Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Ashes to ashes ... then let's not get too officious about the next step

Auckland Council have proposed a bylaw to demand families gain official permission to scatter the ashes of loved ones in a public place. Photo / Lynda Feringa.
Auckland Council have proposed a bylaw to demand families gain official permission to scatter the ashes of loved ones in a public place. Photo / Lynda Feringa.

It seems unwise of the Auckland Council to propose a bylaw that will be widely flouted, and impossible to police. Demanding that bereaved families gain official permission before scattering the "cremains" of a loved one in a public place is a proposal that is doomed to fail.

What is it going to do? Deputise traffic wardens to lurk in regional parks and popular beaches at dawn and dusk, ready to pounce on any little gathering of ratepayers leaving a tell-tale dusting of bright white ash behind them?

Not only is the plan unworkable, it is also guaranteed to get up the nose of the family members involved in their private last farewells. And not in the way Rolling Stone Keith Richards meant when he claimed he snorted some of his dad's ashes in 2002, after they spilled from the storage urn on to his kitchen table.

"I looked at my dad's ashes down there and - what am I gonna do?," the rock star later said. "Do I desecrate them with a dustbin and broom? So I wet me finger and I shoved a little bit of Dad up me hooter."

Theoretically the bureaucrats are right in preparing for the worst possible scenario. But that's going to occur only if Aucklanders home in on a few sites regionwide to upend the family ashes. With around 5500 cremations a year - 75 per cent of all bodies are cremated in Auckland - and the average body reduced to about 2.2kg of ash, that adds up to 12 tonnes of human cremains to be disposed of each year.

All of that upended in the Parnell Rose Gardens or on the Eden Park pitch would certainly cause a problem. But up to 33 per cent of ashes are permanently stored or buried by the crematorium operators as part of the process. Then there's the unknown quantity that end up at home, treasured on a mantelpiece or semi-forgotten in a cupboard, to gather dust, as the family disperses and indecision reigns.

The creation of the Super City was the trigger for wiping away myriad historic rules and regulations on this and many other matters. The aim was to modernise and simplify with one regionwide rule. When it comes to the disposing of human ashes, the council risks imposing an unnecessary layer of rules.

The birth of the Super City has neither triggered a rapid increase in Aucklanders dying, nor people demanding their ashes be scattered en masse off the end of Queens Wharf or at the foot of Robbie's statue in Aotea Square.

Regardless of the long-standing ban on scattering human ash in any regional park or at popular beaches, the practice occurs anyway, almost always at a time that won't disturb or upset other citizens.

When the gardeners at Parnell Rose Garden became concerned that the amount of extra calcium phosphate being strewn around the rose bushes by ash scatterers was proving injurious to the plants, a request was made to desist.

People generally got the message and went elsewhere. Luckily for Aucklanders, there are plenty of elsewheres to go to. We have a small population, surrounded by a vast area of sea, forest and open space.

With a bit of imagination, a private entrepreneur, or even the council, could create even more. In the United States, for example, all veterans and their dependents are entitled to a naval burial at sea. The only drawback is that the ceremony is performed when it suits the navy, and friends and family can not attend. What better way to see someone off than on a ferry package trip to scatter their ashes in the Hauraki Gulf?

If that's too boring and predictable to get Uncle George's urn out of the coat cupboard, the web offers many other options.

Turning him into a diamond or a glass paperweight for example. Or loading the remains into a rocket, either the sort that disappears into space, or the fireworks sort, that guarantees he departs with a true bang.

Then there's the vinyl record company that incorporates human ashes into the disc, offering 30 copies per order, with 12 minutes recording time on each side to create a lasting memorial.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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