Funeral directors in Queensland have supported a move by a regional council to trial permitting funerals in public parks. Key points:
- Nine parks in the council area have been chosen as options where outdoor funerals can be held
- The outdoor ceremonies must be closed-casket and not held in a main thoroughfare
- Funeral directors have backed the trial, saying people have shifted away from wanting a spiritual or church-based service
"[Funerals] have changed to be more about the person that's died … [to be] less about spirituality and more about who the person was." Councillor Paul Truscott said the idea was first brought to him by local funeral directors. "It's a concern that's been raised to them by members of the public trying to find out whether they could or could not hold funerals in open spaces," Councillor Truscott said. Individual councils across Queensland can make the decision as to whether funerals could be allowed in public parks and reserves. Those council that do allow it, have stipulated that the funerals must be closed-casket and must be away from main thoroughfares. Photo: Funeral directors say over the past decade people have moved away from holding funerals in churches.
Mr Truscott said anecdotal evidence suggested funerals had been held in a number of parks and reserves across the Fraser Coast without council approval or knowledge. He said the new official council policy should alleviate community concerns. "One of the main concerns from the public was thinking that they would go down for a family picnic and [see a funeral next to them]," Mr Truscott said. "That won't happen because none of the parks that have been suggested have playgrounds at them." Mr Truscott said he had received feedback from people across Australia who said it was a great opportunity. "I don't expect there to be a huge uptake on this," he said, "The requests that we're aware of over the past few years are in the single digits, but it's about having the option there for people should they choose to do it. "If that's how they choose to have their final goodbye, we shouldn't be the ones to stand in the way of that happening." Modernising the funeral process The council consulted with funeral homes in the region in the lead-up to making the decision to run the year long trial. Ross Funerals general manager, Scott Harris, said the trial was an important process to formalise the option. "There are a lot of communities where this is happening on an informal basis, and the communities have been very accepting of that process," he said. "There's other areas where it's happened on an informal basis and it has caused problems." Mr Harris said he believed the decision was best made on a council-by-council basis. "I believe every community is different. Coming back to a local council level is the best way to do it, in consultation with the funeral directors in that area and the community in that area, to really see what their needs are," he said. Mr Harris said he believed people would take up the option, now that it has been available. "In the funeral industry we've seen the move [from traditional] … to crematorium chapels, or non-denominational chapels, and community halls," he said. "This is the next step in modernising the funeral process. "Only about a week ago we had a family who would have loved to have had this option, so unfortunately it came a little bit late for them," Mr Harris said. Other councils to follow suit? Mr Steer said because of the lack of uniform regulations it was not a recognised option for many people Queensland planning funerals. "In Hervey Bay, [now it's an option], you'll find people will want to do it a lot more," he said. Mr Steer has also been running funeral homes on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. He said on the Gold Coast options to hold funerals in public spaces were more limited, as the council did not allow them in public parks. While on the Sunshine Coast he said they hold at least one outdoor service each week in the grounds of the funeral home. "I look after Premier Funerals and the Buderim Crematorium and we have a lovely outdoor area where we focus on garden funerals," he said. Mr Steer said following the council decision on the Fraser Coast it was likely other councils across Queensland would follow suit. "At the end of the day [rate] payers' money goes into beautifying parks and recreation areas for the community, and this is just another good use … to be helpful to people at this time in their lives," he said. "If you have a wedding [or] 21st birthday, it's a time of significance in a place [you've selected]." Mr Truscott said from next month funeral directors would be able to book through the council, the same way a member of the public would book for another event in a public place. "A ceremonial booking cost of $200, so exactly the same as any other ceremony in the park … such as a wedding," he said. Photo: Outdoor funerals can currently be held in cemeteries, but during the trial public parks will also be an option.