Questions are often asked about the cremation of human remains and what can be done with the ashes.

Last updated: 29 April 2013
Pacemakers and other such devices must be removed from a body before cremation. The body must be contained in a coffin and must be cremated one body at a time. The name plate is removed from the coffin which is then loaded into a cremator pre-heated to 750ºC to 900ºC. Cremation takes about one to two hours. The ashes are removed into a metal container and allowed to cool. Once cooled the ashes are loaded into a homogeniser, which uses a metal ball in a rotating drum to reduce the size of the larger particles. The ashes are packed into a plastic container and the name plate attached before storage in a locked room.
Because the body is cremated at such a high temperature all micro-organisms are destroyed. Remaining ashes are inert. There is therefore, no public health risks associated with handling ashes.
Under Clause 85 of the Public Health Regulation 2012 the cremation authority must either:
  • give the cremated remains to the applicant, or
  • dispose of the cremated remains in a burial ground or in land adjoining the crematory reserved for the burial of cremated remains, or
  • otherwise retain or dispose of the cremated remains.
  • If the cremated remains are to be given to the applicant, and the applicant does not take them within a reasonable time, the cremation authority must give 14 days’ notice to the applicant of its intention to dispose of the cremated remains before it disposes of them.

What can be done with the ashes once the applicant collects them?

The person who lodges an application for a cremation, often a relative or the executor of the estate, arranges to pick up the ashes.

Once the applicant collects the ashes, they can be:
  • Buried in a cemetery in a small plot or placement in columbarium or niche wall
  • Preserved in a decorative urn and kept at home or some other favourite spot
  • Scattered on private land, beach, river, public parks and sea or at a place that was significant to the deceased and families. It also depends on the personal wishes of the deceased.

Do you need any special permission to scatter the ashes?

It is important to get permission from the owners of private land or the Trust of Parks and reserves, or from local council for parks, beaches and playing fields as scattering of ashes may contravene the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in terms of air or water pollution. Councils and other Government Authorities will set a time and place when these activities can be undertaken and can impose other conditions.
Disposal of ashes without consent from appropriate authorities may result in legal proceedings to be initiated against the person disposing the ashes. 

Things you need to consider when you scatter the ashes

It is important to carefully choose the place where you scatter the ashes of your loved ones. For example, when the ashes are scattered or placed in parks or a public place, access to the area may be restricted for some reason in the future, undeveloped land may be developed, or many other conditions may arise that could make it difficult for you to visit the site to remember the deceased. Even if ashes are scattered in the backyard, what happens if you sell sometime in the future? Once scattered, the ashes cannot be collected.

Scattering at sea by boat

You must get permission from the master of the vessel or boat before scattering the ashes. Vessels can be chartered specifically to scatter ashes. Some precautions should be observed:
  • Pre loosen the lid of the ashes container or pre-drill large holes to make it easier to remove the lid or scatter the ashes when on board.
  • Be aware of the wind direction and scatter close to the water
  • Never just throw the ashes container overboard as it will float. Always empty the container into the sea.

Taking cremated ashes overseas

It is possible to take cremated ashes overseas providing the following is undertaken:
  • The person should contact the consulate for the country the ashes are being taken to in order to comply with local requirements
  • Generally the person will need to carry the ashes in a sealed urn/container in hand luggage and have a copy of the death certificate of the deceased person and a copy of a statement from the crematorium identifying the deceased person and where and when the body was cremated

Further Information

In you can call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.

Page Updated: Monday 29 April 2013