Six Feet Under or Up in Smoke: the Aussie way of death

| 29 October , 2009 | Reply

Guest editor

Guest Editor, Jane de Graaff from I Ate It All

I didn\’t think I\’d enjoy a book that deals exclusively in death. I don\’t know about you, but I\’m not one who\’s put a lot of thought into what\’s going to happen to my physical remains after I die. Until recently I thought it was a simple case of ‘stick me in a box and bury me in the ground\’.

But it turns out there\’s a lot more to the Aussie way of death than one would first think.


Jim Eames is no stranger to death. His father was a bush undertaker and he grew up understanding that death is a delicate and fraught time, full of a variety of emotions. Thankfully not all these emotions are bad, some of them are downright joyous. But it\’s generally a mix and it turns out it\’s a hard thing to predict- often resulting in unexpected expressions of grief or gratitude.

In his book Six Feet Under or Up in Smoke: the Aussie Way of Death, Eames uses his family history, contacts in the funeral business (right across Australia), along with his brilliant journalism to take an in depth and thoroughly captivating look at the funeral business from all its different angles.  In doing so he looks at the history of the funeral in Australia- from the early convicts who might have buried loved ones by their doorsteps, through the rise of women undertakers, to the first cremation that caused a scene on a public beach. There are humorous stories of people placing airbeds in their coffins so that they ‘will be comfortable\’ for eternity and poignant moments recounting hard farewells in times of unexpected death.

Have you ever wondered what weighs a coffin down for a burial at sea? Did you ever stop to question the environmental practicalities of burial vs. cremation? Have you ever compared the burial rites of a Buddhist to a Protestant? Well Eames does, with grace, respect and a touch of humour.

In all its many forms the final farewell is an engrossing process, from death certificate to the embalming question, right down to the history and development of the hearse& There\’s a lot that goes into the last great goodbye and often-explicit instructions from the deceased, or the remaining family, make the process of conducting a funeral more of an event manager\’s role, than a master of ceremonies.

Part a history of the great brown land, part personal storytelling of the people in the industry, Six Feet Under or Up In Smoke is an absorbing and enlightening read from the first page.

For anyone who wants to know the difference between a wooden and cardboard coffin, what happens to the handles when a coffin is cremated, or how bodies are preserved for family viewing- you\’re guaranteed to look at death a little differently once you\’ve heard the stories of the people in the business.

Surprisingly more heart-warming than expected- isn\’t it time you found out about the people who take care of your loved ones on the journey to their final resting place? I\’m certainly glad I did.

Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$26.99


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