Cremation - Understanding the Process

Following the funeral service, the coffin is moved to the crematorium.

Once accepted by crematorium staff the coffin remains sealed throughout the cremation process.

Verification of deceased   

Staff verify the identity of the deceased via the name plate on the coffin, ensuring the details match the ‘Application for Cremation’ (the document required by Health Regulations before a cremation can take place) and the two Medical Certificates or Coroner’s Cremation Permit received from the funeral director. In addition to confirmation of death the medical certificate indicates if battery powered devices (such as a pace-maker) have been removed.

Flowers                                                                                                                               

Flowers remaining with the coffin at this stage are carefully disposed. Families should ask their funeral director during the arrangement process if they wish to retain flowers following the funeral service.

When will the cremation occur?                                                                                           

The cremation will generally be carried out on the same day as the funeral service but, in accordance with Health Department Regulations, can occur up to 48 hours later. If the cremation is not to occur immediately, the coffin is held in a refrigerated holding room.

Preparation for cremation                                                                                                   

When cremation is due to occur:

  • The coffin is transferred onto an insertion trolley
  • Any item that may hinder the cremation process is removed such as swing bar handles
  • The name plate is removed, and placed alongside the cremator, for identification throughout the process
  • The coffin is inserted into the cremator.
  • In all cases, the coffin and deceased are cremated together. Cremation begins immediately once the coffin is inserted into the cremator.

The cremation process                                                                                               

Cremators generally comprise two chambers and a cooling tray (some cremators operate with three chambers and cooling tray). The coffin is cremated within the first chamber. In accordance with Health Department Regulations, coffins must be cremated separately, or in other words, only one coffin is ever placed inside the first cremation chamber at any one time.

At the completion of this initial phase of the cremation process the remains are relocated to the second chamber to remove any ash from the coffin itself. Once this has been completed the remnants of the deceased are placed into a cooling tray. When cooled, metallic contents (such as prostheses, coffin nails etc) are removed, collected and interred within the grounds of the crematorium.

Cremated remains or ashes                                                                                       

Cremated remains are commonly referred to as "ashes". However, technically there are no ashes, what are left are the fragile calcified bone fragments.

Ash container                                                                                                                         

The cremated remains are transferred to a processor to reduce the bone fragments to a fine granule type consistency which in turn is placed in a sealed container. The name plate and an identifying label are attached.

The container accommodates all of the cremated remains. In the unusual event that an ash container is insufficient to hold all of the ashes, an extra container is used.

Ash containers are held until instructions are received from the family or applicant. . The ashes are then, subject to Health Regulations, dealt with according to the instruction given.

Unclaimed ashes                                                                                                                  

Should no instructions be received within a reasonable time (approximately 12 months), in line with Health Regulations, unclaimed cremated remains are interred within the grounds of the crematorium.

Interesting Facts

  • Over 140 000 people die in Australia each year.
  • Over 50% of people currently opt for cremation with the number slowly increasing. In urban areas where crematoria are more readily available the rate approaches 70%. 
  • Cremation is usually not acceptable within Orthodox Judaism, Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy. However, most Christian denominations approve cremation, and it is the preferred method among Hindus and many Buddhists.
  • The Roman Catholic Church no longer considers there to be a danger that Christian cremation will be associated with non-Christian belief, or with a denial of such doctrines as the resurrection of the body, immortality of the soul, and the existence of eternal life. The Catholic Church recommends cremated remains are disposed of in a way that indicates respect for the body of the deceased person. A memorial in a public place is favoured so that even in death the deceased person’s commitment to Christianity is still proclaimed. 
  • Once the crematorium has accepted the coffin it may not be opened. 
  • One person is only ever cremated at a time. The only exception is in the case of a mother and baby or twin children. It may also be acceptable for both a mother and baby or twin children to be in the same coffin. In these instances, approval is sought from the Health Department.
  • A cremator is made from refractory (heat resistant) bricks and fuelled by natural gas.
  • The coffin is always inserted into the cremator feet first.
  • All coffin handles are cremated unless they hinder the cremation process. On the rare occasion that handles are removed they are interred within the grounds of the crematorium.
  • The time taken to cremate will depend on many factors including body mass, bone density and the materials from which the coffin is manufactured. The average time for an adult cremation is 90 minutes at a temperature of between 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius.
  • On average from insertion to final cooling the cremation process may take up to four hours.