Direct-it-yourself, it’s not rocket science

ABC television broadcasts across the country with many programs of immense community interest. One of these is Australian Story.

Image: Australian Story: Tender Funerals CEO, Jennifer Briscoe-Hough, Port Kembla, NSW. Harriet Tatham

In a program broadcast under the title: A community undertaking (ABC TV, June 20, 2022) it highlighted that choice is lacking in the funeral landscape, especially when it comes to community involvement and pricing of this essential service.

Introduced by filmmaker Phillip Crawford, the viewer is invited to ‘step inside the funeral provider that’s transforming the way we do death.

Six years ago, with a group of community volunteers, Jenny Briscoe-Hough founded Tender Funerals, a not-for-profit funeral service in Port Kembla.

Tender has a mission to provide personalised and affordable funerals, and to demystify the funeral process and put it back in the hands of the grieving.

Filmed over 10 months, this episode follows the experiences of people who used Tender to look after their deceased loved one, providing an extraordinarily intimate view of a process we rarely get to see.’

Two of the people featured on the program were Jenny Briscoe-Hough, Port Kemble Community Centre coordinator and Zenith Virago, a private end-of-life worker who has been campaigning for greater family participation in the funeral space for decades. Zenith is the founder of the Natural Death Care Centre, on the north coast of NSW, which is modelled on the Natural Death Centre, based in the UK.

JENNY B-H: Have you ever heard of Zenith Virago?

Zenith Virago, Natural Death Care Centre, Byron Bay. NSW

ZENITH: I’ve spent 25 years living in the northern rivers (NSW) working with people who are dying, being with their bodies when they are dead and working with families. We really need to reclaim the death process.

JENNY: Zenith was one of the first people to look at doing death differently in Australia. She came to the community, she trained the community

ZENITH: Before there was a funeral industry there were all these families taking care of their own.washing them, cleaning them, caring for them.

Most people don’t know that they can do it themselves. You can go from the bed to the cremator, the bed to the grave, without a professional person being involved – there’ll be a medical person but that’s it.

None of it is rocket science. It’s just not what the funeral industry is doing. Their first agenda is how to make a profit. The funeral industry is a corporate business and they are owning links in the chain which people don’t understand. Like the coffin manufacturer, the funeral director, the cemetery, the crematorium, that’s a monopoly. And it’s a huge industry with a turnover of $1.6 billion a year.

To watch the program log on to:

Stream this episode on ABC iview and Youtube


As noted in previous posts, there are many examples of families – and communities – directing their own funeral events with dignity and panache. We have the skills. What we are lacking is a familiarity, lost over the last couple of generations by outsourcing the funeral to professionals, and this by extension leads to a loss of confidence. But let’s not be deterred, or be brushed aside as incompetent or lacking in capacity.

Let’s take hear and follow in the foot steps of those who have done and are doing it today. The Lightning Ridge Funeral Advisory Service, for example, is a not for profit volunteer organisation providing the town with funeral services for local residents who would otherwise have to access the professional funeral operator located at Walgett – the nearest centre with a funeral undertaker.

The service is headed by Ormie and others who are dedicated co-op members, with administration service provided by Maxine O’Brien. It’s a wonderful community program that was featured on an episode of Back Roads (ABC TV, December 10, 2018)

As Zenith Virago points out, it’s not rocket science.

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