakers the music was quite clear.

    After this there was a very large gap.  I looked to the left and saw a marching band, standing still.  A woman with paperwork started waving to them, beckoning them forward.  But they didn't move, she started to wave more vigorously as they were slowly losing the lady Anne hearse.  Finally they began to play and march forward.

    I didn't take pictures of this as they were not all that impressive and they had left a big gap in the parade.  Overall the parade had some randome large gaps between things.  The TJ Andrews carriage and the two black hearses were doing well, keeping together.  But everyone else was spaced out randomly.  Really there should have been someone slowing the front of the parade every now and then to let others catch up.

    But either way it was a great parade.  A nice mix of modern hearses, old hearses, motorcycles and performers.  Everyone looked like they had enjoyed it so far.

    Later I was back at Rookwood Gardens when the parade came by.  It could be heard from quite a distance away, approaching slowly.  Between the Harley's and bagpipes there was plenty of warning.   Everyone went down to the road to watch it go by.

    Again it was an impressive display, the gaps were a bit unfortunate though.  But really everyone was very impressed and happy.  Some were cheering the marching bands at one point.

Rookwood Gardens Crematorium Tour

    This tour was particularly interesting to me as InvoCare is rather secretive about how it operates.  They're hesitant to give numbers or figures to their own staff.  And their staff are amongst the harder to approach, not sure how much they can or should say about the company.  In some ways InvoCare even avoid the fact that so many 'different' funeral homes are really all owned by the one company, at least with the public.  And no other InvoCare crematoriums or cemeteries have open days as far as I can tell.

    So an open tour of one of their locations would be a rare opportunity.  Not only would I get to see inside one of their locations, but I could see how they showed this location to others, to the public.

This was taken early, the chapel was almost full when we started
meaning about 100 people attended the tour.
    The tour started in the South chapel with a speech by one of the managers.  He spoke well, and was friendly enough.  But the whole thing was more a presentation than tour.  It felt like corporate InvoCare was struggling to do a casual tour of their operations.  They even had a slide show on the TV as he talked.  No other crematorium tour would do this to date.  Unfortunately InvoCare doesn't understand the "show don't tell" concept.

    He gave us the details of the crematorium.  Things like the first cremation was in 1925, there are 2 cremators and there have been around 250,000 cremations here since 1925.  We were also told details of the cremation process, many of which I already knew.  It reminded me of the Macquarie Park tour where they explained a lot of basics.  Things like how handles are left on the coffin, unless they're metal.  But flowers are removed.  And how pacemakers/battery deceives must be removed or they explode.  To which a few people said "oh", surprised at the power behind a pacemaker.

    It was odd when he said a cremation takes about 1.5 hours and larger bodies take about 4 hours.  At Macquarie Park they say it takes 3 hours on average, yet here it's half that.  Quite a difference, I wonder if Macquarie Park use different cremators (retorts) or if they include then processing of the remains.

    Then the rhetoric set in.  He emphasised the fact that bodies are not removed from coffins, and coffins are not even opened at the crematorium.  Stating how sometimes people thought bodies were taken out.  Also he talked a bit about how only one body is cremated at a time, that although some might think two coffins go in at once it doesn't happen.  This is all set out by the law as explained in the 2002 NSW Health Department guidelines for the funeral industry, section 9.  Despite the fact that this information is freely available there is obviously still a lot of misconception by the public.  The funeral industry has such a desire to dispel rumours and this misconception.  They really feel the need to re-assure those watching of their practices.  Rhetoric and reassurance like this comes up in almost every discussion of how things work.

    You can find the statistics for death rates in Australia here:

    After this he moved on to ashes.  Rookwood Gardens will keep ashes for up to a year if they cannot find family to take them.  They use an automated phone and letter program to try and track down family.  If nobody can be found the ashes are "scattered".

    He said that memorialisation is becoming more popular than scattering.  Memorialisation is the burring of the ashes in the crematorium gardens and placing a plaque.  Next he promoted the benefits of memorialising, explaining how it was "better" because later generations would be able to find and visit the ashes.  Of course he skipped over the fact that the crematorium makes more money through memorialising, a lot more money.

    At one point he had a thing of statistics.  I quickly noticed that they were out of date an inaccurate.  For example they stated the national death rate was 130,000 deaths per year.  In 2010 there were 143,500 deaths, a 1.9% increase from 2009.  Deaths in Australia have been increasing an average of 0.6% for males and 1.2% for females per year (ABS link).  The 130,000 deaths is rather old and does not accurately represent the current or future population.  I won't go into the error of their numbers too much, but it did annoy me.  If you are going to have statistics or facts like this then provide a source and make them relevant.  Random numbers are useless and only further the misconceptions about the industry.

    We then had a few questions about ashes, all questions asked were related to personal experiences regarding past cremation of deceased family.  It was amusing when he said that they get calls from real-estate agents and new home owners who found an urn of ashes.  They ring up not knowing what to do with the ashes.  There was a lot of honour to the questions, many laughed and it was generally quite a happy atmosphere.

    When everyone finished asking questions we finally got up and went to the back room.  As we made our way towards the door I overheard a father say to his child "don't be scared".  It was odd considering the kid looked about 9, and there is nothing to fear in a crematorium.  Nothing "suspect"  or "confronting" will be on display.  It perfectly captured the perception of hesitation and fear surrounding the funeral industry and how this is passed on to the next generation.  People were slow and silent as they walked through the door.  They walked with caution and slight trepidation as though death and bodies awaited them.

    Instead we entered something quite different.  The back room was a large white room, with bright lighting.  As we entered everyone gathered up to a table with urns on display, where he continued the talk.  Explaining how things are done in the crematorium and giving facts about them.

Listening to the presentation.

Explaining the cremator.
The table with urns and pamphlets. 
    As he explained there are sometimes too many coffins to cremate them all that day.  They can do 24 services per day here, yet can't cremate 24 bodies in a day.  So some are stored in a special cool holding room.  By law the coffin must be cremated within 4 hours of the funeral ending if there is no special cool room.  But even with a cool room the coffin has to be cremated within 48 hours.

The holding room where coffins await cremation after
the funeral service.
    Sometimes they work back to 11pm or 5am to get all the coffins cremated.

Control panels for the cremators.
    There are only 2 cremators at Rookwood Gardens, both are standard size.

Inside a cremator.
The coffin is brought through this window from the chapel to
the cremation room.
Another window, open so you can see into the chapel. 
Motor on a catafalque.
Cooling rack, where ashes are cooled before being processed in the final stage.
    After the talk people walked about, inspecting various things randomly.  I noticed a lot of people started taking photos.  Many were using phones and cameras to snap pictures of the various things.

    It was a much more causal and inquisitive approach than I had expected.  People were also touching things, not buttons or controls.  But things like the end of the chrager.

End of the charger.
    At one point a lady laughed about something.  She let out one good laugh before covering her mouth quickly in embarrassment.  Not that anyone minded.  It was amusing how for a moment she laughed, but then remembered where she was and obviously thought laughter at a crematorium was inappropriate.  Her friend on the other hand giggled about her embarrassment, as did I.

This is the charger, it's used to load coffins into the cremator.
Named for how it works as coffins are 'charged' in.

    I overheard the InvoCare guy explaining advantages of pre-paid funerals to some people.  Explaining that with the carbon tax proces will go up, so it's good to pay now.  Then he said "it's an unfortunate decision we have to make at some time".  It was such an entangling of death and tragedy with funerals. Plus it was such a sales speech, obviously he was more accustom with selling and promoting rather than explaining.

    Not surprisingly there was basically no talk of how ashes are processed or what they are like.  If only attending the Rookwood Gardens tour one might think a coffin goes in and ashes come out.  But actually bones come out of the cremator.  The Catholic Crematorium tour explained the process in detail, but InvoCare chose to skip over it.

    Overall it was not too informative, but it was more than I expected of InvoCare.  It was also very relaxed, especially in the cremation room.  A decent tour, unfortunately it skipped things but it was still informative and fun.

Catholic Crematorium Tour (Mary Mother of Mercy)

    Many refer to this place as the Catholic Crematorium, but it is actually the Mary Mother of Mercy Crematorium (here after referred to as 'MMM').  It is probably one of the nicest crematoriums in Sydney, well designed and different.

    We all entered the chapel and were greeted by two staff members.  They were standing about chatting, having a laugh.  As people entered they welcomed each person, asking them a question or two about their day so far.  It was such a friendly and relaxed approach.

The MMM chapel, before anyone arrived.
    I sat down towards the front so I could see and get some photos.  When there were enough people the talk began.  One of the staff got up and explained a few things about the place.  That it was built in 2008 at a cost of $7.5 million.  He said it was the "most high tech" crematorium in Australia and possibly the world.  It is also the first and only Catholic crematorium in Australia.

    Next he explained the alter, which is the signature pice of MMM.  The alter is a large black marble thing which sits at the front of the chapel.  Making for a rather impressive display.

    But the most impressive thing, the thing which separates MMM from all other crematoriums is with how it works.  The coffin is slowly lowered through the alter, then black glass doors slowly close over it.  All demonstrated in the pictures below.

Lowering the coffin. 

    At this point the coffin stops so mourners can then place petals or other things in.  Making it more like a burial than a cremation.

Coffin waiting.

    When ready the coffin is lowered again as black glass doors slowly rise.

Doors closing.
Doors closed and coffin gone.
    No other crematorium does this as far as I know.  It is very unique and makes for an impressive end to the service.  He was quite proud as he demonstrated this, it was obviously quite an important thing for him.
    After watching this we went to "follow the coffin".  First we walked through the control rooms.  There are two control rooms here.  One controls the AudioVisual and other stuff for the funeral service.  While the second one, right next to the first, controls the cremation process.

The first control room.  There's a large one-way window looking into the chapel. 
The second control room.
Another shot of the second control room.
    Like Macquarie Park MMM has a viewing room for watching the cremation happen.  It is a little room with soft lighting and a large window looking into the cremation room.  However unlike Macquarie Park mourners cannot go into the actual cremation room.

Looking through the window into the cremation room.
    At each room we would stop, squeeze in and he would explain it.  How things operate, why they have the room and so on.  Although there wasn't much space it was interesting.

    The cremation room was very interesting.  They actually demonstrated how things worked and talked about the tools.
Cooling rack for ashes.
    He explained the procedure and tools.  Someone asked it they wore protective clothing to which he replied "nope, we do it in our undies".  Everyone laughed, the atmosphere was much more relaxed than the Rookwood Gardens tour.

    There was a lot more participation on this tour.  Not only were questions encouraged, but he prompted people to get close and touch things.  Saying how we should feel the heat in the cremator and so on.
One of the cremators.
Inside a cremator.
    Apparently it only takes 70 to 80 minutes to cremate a body here.  A big difference from Macquarie Park's 3 hours.  These cremators get up to 1,200 degrees Celsius.  Rookwood Gardens only operate between 800 and 1,000 Celsius.

Where the ashes are collected before being taken to be cooled.
The holding room.
    Then he did something I never expected.  He demonstrated how a coffin is loaded into a cremator.

First the charger is moved along a rail to the right cremator.

Once in the right place the door is opened. 
The charger tray moves into the cremator with
decent speed and force. 

The tray stops quickly which makes the coffin
roll off and into the cremator.
The tray comes back to the charger.
     No other crematorium shows the process in action, and I get the impression they would not want to.  On the other hand here he was showing us and explaining everything in detail.

    He explained that it is basically bone which comes out of the cremator.  Not ashes.  He even showed us a few of the bones, not yet processed into ashes.  The bones are cooled, then taken to a processing device.  This device is essentially a large washing machine with 1kg metal balls.  It grinds the bones down to the ashes we know.
The processing machine.
    We all then went behind the cremators.  To see the machinery and how it actually operated.  Here is where he explained more about the machines and how they work.  These cremators are all fan forced, and use about 28kg of natural gas per cremation.  Most of which is used just to warm them up, then again at the end to char the bones a bit.

British made cremators are used.

    Next we went into the underneath room, where the coffin is lowered into from the chapel.  The coffin travels along a long conveyer belt before being brought up into the cremation room.  The conveyer belt takes the coffin under the building and brings it into the cremation room.  It was custom made, cost a fortune and is the only one of its kind in Australia.

    This crematorium can do about 16 funerals per day.  Not as many as Macquarie Park or Rookwood Gardens even thought they have more cremators.

    Before we left the cremation room the guide demonstrated how to rake out the cremators.  Everyone laughed as he pretended to swing the rake at people and energetically bang it about in the cremator.  He did a great performance and was the perfect example of how to demonstrate and guide rather than explain and present.  The Rookwood Gardens guide did a great presentation, yet the Catholic Crematorium guide did a wonderful demonstration.  As a result everyone had a lot more fun at the Catholic crematorium tour and it was a more informative tour.

    We finished the tour with some food at the reception room.  A nice relaxing way to end a fun and informative tour.  This was the best tour of a crematorium I've been on so far.  I got talking with the guide, he told me how they built the crematorium not for profit but to offer the service.  There was no Catholic crematorium in Sydney (or Australia).  So they built one for the Catholic.  I suspect there would be a bit of practicality behind the decision as well.  Burial space is running out, and while the Catholic organisation has plenty of cemeteries crematoriums last forever and make good long-term investments.

The Police Motorcycle Hearse & Escort

    Throughout the day three Harley motorcycles kept popping up.  They were possibly the most impressive thing there.  With a deep and loud growling of the engine and the occasional burst of siren for effect they turned heads all day.  Even when off and sitting to the side people kept going up to take photos and have a look.

    From Motorcycle Escorts they did a great job and were a wonderful touch to the open day.  A few people commented on how the riders looked like they were from the army or police.  The way they sat on the bikes, almost to attention.
Harley Davidson motorcycle hearse.  Painted up as a police motorcycle.

    Obviously this group has ties with InvoCare and Guardian Funerals in particular.  Not only did they have a LifeArt coffin on the motorcycle hearse, they also had Guardian Funerals bags attached.  And they kept stopping by the Guardian display to talk with the undertakers.

The two escort bikes. 

    I must admit they were very American.  Not just the Harley bikes, but the uniforms and point job on the bikes was more like an American trooper than an Australian cop.

    They did a great job in the parade.  Not only looking the part but keeping pace with those in front quite well.  Plus the engins and occasional siren was a good way to draw attention to the parade and to displays near where they stopped.


    Something which struck me was the atmosphere of the day.  It was much more like a festival and exhibition than an 'open day' of a cemetery.  They way people were interacting with Rookwood was very interesting.  Many were quite happy to take photos and to touch things.  People were photographing grave, but more were taking pictures of the hearses and of the crematoriums.  Normally I find people are hesitant to get close to a hearse let along take a photo of it.  Yet here people were asking questions about it and taking pictures.

    Generally there is a hesitation from people when taking photos of something like a cemetery.  Often some will be noticeably unhappy when they see others taking photos of a cemetery or crematorium (although this is rather rare).  Yet the change in atmosphere of the day, the festival feel of it made photos acceptable.  Rather taking photos and interaction was encouraged.

    A perfect example of how our perceptions of a place influence our use of and interaction with that place.  We define a place as much as it defines itself, place exists through us and our views.  In other words a cemetery is as spooky as we make it.

    You can view more photos of the day here.

    You can read my inside look of Rookwood here.

    All photos were taken by me, as always with my pictures I encourage others to use these pictures how and where they like.  All I ask is that you do not claim them as your own, and give the appropriate credite if possible.


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