The adventures of Rob’s parents’ ashes

a man sits on a rock with a big canyon behind him.


After meeting them in Tamworth NSW about a decade ago, I have admired the Philp’s travels for many years now. Sure, Rob and Julie share lots of lovely photos from all the corners of Australia and the world on social media, but there’s something else I love about their travels.

I’ll let Rob tell the story.

“For several years now, my wife Julie and I have left a small amount of my parents’ ashes in the places we visit. Some people see this as a little strange while others think it is a fantastic idea. One of my sisters also does the same thing.

I really don’t remember what made us start this ritual: it came about because my parents enjoyed travelling, but really did not get the opportunity to travel as much as they would like.

A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there. A little bit of Rob’s parents lie near the town of 1770. (Supplied: Julie Philp)

Both my parents died at 73 years of age because of different forms of cancer. My mother had several health issues throughout her life, but it was breast cancer when she was around 50 years old that eventually came back in her bones 20 years later that took her life.

My father was in good health until around the age of 60 when he had some heart problems, followed by Lupus, as well as a few melanomas over the years. When he was about 70, he had a Merkel cell cancer removed from his top lip and this was what caused his death two years later.

So why do we do this?

It is for us and for them.

I usually say a few words telling them where they are, why I selected the location, and that I hope they like it as much we do. I like to think that in some way they are at each location and enjoying it for its beauty, serenity, views and/or history.

The Philps have been to Fitzroy Crossing in the NT
The Philps have been to Longreach too.

Some of the places ashes have been sprinkled are:

  • Hawaii
  • Sydney Park, Bath, England
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Dallas, Texas
  • The Great Ocean Road
  • Shelly Beach W.A
  • Dirk Hartog Island
  • Vietnam
  • Edinburgh University
  • our last two Homes,
  • Kalbarri, WA.
Thank you to guest blogger, Rob.

Grief and memorialisation are such personal things. I appreciate that Rob has shared his special ritual.

I remember wife Julie sending me a message several years ago now: “We remembered mum and dad this time. Have been carrying them in our backpack and still forgetting. We forgot in Ireland, remembered in Glasgow. They’re going to London next week”.

A hand sprinkling cremains into the ocean from a boat
Another adventure for Rob’s parents, this time on the Great Barrier Reef. (Supplied: Julie Philp)

A few years later I got this message: “Forgot them in New Orleans. Didn’t leave them in Las Vegas – though that may be a bit tacky. 😀 ”

A big thanks to Rob and Julie for sharing what they do to honour their parents and their ongoing relationship with them.

Rob's parents didn't do as mch travel as they would have liked. So, after they died, Rob takes them where ever he goes, leaving some of them behind.
Just Rob, the Grand Canyon, and a ziplock bag that travelled through the USA with him and his wife. (Supplied: Julie Philp)

Ashes aren’t ashes

Let’s get to the nitty gritty. Literally. Ashes from cremations aren’t really ashes. The remains are called cremains (short for cremated remains) and tend to be gritty because they’re burned and ground down bits of bone. (Think of beach sand that has lots of crushed shells and the odd coarse bit of coral or shell.)

Cremains are very high in pH and sodium (salt). That means they may be detrimental to the environment. There are now products and services on the market that work to neutralise the toxicity of cremains.

It’s all about dilution

It’s a big fat furphy that you can grow a tree from untreated ashes or cremains. They are simply not a good or helpful soil additive.

If you’re going to scatter the cremains of a person (which can weigh up to a few kilos), best not clump them all under their favourite tree or bury them in a hole with a sapling on top (though the roots will do their darndest to avoid them). A wide scatter or handfuls here and there are probably the best way to go. More info about scattering cremains in a previous blog of mine here.

As for taking cremains overseas, this appears on the NSW Health website. (This most likely applies to a person’s full cremains – not just a couple of small ziplock bags (which seems to be a popular way of carrying cremains here in Australia!):

Source: NSW Health here

The future

As Australia, and the world, grapples with:

  • high population growth,
  • an increasing ‘boomer’ death rate,
  • a lack of room in cemetries,
  • diminishing resources (gas and wood for fire cremations for example),
  • and climate change,

there is a lot of work being done to explore how we can reduce our environmental impacts both in life and death. From re-using graves and limited grave tenures, to organic human reduction (human composting), alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation), and developing more efficient crematoria and pyre methods, we’ve still got a long way to go. We all have to be open to learning more about our impacts and the alternatives, using developing technologies, and new ways of doing things.

It’s a case of ‘watch this space’.

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and audio producer, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$11.99 on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

One Response

  1. I really enjoyed this story and can relate. We sprinkled my dad’s ashes into our city’s river and that ritual was pretty magical for the family.

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