If it wasn't already hard enough, dying in Australia in the 21st century has never been more confusing, expensive and convoluted for the deceased's loved-ones.

Each state and territory is guilty of practices like coffin swapping, mass cremation and even considering proposals to exhume bodies 25 years after they've been laid to rest.

Sydney, which will run out of burial space in less than three decades, has also become the home of mausoleums selling for more than A$500,000 ($539,200).

And earlier this month, a Queensland funeral director was accused of switching out a grandmother's "gorgeous" A$1700 coffin for a A$70 pine box.


These are just some of the many scandals to rock the A$1.1 billion industry lately, which has long been accused of taking advantage of vulnerable people.

Mass cremation

The convolution around dying in Australia has become so bad, the head of Queensland's Funeral Directors Association has called for a formal inquiry into the industry.

Anton Brown, the president of the association, is sick of the few dodgy owners tainting the whole industry.

"We need regulation, we need it now," he told news.com.au.

After making a public call for an inquiry earlier this month, Brown said he's been inundated with calls — and not all of them are coming from Queensland.

"It's a national issue. I've had more calls from New South Wales than I can count, so many I can't tell what's fact or fiction anymore," he said.

Brown said mass cremation, an illegal cost-cutting practice where funeral directors charge families a cremation fee before driving the body to somewhere cheaper, was just another example of bad practice.

"As far as I know there's only one man who was caught taking bodies from Brisbane up to Rockhampton, but he was let off," he said.

"Instead of immediately cremating the bodies, he was putting them back in the freezer then say when he had 10 or so, he'd put them all in a van and drive them up to Rockhampton."

The man, caught in 2011, allegedly duped at least 20 families with the cremation swap by charging them A$1000 for the service but spending less than A$200 on each body.

Timothy Button, founder of cut-price cremation business Just Cremate Me, is trying to provide a solution to the drama around dying and has also called for regulation.

"You've got industry professionals that form associations but there's no requirement to be part of an association. I think they're just money hungry, they don't really provide any requirement for you to do anything."

In October, Victorian woman Jane Sinclair realised she had been duped when she paid more than five times what some undertakers charge.

Big business

Button spent 15 years in the Gold Coast funeral industry when he eventually decided to open up Just Cremate Me with his partner 18 months ago.

Button and his partner Casey, who is an embalmer, launched the no-frills service for people who "just want to be cremated".

They decided to launch the business after noticing a huge number of people looking for something cheap and simple.

While Just Cremate Me is a much cheaper way to send off a loved one, the service the company offers doesn't differ hugely from big funeral companies.

Button said despite most bodies going to the same mortuary and then often being cremated or dressed for burial in the same place, most of the big name companies often charge up to A$4000 more.

"I knew this funeral director who used to say to a family, 'Go to [a national funeral company] and ask them for a quote. Whatever they tell you, I'll halve that.' And he still made money," Button said.

"Life after death is big business, a lot of people don't realise that," he said.

Ever since launching the "environmentally friendly" service, business has been booming.

But cremation isn't the only after-death option costing big money.

After 38 years selling assets for his company O'Maras Valuers and Auctioneers, managing director Tim O'Mara was recently asked to sell the last unoccupied mausoleum in Randwick Cemetery, in eastern Sydney.

Once owned by multi-millionaire Clement Joseph Maloof, a dispute between the now-deceased man's children means the 14-person piece of "real estate" is up for grabs.

The mausoleum, listed in December, has had a handful of expressions of interest as people try to snap up one of the few remaining places to be put to rest in Sydney.

And while the auctioneer was unable to confirm exactly how much the 14-person space plot would go for, he brought up similar recent sales.

In Botany, a 10-person mausoleum recently sold for A$562,500 while a 16-person plot in Rookwood, in Sydney's west, went for A$587,750.

O'Mara, who said the majority of mausoleums are owned by families of eastern European background, estimated the site could go for at least A$700,000.

"It's definitely something people need to be thinking about more. People should be thinking, 'I'll die and I'll need to be buried somewhere. What do I really want, where will I be for my loved ones to come and see me?'" he said.

The company is taking expressions of interest until Wednesday.

Running out of room

Despite the price of Sydney mausoleums, O'Mara said it would be an attractive option for many families — considering most of Australia's capital cities are running out of places to bury their dead.

In December, the NSW government suggested a proposal where the dead would rent their graves in 25 year increments.

Just like a unit, if you don't renew the contract, you could be turfed out. The plot would then be reused with the previous remains moved to a so-called 'bone room'.

Even gravestones and memorials could end up on the scrap heap.

The problem is designed to tackle the growing problem of cemeteries chock-a-block with bodies.

The Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Regulation 2017 planned to give families a "renewable internment right" where they would rent the grave for 25 years.

A year before the rental period expired cemeteries would have to "telephone, post and email" family members, or if that fails, use Facebook and Twitter, to see if they want to continue paying for the patch of soil.

The proposal came amid calls to change current cremation and grave occupancy rates which, if kept the same, would leave greater Sydney with no cemetery capacity by 2051.

But it isn't sitting well with a vast number of people.

"Can you imagine your family and friends wanting to visit you 25 years later but they can't, because you've been ripped out of the ground," O'Mara said.

"It's inhumane, there need to be something done that will be fair for all. Dying is something that's becoming off-limits to a large number of people. It's too expensive for a lot of people these days," he added.

Coffin swapping

Calls for a formal inquiry into the industry, specifically from the Queensland Funeral Directors Association, came after one funeral director apologised for swapping a family's expensive coffin for a plain pine one.

Earlier this month, owner of Hart Family Funerals, Tony Hart, was forced to explain why he switched out Janice Cecilia Valigura's A$1700 coffin for a A$70 pine box between the funeral and cremation.

Hart told The Courier-Mail earlier this month he performed the swap to prevent the expensive coffin cracking in the cold, as a delay at the crematorium meant Valigura's coffin had to be returned to the freezer.

"The coffin she was cremated in was the same one that the family bought," he said.

He denied ever cremating someone in a different coffin to the one their family had paid for, or ever re-using a coffin.

Despite Hart's explanation, Button from Just Cremate Me, described the alleged coffin switch as "a new low".

"That's disgusting if that's what the funeral directors are doing," he said. "I don't really sell expensive coffins, we use environmentally friendly cardboard caskets, but if there are any sharks in the industry doing that, that's completely disgusting."