They like to think of themselves as “the silent helpers”.
When a member of your family dies, these Lake Macquarie men say they’ll care for them as if they were their own.
It’s a promise the three generations of cremators have maintained since the first of the trio joined the industry a dozen years ago.
Peter Anderson, Shane Anderson and Zac Walters are cremators and groundskeepers at Lake Macquarie Memorial Park.
Employed by InvoCare, the threesome operates the crematory at least 1,300 times per year, assists with about 85 burials each year, and maintains 76 acres of expansive reserve at the Ryhope address.
“It’s a job that people either want to know all about or nothing about,” says 61-year-old grandfather Peter.
“Not many people know what goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen.”
The trio operates two machines within the crematorium, each worth more than $1 million.
“It’s essentially a furnace,” Peter told the Newcastle Weekly.
“It reaches more than 800 degrees and takes about an hour and a half to cremate a coffin.
“That’s for the average person,” he adds.
But, not everyone who dies is “average”, and this is something the men say they think about every day.
“When you see a small coffin, or you know it was a stillborn or a little one, that’s a bit hard to take,” Peter says.
“We don’t see what is inside the coffin, our job is to care for that person as if they’re our family member, from the minute they arrive until we’re handing the family the ashes or witnessing at a burial.”
Peter was first lured to this unusual job almost 13 years ago.
Prior to this role he’d been working as an aged care nurse.
“When Shane and his sister were little, they’d come and pick me up from a shift and they’d be waving at the elderly,” he says.
“They’d seen a lot of what the elderly were like growing up, they’d know when they weren’t there to wave at them anymore.”
For Shane, who is approaching his 40th birthday, the job represents more than a pay check.
“Sometimes they [visitors to the park] just want someone to talk to and they’ll tell you all about their day,” he reflects.
“It’s a job that makes you appreciate life.
“You might come to work, and you’ve got a problem that you’re dealing with and then you see a family that have just lost a loved one and your problem doesn’t seem so big anymore.
“I really think this is what I was put on this earth to do.”
Shane insists each person who is buried or cremated at the Cessnock Road site is treated like a member of his own family.
“We treat them like they’re still here because they’re someone’s loved one.
“I’ve got my Nan out here.
“She wanted to be buried out here because she saw how much I cared for the grounds.
“It’s a bit strange that I can say I dug my Nan’s grave, but like I said no one is treated any different.
“They’re all cared for until the end.
“It’s like being a silent helper, that’s the part I like.
“You’re helping people get through one of the toughest times of their lives.
“We’re out the back here doing all this so they can have that part dealt with.”
And, of course, some days it’s a tough job.
“People see us working on the grounds when they’re saying farewell to their loved one, and when you know it’s a baby that’s hard, they don’t see the tears behind our sunglasses, but we feel for them.”
Cremation is becoming a more viable option for the next generation too.
“I think people are changing their minds,” Shane says.
“The beauty is you can be cremated, and you can spread your ashes wherever you like, or be memorialised in a park – a place that is going to be maintained forever.
“You come out here in the mornings and there’ll be 10 or 15 kangaroos at the park, in the afternoons at sunset it’ll be the ducks and the birds.
“People say how can you work with all that sadness around every day, and it is sad, but it is a beautiful place.
“We’re giving them a beautiful space they can come to and remember their loved ones.”
They are proud to showcase their own workspaces, too.
“Coming from a golf course, I’m a lawn man,” says Shane. “I love the lawn looking good.
“Dad’s pretty proud of what he’s created down near the water feature and Zac’s pretty handy on the whipper snipper.”
Lake Macquarie Memorial Park is home to hundreds of burial plaques, lawn sites, a heritage memorial, lullaby garden, garden of peace and a natural memorial reserve.
It sources its own water from the three dams onsite.
When Shane’s 17-year-old stepson Zac started in his role as cremator eight months ago, it’s believed he was the youngest in NSW.
“It’s in the family and that gives me support in case it gets to me,” he says.
“I like being here, I don’t feel like a number, and I don’t do it for the pay check.”
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