Bringing dying and death back to communities | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Bringing dying and death back to communities

A wonderful memory from my USC days was the honour of delivering the ‘Graduate response’ to the graduating class of 2016. My parting message to fellow graduands was “In the words of Mahatma Gandhi ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. Be inspired and go forth beyond academia, and together let’s contribute to shaping a more compassionate, just and equitable society!” As I reflect on these words, I realise this is exactly what I am doing now, yet I had no inkling that reclaiming “ceremony” in a literal sense would become my contribution to benefit society.

From little things, big things grow

When I graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science degree, I had been actively involved at a personal level in grass roots, community development work, including listening to the concerns of older people in my community. Although I didn’t have a clear idea what I was going to do with my degree, I kept connecting, building and maintaining this community network that is still going today. My first paid opportunity came via a USC alumni friend when I secured a position on the Community Advisory Council for the Sunshine Coast Primary Health Network.

This experience led to a successful submission to participate in a national research project initiated by the GroundSwell Project called Compassionate Communities where we explored community-centred end-of-life care. During the project, we facilitated lots of conversations and place-based community activities. Experiences of funerals in this region were a constant theme that came up. So, a small group of us decided to start a not-for-profit funeral business called Funerals Sunshine Coast and Regions Queensland, to provide a local solution to address local issues around more options and informed choice for end-of-life care.

One such option we’ve recently initiated, is to offer locally crafted eco caskets from salvaged, untreated timber. By providing accessible, environmentally friendly products, we not only raise awareness about carefully considering what we bury or burn, but people can choose to give back to heal the earth, whilst also supporting local, sustainable businesses.

I would often say at our regular meet ups that there are a lot of ‘-ologists’ who are ‘experts in our lives’, yet I think we are ‘experts’ of our own experiences, values and beliefs. A friend then expanded that idea and said that I’m a ‘Compassionologist’, creatively encouraging people to be more involved in caring. And that’s how the idea for my t-shirt started which has become my unofficial ‘work uniform’. It’s a great conversation starter!

We are having those conversations with the community at every opportunity, including offering tours at 18 cemeteries in the region. We’ve called it ‘Discovering Hidden Gems’ and we get to share our work with the community and give them the opportunity to share their personal stories and experiences about end-of-life, which can be quite healing for some.

Our business model aligns with Council’s Sunshine Coast Cemetery Plan 2019-2028 and until we are able to have our own natural burial site, we can access local infrastructure to provide some services. We also advocate via formal channels and have made a submission based on community feedback when the Queensland Government announced funeral reform as a priority in 2021.

USC connection lives on

Thinking about the courses I completed at USC, they have been invaluable, and I rely on the knowledge and skills I acquired every day!  We have aligned our business with specific United Nations global Sustainable Development Goals that we learned about in class, such as ‘reducing inequalities’ regarding gender representation in the industry, and ‘climate action’ by increasing environmentally sustainable options for end-of-life.

It’s exciting making full use of my degree. I often return to my course notes, assessments and textbooks, as I did when I prepared a presentation for a Queensland Government Minister, resulting in a meeting with senior representatives across numerous portfolios. The opportunity to role-play social policy advocacy scenarios in our tutorials at uni definitely paid off!

And this year will be the third year that we are working with USC’s Dr Karen Sutherland and her social media students as their client. Not only is it a good opportunity for students to learn about our approach to this work, but they get to apply their creative ideas and skills to help us achieve our storytelling goals. We also enjoy attending the Creative Industries Student Showcase event and networking with senior staff and other clients, which has led to some valuable outcomes.

A great support network is crucial

I won’t lie. Being an innovator with a bold vision is constant work and the hours are long. Creating a new path with purpose, and new local opportunities takes time, energy, courage and determination. Even with the best of intentions, I make mistakes and sometimes say the wrong thing. Thankfully, there is a core group of people supporting me and others who are passionate and committed to seeing our community-owned and led organisation be successful.

When we are looking for knowledge and skills to do things that we can’t do ourselves, I believe it’s relationships with people we know and trust, and who we can partner with, that will enable us to be the change we need in death care in this region.


Gillian Hall

Gillian Hall

Gillian is passionate about enabling people to improve end-of-life experiences whilst creating sustainable choices for the future. She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science from USC in 2016 and proudly remains actively involved as a USC alumna.

Gillian Hall
Gillian delivering the ‘Graduate Response’
Gillian Hall and Dan Murphy
Local craftsman Dan Murphy and Gillian Hall with an eco-casket

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