The history of cremations in Adelaide and indeed Australia is a journey marked by significant cultural shifts, legislative changes and evolving attitudes toward end-of-life practices. Cremation, as a funeral choice, has a relatively short history in our nation compared to other countries, but its popularity is growing.

Did indigenous people in Adelaide use cremations?

A history of cremations in Adelaide would be incomplete without looking at how indigenous Australians treated their deceased.
Although indigenous Australian cultures are incredibly diverse, cremation was not a traditional practice among most indigenous populations. Cremation is generally more closely associated with cultures from other regions of the world. Likewise, the Kaurna people who are indigenous to the Adelaide area traditionally buried their deceased rather than practising cremations.

Cremations after European settlement

Even after European settlement, cremations were not used in Australia. In fact, they faced initial resistance in Australia, much like in many other Western countries.  In the late 19th century, when cremation was gaining momentum in Europe, Australians were still predominantly adhering to traditional burial practices.

It wasn’t until 1901 when the first recorded cremation in Australia occurred. It took place in – you may have guessed it – Adelaide, after the construction of a crematorium. However, cremations didn’t become commonplace overnight. It would take some time for cremations to become a widely accepted and practised method of disposition.

Multiculturism and religious shifts

Australia is well-known as a multi-cultural society and as more and more cultures started calling Australia home, cremations slowly became more popular. Also influencing a rise in the number of cremations was a softening of attitudes toward cremation. Some religious traditions, such as Judaism and Christianity, initially discouraged cremation. However, as society became more secular and denominational ties weakened, cremations gradually gained acceptance.

It was during the mid-20th century that cremation began to be viewed as a more practical and cost-effective option.

The rise of modern crematoriums

The construction of modern crematoriums in major Australian cities like Adelaide also helped the acceptance of cremations in the mid-20th century. These facilities offered well-regulated, respectful cremation services, adhering to strict ethical and environmental standards.

Cremation started to become a more standardised and regulated practice, reassuring families that their loved ones were handled with care and respect.

Legislative changes

Although it didn’t occur in Adelaide, one of the pivotal changes in the history of cremations in Australia was the introduction of the Cremation Act of 1903 in New South Wales. 

This legislation set out the legal framework for the establishment and operation of crematoria, ensuring the dignified treatment of the deceased. Over time, other Australian states – including South Australia – adopted similar legislation, cementing the legality and regulation of cremations.

Cremations now more popular than burials

Today, cremation is not only a widely accepted and practised method of disposition in Australia, it’s also popular. In fact, cremations are now more popular in Adelaide and across the nation than burials.

The rise in popularity is partly for practicality, partly because of the reduced environmental impact and partly because it’s more cost-effective compared to traditional burials. 

What’s in store for the rest of the 21 st Century and beyond? Who knows, but it’s likely cremations in Adelaide are here to stay.

Cremations in Adelaide

If you’re undecided about whether a cremation or burial is right for you, or for a loved one, have a chat to Sensible Funerals. We provide a range of cremation and burial options, all dignified and respectful, at a sensible price.