The town with a community operated funeral service

Funeral scene, Back Rds LR, ABCtv 11.18.docxWhat to do when the closest funeral provider is an hour away, when local residents can’t afford the expense of the commercial operators?  Tough bikkies, is what some people would say, but not a town that is known for its can-do approach to life.

And so it is, for 20 odd years Lightning Ridge, in northern NSW, has applied the can-do attitude to one of the greatest essential services that any community can provide – a funeral service. That it is of the people, by the people, for the people, makes it an outstanding achievement and an example of what can be done when others shy away or turn up their noses. As if to say that this is unpalatable or not normal.  It was once not only normal it was expected of everyone to be involved in farewelling those who had died. Done in-house, there was no outsourcing like we do today.  Needless to say, it cost next to nothing.

It was during the opening scenes of the ABC-tv program Back Roads with Heather Ewert (10-12-2018 and later on iView) that we find out how the Lightning Ridge community under the guidance of Mayor Ian ‘Woody’ Woodcock, do funerals with down to earth panache – nothing overly fancy, but with genuine respect and dignity as a given.

We have transcribed the spoken portion of the program here.

Lightning Ridge Funeral Advisory Service (LRFAS)

Time: 2:00 – 2:40 opening segment, then 2:41 – 5:00 min

Featuring – Ian ‘Woody’ Woodcock, Mayor, Lightning Ridge and President LRFAS

HE: I’ve got to ask the obvious question – what are we doing in a hearse?

IW: Lightning Ridge has always been a do-it-yourself community – we do our own funerals – most things are done by the community …

HE: Woody is taking me to the centre of town and would you believe it, we’re going straight to the morgue …

IW: This is where the work room is …

HE: Oh my God – what a work room … (Display of coffins)

IW: Pick your box …

HE: The nearest funeral director is an hour away in Walgett, so Lightning Ridge decided to set up its own funeral service, run by volunteers, Ormie Molyneux (OM) an Opal Miner and Tommy Urqhart (TU) the town’s retired butcher … how did you get roped into it?

OM: One of my uncles was a co-founder and we just tagged along for the ride …

HE: How about you Tommy?    TU: I was dragged in by Ormie …

IW: They just came to give us a hand – we didn’t say what for …

TU: After 38 years being a butcher, nothing really shocks me …

HE: It must be really hard because you must know most of the people that you’re burying?

IW: Yes, that’s probably one of the good things about it …

TM: It’s easier for the families – we all know each other – they feel more comfortable with us rather than the undertaker with the top hats ‘n’ tails …

HE: These men carry out about 20 funerals a year – all up they’ve buried 550 people – even built their own fridge … (Morutary with fridge)

IW: It used to be housed down at the Lions Park until we built the morgue here – they used to keep their beer cold in it, so that’s good news – so that’s what it was used for …

HE: I don’t believe it …    OM: A very versatile fridge …    HE: There’s nothing in there?

IW: No one’s in there – it’s run at 0 degrees all the time …

HE: And you actually have to prepare the bodies and dress them – you do that to …

IW: If we have to – if a family request that we dress them and do their make up or whatever the case may be .

HE: Do make up? Seriously?    IW: Yes we do …    HE: Who taught you how to do make-up?

IW: I used to watch my wife in front of the mirror …

HE: Well that’s got to be a first …..

Later … after hitching a ride back to Lightning Ridge ..

24:45 – 25:45

HE: I find ‘Woody’, Ormie and Tommy out at the cemetery – the town’s oldest resident has died at the age of 100 – there’s sadness of course – but also a celebration of a life well lived in Lightning Ridge  [Grave marker inscription:  RIP  Peter Verkroost – 26.12.17 – 15.7.18]

IW: A very good innings when you can reach 100 years – he got a letter from the Pope, a letter from the Queen, a letter from the Prime Minister – so he was thrilled …

HE: Some weeks this trio have to help bury 2 or even 3 of their friends.  Lightning Ridge is lucky to have them.

And a story that appeared in the SMH 22 June 2016.  Lightning Ridge volunteers bury the dead in town with no undertaker

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