What are the different types of funerals in Australia?

The final funeral farewell you choose for yourself or your loved one has as much to do with personality as it has to do with factors like religious beliefs, culture, location and cost.

Although there are several more common approaches to funerals in Australia, a good funeral director will be able to tailor these life celebrations to suit the personality of the deceased through music, decoration and flowers, dress code for mourners, timing and location – and accommodate most cultural and religious stipulations.

Modern Australian funerals

A modern funeral service is the type of service chosen by most families in Australia these days. The formality of wearing all black, full suits and holding a long and heavily religious service has been replaced in many cases by a celebrant-led life celebration with multi-media tributes, modern songs and an order of service booklet containing photographs of the deceased.

Funerals are these days held everywhere from chapels and clubs to open air venues and the choice of location is usually reflective of the deceased’s lifestyle, interests or social groups.

Modern funerals these days may include the release of doves or butterflies, balloons, floral tributes and, along with a traditional eulogy, generally words of remembrance or poems from friends and family members.

Generally non-secular, these celebrant-led funerals can be as personalised and as formal or casual as the family wishes and sometimes, if the funeral is pre-arranged by the deceased, they may even make an appearance in a pre-recorded video message to mourners.

There may or may-not be a viewing of the deceased before the service – viewings are often held if the death was sudden or the deceased was young as a way for mourners to say their goodbyes.

Sometimes vocalists or musicians are brought in for the services, other times the deceased favourite song is played – it just depends on the circumstances such as timing and budget, and the wishes of the deceased and the family.

Religious funerals for multi-cultrual Australians

In Australia’s multi-cultural society, funeral directors are generally fairly experienced in meeting the religious requirements of families from many faiths.

Christian funerals are usually held in a church or cathedral and led by a priest or pastor. Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Islamic and Hindu funerals are all fairly common in Australia and each has various guidelines that should be observed with regard to treatment of the body, timing of burial or cremation, family and community involvement and location.

Some funeral directors specialise in conducting funerals in a particular faith while others offer many types of funerals and services and take the lead from family members and community elders in ensuring the religious requirements are met.

Religious funerals are usually very traditional, steeped in symbolism and mourners are guided by the religious leaders in format and formality.

Natural service and burial

Growing in popularity in Australia is the natural burial, and the simple minimalist graveside service that usually accompanies this type of environmentally-conscious funeral.

A coffin of natural fibers like wicker, simple wood or felted wool are used, sometimes just a shroud, and the body is laid to rest in the natural burial section of cemetery where the graves are usually unmarked and natural bushland abounds. There is no mowing or garden maintenance, no roads or curbing and the weeds and native plants are allowed to reclaim the grave site after burial.

Often in natural burials, a simple graveside service is held, adornments like floral tributes are kept to a minimum and the body is buried more shallow than usual, in accordance with local Council laws, to allow for nature to take its course quickly and the body to be reclaimed by the Earth.

A more traditional service can also be held prior to a natural burial and once again, how and where this is conducted is up for discussion between the family and the funeral director.

Cultural funerals in Australia

Different cultures have different funeral and burial traditions. For example, Māori funerals often involve the deceased being embalmed and taken home for a period of mourning before being laid to rest, while at a Chinese funeral, offerings may be given to help the deceased in the afterlife and the wake may continue for up to a week after the service.

While there are many different cultural approaches to death, it is important not to assume someone of a particular culture will have a strictly traditional service – if in doubt, ask the family or the funeral director for tips on any culturally significant insights before attending.

Burial at sea

In Australia, burials at sea, usually reserved for naval personnel, require a permit from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The permit approval process can take three to four days and some states have different laws around this burial method, so it is best to check with your funeral director if this is your preferred option.

Generally, with burials at sea, mourners gather for a service on land before close family join the coffin on a boat that takes them a designated distance off shore. Whilst we refer to a “coffin” here, generally speaking a canvas shroud is used for at sea burials. The coffin is usually weighed down and is released from the vessel sometimes with the laying of floating wreaths of flowers on the water.

While burials at sea may come with additional considerations, permits and costs, scattering ashes on the sea from either a boat, surfboard, paddleboard or from a headland or at a beach is generally unrestricted as long as the area is secluded and away from high-traffic areas. It is always best to check the local council laws and restrictions before scattering ashes.

Life celebration or remembrance service

It is becoming increasingly common in Australia for families to choose direct cremation for their loved one, followed by a gathering, life celebration or memorial service where the body is not present. While still often sad, this tends to be a less somber or formal occasion where friends and family tell stories and anecdotes about the deceased, music is played and the person’s life and contribution are remembered.

Some life celebrations are lively, colourful events with a party-like atmosphere, drinks, singing and plenty of laughs among the tears. Other memorials may be more formal, or follow a traditional format f speeches, prayers, hymns and wreath laying, particularly if the deceased was a member of the armed forces, police or emergency services.

Whatever type of funeral or service you choose for yourself or the family chooses for their loved-one, the team at McCartney Family Funerals are available to advise and guide, giving options for inclusions like poems and appropriate musical items, and by creating a multi-media memorial and stationery to be handed out to mourners. They have worked with elders and leaders from many religions and have the knowledge of traditions, customs and local laws to create the best possible send off. Call McCartney Family Funerals on 1300 043 522 or visit www.mccartneyfunerals.com.au for more information.


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