Have You Ever Wondered?  

(Published in News First, September 2007 - monthly church newsletter of the Warragul Uniting Church)

from Pastor Walter Sholl

Casket or coffin? - What’s the difference?

In Australia our culture is somewhat death denying. It’s not a subject we care to talk about, yet for all of us death is inevitable.

Because of “medical commercialisation,” and the development of the funeral industry, a person can go through life without ever seeing a dead body. Rarely does a person die at home these days. At the end of a person’s life the family effectively leaves it up to the hospital, aged care facility and the funeral director to “dispose” of the mortal remains. So there is a great deal of ignorance about “the death care industry.”

To answer the question I hopefully caught your attention with, is that a casket in an American designed container with straight sides and a hinged lid. The type you may have seen on TV bringing the remains of soldiers home from a war zone, or in American movies. These are often of metal construction that can be hermetically sealed. A coffin has shaped sides and a fully removable lid, the type of container generally seen at funerals in Australia, probably because caskets are so much more expensive. (There is a huge mark up on both caskets and coffins).

Did you know you can make a coffin for less than $100.00. and cart it to the cemetery or crematorium on the back of your farm ute? Yes, you can Do It Yourself (DIY) if you choose, but you’ll need a doctor’s certification of death for a burial and a second corroboration if cremation is chosen.

Cremation or burial?

If you are cost conscious then you need to be aware that cremation is generally considerably cheaper than burial, unless you choose the burial site under a favourite tree on private property or a smaller rural cemetery.

To View or not to view

When a funeral director asks if you would like a viewing, make sure you ask whether embalming takes place or not prior to the viewing. This is not necessary and may well be a hidden cost. More importantly it is an invasive process and for the environmentally conscious, the chemicals used in the embalming process are highly toxic and extremely carcinogenic. During cremation they pollute the atmosphere, as do mobile telephones or stuffed toys placed in coffins, and in the case of a burial eventually leech into the soil.

Who owns the funeral homes?

Generally in rural areas these are independently owned, often operated as family businesses. In the larger cities there may appear to be numerous operators, but in fact the majority, regardless of the trading names, are owned by two companies, one of which is a consortium led by a subsidiary of Macquarie Bank (Invocare).

Living Wills and Enduring Power of Attorney

Everyone should consider putting these into place. Talk to your solicitor.


Do you trust the executor of your will to carry out your wishes in relation to your funeral? They can change the details if they think it necessary (perhaps family may disagree with your wishes.)

Want to know more? 

You may care to read Funeral Rights What the Australian ‘death- care’ industry doesn’t want you to know. Larkins, Robert. 2007 Penguin Viking.