Brian McInerney – Pioneer Funeral Celebrant

Brian McInerney

Brian McInerney: Pioneer Funeral Celebrant

Brian McInerney died on December 22nd, 2014

This heart was woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow,
swift to mirth.

The years had given him  kindness.
Dawn was his,
And sunset,
and the colours of the earth.

He had seen movement,
and heard music;
known Slumber and waking;
loved;
gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder;
sat alone;

Touched flowers and furs and cheeks.
All this is ended.
—————
(slightly adapted from Rupert Brooke)
————-

Brian McInerney was a man who could read, write and speak. He was a man of many parts but here I just want to talk about him as a funeral celebrant.

I first met him in 1972 when he was executive producer of English language radio programs for the ABC’s Radio Australia.The pressure of the job was affecting his health, so he resigned from the ABC in 1975.

The recently created marriage celebrant program established by the Attorney General Lionel Murphy had been enthusiastically received by the general public.

Marriages are very happy occasions and the original celebrants enjoyed their task immensely – but inevitably there came the time when clients of celebrants required non-church funerals. The marriage celebrant community, consonant with the culture of the times, vehemently rejected the idea of officiating at secular funerals. So we could fill the need, Murphy (then a Justice of the High Court) urged me and others to go out into the “highways and byways” and find non-marriage celebrants to respond to the need.

Mr “Golden Voice” from the ABC, as Brian Mcinerney was known, became one of the first funeral celebrants. He stepped into this totally new field as if he had done it all his life. He was such a natural. Brian was probably the most well read, best self-educated person I have ever met. Family members told me that he had read the complete works of Dickens before he turned fifteen years of age. In the days before Google and the internet, Brian was the “go to” person if you had a line or quote from a poem and you needed to know the source.

Today’s readers will find it difficult to comprehend that there was no such thing as a non-church funeral in the mid 70s. McInerney was a pioneer who established the new freedom and who set the new standard. For the first time in Western cultural history ordinary people were farewelled in a funeral ceremony which was framed by appropriate and carefully selected poetry, prose, music, symbolism, myths, and stories. The life of the person was recorded, their achievements recognised, and their character and personality described in a eulogy which set their special place in family and community history.

Brian, more than any of us, gained the reputation of writing eulogies for ordinary people which bordered on the masterful. The connections to history,  the allusions to literature, were skilfully inserted with animation and colour.

A new and exciting phenomenon, celebrants were, at this time, widely reported in the media. Brian Mcinerney was often featured. One famous account relates the funeral of the father of the family who evoked the story of the Knight in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. Brian centred his eulogy around the story of the Knight and in doing so uplifted the spirits of everyone who attended the funeral. What he didn’t know was that one of the man’s children had arrived from the USA on the morning of ceremony. This young woman was a lecturer in 14th Century English Literature at Harvard University. Expecting a “nothing” funeral, she had the thrill of hearing her father eulogised in terms of the Knight.

Up to 1995 or so funeral celebrants throughout Melbourne were often called on to create funerals for the soldiers who had survived World War II. At our meetings and seminars, Brian would inspire his fellow celebrants with the poetry of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. When Brian began to recite –

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge …”

we knew, in the vividness of our imagination, we were going to be transported to the horror of war. Thus inspired by Brian, we composed funerals for those old soldiers which did them proud.

The end of the eighties /early nineties was a time of high inflation in Australia. Brian and his wife Tina had three young children and were feeling the pinch financially. He needed to increase his income and so asked the funeral directors with whom he worked to give him a rise in fees. He had come to believe that the people he knew in the funeral industry were his personal friends and collaborators. They would understand his position and recognise his contribution. But at this request the smiles went off their faces. He learned later from one of them that they had rung around and decided to “put him in his place”. All funeral work suddenly ceased.

Brian was deeply hurt and disillusioned. To survive he had to capitulate. I don’t think he ever recovered his faith in human nature after that. To maintain his income with what had become a pittance of a fee, he had to take on more funerals and lower his standards – a decision which always cuts deep into the heart of the true professional. His health slowly deteriorated and he gradually withdrew from funeral celebrancy. But in his first twenty years of work he had set a benchmark standard for secular people in western society. The thousands of written records which survive his pen will be the joy of family genealogists and historians for centuries to come.

(Brian is survived by his wife Tina, his daughter from his first marriage, Jane, his stepdaughter Amy, his son Michael and daughter Sophie. A commemoration ceremony will be held for him on February 8.)

Brian McInerney recites the World War 1 Wilfred Owen Poem – Dulce et Decorum est.
Dulce et Decorum est. Explanation of the text

Dulce et Decorum est – the Poem

Celebrant Issues with Attorney-General-2014

Here are the priority questions I think should be dealt with by the meeting of the December 2, 2014.Celebrant to Bride

  1. The possibility of a new understanding of the relationship between the Attorney-General’s Department and working celebrants. i.e. Public Servants who are informed, supportive, and interested in what celebrants can do for individuals and society. AND celebrants who are informed with the knowledge of the history and purpose of civil celebrancy and who possess an attitude of cooperation.
  2. A thorough teaching of Section 48 of the Marriage Act – especially the last sentence of 48 (3). see – http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com/pages4/Sect_48-Marriage_Act.html
  3. A Transfer of Section 39A to M – the powers of the registrar – to, mutatis mutandis, standing orders within the department – and the powers and responsibility be returned to the accountable minister i.e. to the Attorney-General.
  4. That public servants dealing with celebrants undergo a course of training in the nature and evolution of ceremony, the importance of culture, the psychological power of memorable events, and the nature of society. The course should include attendance at celebrant weddings, funerals, namings, and other secular ceremonies — with reports and critiques.
  5. There should be a serious ceremony at which celebrants are inducted into the profession, attended by the Attorney-General or his equal.
  6. That the Attorney-General assist celebrants expose our exploitation by Funeral Directors, who effectively control fees by not sub-contracting any celebrant who does not conform to their low fee, thus depressing standards.

There are many more issues which I have outlined in fate following articles and blogs:

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/07/21/celebrants-if-i-were-a-g-for-a-day/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/01/13/celebrants-bad-management-excessive-numbers/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/01/29/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/01/29/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be-2/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/01/29/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be-3/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/02/01/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be-4/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/02/02/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be-5/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2014/02/04/celebrants-what-is-and-what-ought-to-be-6/

https://iccdiplomas.com/2013/12/28/a-valid-marriage-yes-or-no/

http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com.au/Pages5/DRM_To_AG_Brandis.html

http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com.au/pages4/roxonopenltr4.html

http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com/pages4/OpenLtrToDreyfus.html

http://www.yourmarriagecelebrant.co/informs_re/Oz_CMCs-probs.html

Celebrants -If I were A-G for a day

I would like to ask the Attorney-General to consider the following.

  1. ISSUE A STATEMENT OR WRITE A LETTER TO ALL CELEBRANTS – encouraging them to observe high standards in ceremony .i.e. to deliver ceremonies of substance, meaning and beauty – well prepared and well rehearsed – and with dignity. (this has not been done for at least 15 years).
  2. REVERSE SECTION 39 OF OF THE MARRIAGE ACT. This provision was the central part of the Downgrading of 2003. This section outlines an extensive list of powers and gives detailed authority to an unaccountable and relatively junior public servant — with predictably disastrous results. All these powers, before the Downgrading of 2003, were the prerogative of the elected and accountable Attorney-General, to whom they should be restored.
  3. REVERSE THE RULE ALLOWING ONLY CANPRINT THE RIGHT AND THE CONTRACT TO PUBLISH MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES FOR THE PARTIES (Form 15).
    The public and celebrants were delighted when the Celebrants Centre and some others printed professionally designed Marriage Certificates on worthy light cardboard. The previous Registrar ruled against this and required that all certificates be numbered and printed only by Canprint.
  4. IMPLEMENT AN INDEFINITE MORATORIUM ON APPOINTMENTS.
    Once 1600 celebrants serviced the whole of Australia. 2500 celebrants would be an oversupply – but, for the same number of marriages,  Now Australia has nearly 11,000 !! The new provisions, in their crude way will reduce numbers, but unless more is done, the low standards currently will deteriorate further. Expertise cannot be developed or maintained unless celebrants are engaged regularly.
  5. HELP US GAIN THE RIGHT TO CHARGE OUR OWN FEES FOR FUNERAL CELEBRANCY.
    (now set by collusion, by the Funeral Directors)
  6. AUSTRALIA NEEDS AN ADOLESCENCE CEREMONY TO BOND YOUNG PEOPLE WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND THE COMMUNITY.
    We have the celebrants with the expertise and idealism but we cannot do it without help from, and the support of, the Federal Government.

I could add much more to this, but I would love to ask the Minister to take an interest in his  obligations to the cultural life of our country. I have given most of my life to celebrancy (most of it voluntarily) only to see most of the gains we have made destroyed by some public servants, who attempted to “build an empire”. They have near destroyed a program which has changed the face of Australia for the better at a very deep level.