Woronora Open Day 2013

    The Woronora open day was one of the best I have attended so far, what made it stand out was the focusing and mentality behind the open day.  It was held on the 13th of April (Saturday) 2013, and while the day was meant to go from 10am to 3pm I was there from 9:30am to 3:45pm.

    Despite not being widely known about within the industry there were lots of funeral homes present, more than at the Rookwood open day.  Which is what made this open day really stand out, for me at least.  The variety of funeral homes gave the day a sense of diversity unlike other open days.  Focus was not on Woronora, or on promoting Woronora, it was about having a fun event within Woronora.

    In this regard Woronora was very successful, everyone had a wonderful time.  At the end of the day I noticed a sense of satisfied "phew" fall over everyone, clearly we were all exhausted running around having fun.  So it was not just me by any measure.  There were also lots of children and families at the open day, more than any other open day yet.

    This is a rather long post and it covers a lot of ground, so for simplicity I have broken it up into the following sections:

- Crematorium Tour
- Gravedigging Display
- Medieval Display
- Emerald Creative
- Funeral Homes Display:

  • Guardian Funerals
  • White Lady Funerals
  • Galaxy Funerals
  • Eastern Suburbs Funerals
  • Concept Funerals
  • Simplicity Funerals
  • Afterlife Funerals
  • Olsens Funerals
  • Elite Funerals
My show bags, I think I did well.

Some information about Woronora.

Crematorium Tour:
    The crematorium tour at Woronora was a bit different to the other tours I had been on.  It was more relaxed and focused on how Woronora goes about the cremation process.  Tours ran throughout the day whenever they had enough people and the guides were free.  I felt this worked better than the tours with a set time as it allowed people to come along when they liked.

   In the chapel where we met there were several booklets and brochures about Woronora and heritage activities.  This was one of the only places I saw any Woronora brochures or literatures throughout the day.

    They explained the chapels before we went in, as in how many it could sit, what it offered and so on.  Then the guide talked about how a funeral would work in the chapel, as in how long it had, where they placed the coffin, the standard stuff.

Things like hand sanitisers always catch my attention,
where they're placed and why is really informative.
    We began to make our way into the back area of the crematorium when I overheard a father telling his children they "gotta be quiet in here" as one might say about noise in a library.  Shortly afterwards I again overheard him talking, this time to someone else (who I didn't see) saying not to worry as the kids wouldn't see anything inappropriate.

Corridor leading to one of the chapels.
    I thought it was rather interesting that clearly the crematorium, especially back areas, were to be treated with a sense of reserved reverence to some extent.  And that there had been a concern about whether or not the crematorium was even suitable for children.

    At one point someone asked a surprising question; they said that cremation is more a Christian thing and so they wanted to know how common it was to have other religions use cremation.  This really struck me considering the main opponents to cremation were the Christians back before the 1930s.  Cremation was always seen as a non-religious thing, and yet within 80 years it has become tied to Christian ways of death.  This social change is so fascinating and if I ever get time I will discuss it more.

TVs by the chapel doors let the staff know exactly when everyone has left.

    The most interesting thing was a board which displayed various things found after cremation.  On it was a nice mix of different stuff, from metal hip joints to a melted VB can.

Pacemakers, the battery heats up and explodes during cremation.
Heat and a simple battery make a powerful bomb.

Medical equipment and joints.

The VB can was quite cool and a crowd favourite.
Medical callipers (used during surgery) below some coins and medals.
Storage next to the board.
Cold room to store bodies if needed.  Interestingly the
thermometer read 15 or 1.5 degrees.  When a cool room is
suppose to be between 3 and 5 degrees.
Service entrance.

I did like the palm trees about, they
added a nice splash of colour.

The back of the retorts, where ashes come out.

    It takes an average of 1 to 1.5 hours to cremate a body at Woronora.

Retort opening, where the coffin goes in.
     The retorts (or cremators, or burners) start at around 750 degrees each morning and heat up to about 1,000 degrees.  They are turned on at 6am and take a few hours to warm up.

Leaver to the left of the retort opening.
    Once Woronora cremated a body so big it took 3 to 3.5 hours in the retort.

All three retort openings.
    Woronora averages 8 to 10 cremations per day, but can do more if needed.

Control pannel at the back of the retort.
    Objects (such as soft toys, jewellery etc) are kept about 1 to 2 hours incase the family change their minds and want to keep it.

Cremation unit type and information.
Where the ashes are collected from the retort.
Inside the retort, as viewed from the back.

    As some of you should know what comes out of the retort is not ashes, it's bone bits and other such stuff.  So these bits are ground into the powder we know as ashes in the ash processing stage.

Ashes are not good for the lungs or eyes!
You can see the bench gets used a lot by where it has worn.
The machine which actually grinds the bit,
it works like a tumble-dryer with round rocks inside.
Trolleys between retorts.
    Next we moved onto the room where ashes are either stored or processed into memorials.  Basically here is where they sort out the plaque and get it ready for placing in Woronora grounds, or where they store the ashes until they are collected.

I suspect the green mat is here to show what the plaques look like in
a more 'natural' setting.

Again an extractor above, ashes can float about and
get in eyes and lungs (as I know well).

Gravedigging Display:
    By the cafe was a gravedigging display, while they didn't have anything going on when I was there it was interesting to see everything set up.  Various machines were set up around the grave

The setup from a distance.
Coffin in a mechanical lower ready to go down.
Grave cover.
Medieval Display:
    I was surprised to see a medieval display on the line up for a crematorium open day as the two are not exactly similar.  So I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was quite impressed with what I saw.  The group performing was the 'Sutherland Medieval Regiment' and they did a great job.

    I was unsure what to expect as I sat down and they got ready to fight in the ring.  The announcer introduced each person,  and gave a brief yet concise description of the armour and weapons of each fighter.

    The first two fighters took their place at each end of the ring, then ran at each other, charging into the others shield at full force.  It was really surprising and the whole crowd gasped for a moment as the two fighters settled into attacking each other.

    All the fighters fought quite roughly, yet there was a clear sense of control and discipline to what they were doing.  Everyone knew where to hit, how hard to hit, and when to stop.  The fighters were having friendly fun, which rubbed off on the audience and created a great atmosphere.

    The kids loved it and the adults enjoyed it, and the crowd reactions were great.  I would certainly say they were worth their money for Woronora, and while odd for a crematorium it was a good source of entertainment.  Between performances they were happy to show people the armour and weapons, so even while not actively performing they were passively entertaining.

    The 'Sutherland Medieval Regiment' can be hired out to those who are interested for any number of events, from birthdays to bachelor parties.  I would highly recommend them to those looking for a different yet relaxed and fun type of entertainment.  Just contact them if you are interested, they were friendly.

Emerald Creative:
    I have been meaning to do a post on Emerald Creative for a while now (so much to do) as this is a good resource for mourners when planning a funeral.  They offer a variety of funeral servies and products, from making DVDs to the order of service

    For anyone planning a funeral this would be an excellent resource, even if mourners wish to do it themselves Emerald Creative could simply offer help and advice.

Funeral Home Display:
     The funeral homes below are presented in the order that I spoke with them over the day.  Everyone I spoke with from the funeral homes was nice and fun, so I would like to quickly thank everyone I talked with.  You made the day fun for me, adding that personal touch which turned it from a regular open day into a rather memorable experience.

    Hopefully I will have the time and pleasure of working with the people from these companies in the future.

Guardian Funerals:
     Unfortunately I didn't get to spend much time at the Guardian stand, they were finishing setting up as I arrived and were packing up as I left.  But it looked like a nice enough stand, certainly stood out with its big green posters.  And the bags they gave away were physically the largest making their bags easiest to spot as people carried them about.

    Later in the day I was passing the Guardian Stand when one of the staff asked if I wanted a water, as it was getting quite hot.  He then went and brought me a nice and cold bottle of water.  I thought it was a very nice gesture, he was obviously about to go do something yet had found the time to not only offer but go and get me a water.

    Nearby the Guardian stand were the escort motorbikes from the Rookwood Open Day (2012).  The hearse motorbike was not in sight when I walked by, but I saw it driving about throughout the day.  The motorbikes were noticeably loud but not obnoxiously noisy, so they always grabbed attention when they went by but never irritated people.

White Lady Funerals:
    I had not seen a White Ladys display in person until now, so I looked forward to it as White Ladys is the InvoCare flagship in a way.

The White Lady hearse on display.
    The White Lady display itself was actually quite good I must admit.  It was a tad 'standard' and middle of the road compared to most other funeral homes there, but what it did it did very well.  The stand looked thought out and planned, with an intention to present a very neat and professional company image.
One of the White Lady mourning cars also on display.
    A good example of what I mean is the table below, it and of itself there is nothing 'spectacular' or different.  The table is rather conservative and not daring at all.  Yet at the same time it has a clearly professional look with a reserved and poised feel to it.  Even the way the staff are standing in the picture illustrates this feel.

    To the side of the stand were several photos on A-stands which had pictures of the White Ladys, the staff at various functions and a couple of group photos.  Which off-set the professional presentation of the stands.  These photos (along with the friendly staff) gave a touch of personal to the company, you could actually see them and some of what they do.

    The statement 'Proudly Australian Owned and Operated" in big letters was impossible not to notice.  There is often a strong sense of "proudly" being Australian within the funeral industry, it has been a key advertising feature for most funeral homes for quite a while.

    The White Lady staff were very nice, I had a good chat with them, and they even gave me an extra chocolate.  But the best thing about this stand was a small book in the White Ladys show bag called "All you need to know about Funerals".  I am going to have to put together a whole post about this book (with InvoCare's permission) as it is just such a wealth of information for me.  From an anthropology perspective this book is exactly the type of thing I am after, for that alone the day was worth it!

Galaxy Funerals:
    Not far from the White Ladys stand was Galaxy Funerals, they had a simpler display with just a coffin and a few brochures.  But the coffin was very interesting and drew some decent attention.

    I won't explain too much detail about the coffin as I am sure I will simply get the details wrong, there was quite a story to the coffin.  Simply, it is made from a very special Chinese timber and covered in intricate carvings which all hold special meanings.  The coffin costs approximately $10,000, which is quite reasonable of an importad specialty casket.

    The staff were very friendly, happy to chat and looked like they enjoyed proudly telling me about the coffin.  Which in turn gave their simple display a very personal and personable touch.

Eastern Suburbs Funerals:
    I was glad and a touch surprised to see Eastern Suburbs Funerals (ESF) at the open day.  While ESF doesn't really compete with Woronora ESF are also part of another crematorium and cemetery.  Plus this is quite out of the ESF area.

    I have always found the ESF to have a friendly and approachable staff, professional yet laid back and relaxed, making them easy and fun to chat with.  While I was at the ESF stand a couple of people from Afterlife Funerals came over, they then joked with the person from ESF about who had the better pen.  It was nice to see the funeral staff debating with each other in a fun and friendly way.

    The most notable thing about this display was the ESF hearse, the hearse was built on a Holden Caprice.  Yet I had never realised it was a top of the line Caprice, so it had a sunroof, and TV screens in the headrests.

  As you can see above both of these have amusingly lost their point.  The sunroof still has buttons but is gone as they needed to cover it over to have the roof slope properly.  And the TV screens in the head rests are only viewable to those in the back, where the coffin sits.  Both are key features of the top Caprice, and both have lost their functionality as it was converted to a hearse.

    I found this rather amusing, and the ESF person seemed to also see the humour as he showed me with a bit of a smile.

Concept Funerals:
    This is a very new funeral funeral home, having only opened in the last couple of months.  As such they are still in the process of setting up, so there was no hearse and only a few brochures.  The guy running it was quite friendly and open, but more interestingly he had clearly done his homework.

    Originally he had been a funeral director in New Zealand, so we chatted a little about the New Zealand system compared to Australia.  He knew the Australian funeral homes well, as in who ran what and where they were based as opposed to where they had offices.  It was interesting how much he knew about the locality of the funeral homes, considering he is new to the Sydney industry.

    He sounded quite open to me doing a blog post about the funeral home, and working with me on my honours thesis.  So perhaps Concept Funerals will have more of a presence on the blog.

Simplicity Funerals:
    Simplicity had their newest hearse on display at the open day, and oddly a Holden.  For a long time Simplicity have used plain silver Ford hearses, but recently they have moved to a Holden hearse.  In theory it should not match with the Simplicity style or system, yet it does.  The Holden hearse in silver looks very good and slots into the Simplicity image rather neatly.  It is strange, essentially this is the same hearse as Guardian use with the only difference being colour.  However, I much rather the Simplicity one, I think it is well designed and looks quite good.

    This was one of the best hearses on display, not really because of the hearse, but because they had filled it with stuff.  There was a LifeArt coffin example, flowers, and show bags.  It was a colourful sight and very well done.

    Out of all of the displays Simplicity was the most colourful.

    The staff were very nice to talk with, I had a great talk here.  Not only were they knowledgeable but they were open and happy to talk.  In fact I felt they were happy to have someone else interested in them and the industry.

    One of the best bits was when the Simplicity staff through in an extra chocolate and a few pens into my show bag.  A good conversation, candy, and stationary; Simplicity knew exactly how to make me happy!  He even gave a couple of my uni friends some flowers.

Adding an extra chocolate to my bag.
Afterlife Funerals:
    Afterlife is a funeral home I have been meaning to get in touch with for a while, yet never found the time.  They seemed like fun people, similar to Eastern Suburbs Funerals (ESF) in that they were relaxed and laid back.

    I particularly liked the hearses, while everyone is going for a modern hearse they had fun 80s-90s looking hearses.  It made them stand out from the other companies, and the hearses looked well cared for.  More interestingly was when the owner told me that they also produce their own coffins and supplies for various things (such as crosses and crucifixes).

   The owner was also saying how they are putting in a fancy new mortuary table as part of recent renovations.  Most notably that it will include a down draft system, so odours and such are removed.  If they agree to a blog post I would love to have more information (and photos) of their mortuary.

Olsens Funerals:
    Olsens is a South and Shire based company, so I have had little to no interaction with them in the past.  They seemed like a decent company, the lady on the stand was very nice and sounded "caring" as one friend later said.  More interestingly is the Olsens design, they have a contemporary and sleek design, which I intend to discuss in more detail in another post (if I ever get time).

Elite Funerals:
    I have met Elite before, at the 2012 Rookwood open day and I drive past their building every now and again.  Their stand was set up where the crematorium tour came out, so it was quite a good spot for them.  And rather fitting as Elite had a good range of urns on display.

    They had a doo display out with lots to look, they also had a popcorn machine going on to the side.  The smell of fresh popcorn right by where the crematorium tour ended was drawing a constant stream of people.

    Above and below is the Elite Funerals transfer car, it was the only transfer car on display that I could see.  Maybe there was another transfer car, they are practical for moving equipment, but I didn't see any others.


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