The Hilversum military barracks are surrounded by Dutch forest. It's a pretty place.

But inside a vast hall some 200 forensic experts from around the world are performing an ugly task. They are identifying the MH17 dead.

The facility - which includes refrigerated storage units and a huge mortuary - is of a similar scale to that set up after the Christchurch earthquake.

Read more:
* Black box data reveals why jet crashed
* Name change in the wind for Malaysia Airlines?
* The burdens of planes that fly the flag


Bodies will be identified primarily using DNA, fingerprints and dental records.

But the experts will also look at unique marks or scars, and examine personal belongings such as jewellery, to help build a picture.

Information has already been obtained from relatives in Australia that will be used to match victims. It could include medical records, a hairbrush containing DNA or a fingerprint collected from a kitchen glass.

DNA analysis usually takes days or weeks, but at Hilversum it will be fast-tracked. Once the experts think they've identified a victim, a so-called identification commission will confirm the finding.

After bodies start being identified on a regular basis, authorities expect that the commission will sit up to three times a week.

Relatives will be informed as soon as a body is identified and they'll have the final say regarding repatriation.

MH17 victim Robert Ayley and his wife Sharlene. Photo supplied by family

An Australian Federal Police (AFP) official says the "absolute priority" is getting the identification right.

"There are no shortcuts, it will take as long as it takes," he said on condition of anonymity.

"We've got the best people working as hard as they can but this is a tough job.

"It's going to be difficult to sort everything out and it will take time."

Even for hardened professionals the work is harrowing.

Scientists at Hilversum say it's too early to predict how long it will take to identify all the victims in Holland. The AFP official said: "There's an enormous amount of work to do before this operation will be complete."

Families have been warned not all the remains may be recovered from the crash site in rebel-held territory. Other passengers may have been "vaporised" during the crash.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave an indication of how tough identification can be when he compared the MH17 crash with the 2002 Bali bombings.

Back then it took almost three weeks before the first victim was returned home and more than four months for the last to be repatriated, the PM said.

Experts suggest the MH17 passengers would have suffered similar trauma to the bombing victims. There was fire involved in both. Fingerprints may have been burnt.

The 200-strong international team working at Hilversum includes 19 Australians and three New Zealanders.

Another 19 Australians are based in Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was blasted out of the sky.

The Australian contingent includes AFP officers, Victoria Police members and specialists from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

Among them are people who have experience at Bali, the Asian tsunami, the Christmas Island boat tragedy and the Philippines typhoon.

The Australian team is led by AFP chief scientist Dr Simon Walsh who was in charge of identifying bodies after the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Dutch MH17 victim Benoit Chardome spent a decade in New Zealand. Photo supplied

Forensic work, the experts say, is all about compromises. In the case of MH17, the specialists are dealing with victims killed in a violent plane crash, as well as delays in recovering the bodies from the crash site.

Information concerning where victims originally lay has been lost because locals moved the bodies so they could be put on a refrigerated train to Kharkiv.

Howard Way is co-ordinator of the UK's disaster victim identification team. He worked in Kharkiv transferring the MH17 remains from the train to military planes which then transported 227 coffins to Eindhoven, and, finally, Hilversum. The detective inspector came with them.

Authorities don't know how many bodies are in Holland or how many remain at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

"The identifications will be very slow at first and then we hope they'll pick up pace as the operation progresses," Way said.

"If it's rushed that's when mistakes are made, and we are not going to make any mistakes."

If a victim has property which gives a clue as to their identity, the specialists will fast-track forensic examination.

"If you get rid of the easier identifications, if you process those, then it reduces the numbers and it's better for the families to get them back as quickly as possible."

No-one wants to detail how grim it truly is inside the temporary mortuary at Hilversum.

But Dutch police chief Gerard Bouman knows it's heart-breaking work. "What we found in the body bags in Ukraine was indescribable," he said.

"The contents were horrible. Hardened people whose work this is are finding it hard to process. Bits and pieces all mixed - big and small - were found in the bags."