ABC article transcript

Have you ever wondered how coffins are built? Or how many are required every year to cater for the number of deaths across Australia?

Ashton Manufacturing on the Gold Coast is Australia’s second-largest manufacturer of coffins.

It produces almost 40,000 coffins every year, which are shipped out to funeral homes across the country.

According to chief executive Rohan Kerr, there is a lot of work that goes into building a coffin.

The raw timber and medium-density fibreboard (MDF) are prepared, sanded and cut to size, then glued and assembled.

They then go through a painting and varnishing process.

Once the coffin is polished, the interior lining is added, and the handles and hinges are attached. The coffins are then quality checked and shipped out to funeral homes.

The coffins range from over-sized through large, medium and small, to child-sized.

“It’s very confronting when you see the child’s ones,” Mr Kerr said.

“You think, ‘That’s a young person that hasn’t had a life’, whereas when you see an older person’s, you know that they’ve got many years of stories to tell and they’ve had a life. It does make me stop and think about it each time.”

While Mr Kerr is in the business of making coffins, he has his own personal experience of the product they make and the ramifications of working in an industry laden with emotion.

“I lost my own son in 2003. Going back through that process of when I first came here, to say wow, that’s the casket that my son was in … so it is confronting.”

According to Mr Kerr, there are about 140,000 deaths per year in Australia, and the death rate changes seasonally.

More deaths occur in winter, while summer is a quieter time for the coffin-building and funeral industries.

“We try and do the best we can to deliver a comforting process for the family,” Mr Kerr said.

“We’re constantly coming up with ideas; how do we make it different, how do we make it more stylish, more contemporary and bring it into the age of what we’re living now, instead of the dark ages.”

Article by Jeff Licence, ABC Open Producer