ABC Northern Tasmania
By Rick Eaves
11 August 2021
Leon Beveridge is wearing black Docs, a black shirt and even a black ‘New York’ kilt. It’s appropriate attire for a man with a rock’n’roll past, present, future and after-life.

But the punk bass player with terminal prostate cancer can’t settle on a design for his DIY coffin.

“I thought about making a road-case. Going on tour. Been through lots of iterations but I think I’ve settled on something now,” he said.

“It’s got some gothic overtones. I’ve been to New Orleans, did some voodoo stuff. It will have some ‘Day of the Dead’ stuff going on, a celebration of death, nothing morbid.”

Leon has joined fellow Community Coffin Club members at Ulverstone to celebrate five years of a club and a concept that has inspired many others facing their mortality around Australia and the world.

At this coffin club, laughter, music, food, cute dogs and shared experience lay the foundations on which to build a serious understanding of “death literacy”.

It’s about knowing what happens when you die, what happens before and after you take your last breath, and what it all means for family and friends.

Organiser Lynne Jarvis says the idea is to educate, support and empower people.

“The idea is that individuals can make their own coffin and family and friends can help with that. In itself it is a beautiful, empowering process,” she said.

“But we also have our art and death literacy space and it’s a space where anyone can come — they can bring their knitting and just say ‘hi’.”

Lynne is also secretary of Care Beyond Cure, a group that organises therapy and respite days for chronically and terminally ill people and their carers.

She said the group aimed to ease the financial and emotional burdens of those facing the challenges of severe illness or life’s final chapter.

Care Beyond Cure is also in the process of establishing Tender Funerals Tasmania, the first not-for-profit, community-owned and led funeral home for the state.

When the party’s over, the playlist goes on

Leon has had a good lash at life. He played in a number of punk bands and still does. He was part of the 100% Mambo art studio scene in Sydney, where he also worked “up the Cross”.

There was a stint as an animator in Japan.

Back in the day, he had dinner with Nick Cave a couple of times, and was friends with underground rock legends inlcuding Ian Rilen and Spencer P Jones.

Playlists matter a lot to him.

“This is my Dying, Death and After-Death Care Plan,” he says, revealing a document that specifies his end-of-life wishes.

“I’m working on a couple of playlists I want — several actually — for when I’m dying and for different situations, for after.

“Music’s been really important in my life. It’s important for me to continue with that, and it’s really emotive, it takes you to a place.

“I don’t really want a funeral. I want a really practical kind of death where I die at home, go into a box and then go off to get barbecued.

“Put some money over the bar for a celebration and get some friends to play songs.”

He said that when he first visited the coffin club, his instinct was to “just get on the tools and make something”.

“But as I learned about death literacy, preparing to die became my priority,” he said.

“Getting things down on paper and sharing it with family and friends. Medical goals with my doctor and advanced care. Having it all sorted matters most to me now.”

Readying the Tardis for another realm

In the workshop adjacent to the meeting room, Justin Martin is testing the lid of a coffin that has to be sturdy enough for his next adventure.

It’s designed to emulate a 1972 blue Tardis, as his Whovian preference is for a Tom Baker-ish Doctor Who.

Justin has Alzheimer’s Disease and no clear idea of how long the condition will take to end his life.

For now his memories of the cult BBC sci-fi program are strong, as is the inspiration he draws from it.

“I was born in 1963, the same year the show started,” Justin said.

“And that music was always there and you always knew it would be coming on again after school the next day.

“It took you as a kid from an ordinary life to another world.

“I’m building the Tardis to take me from where I am now into a different realm.

“I’ve got a full-size Tardis at home — it’s 7-foot high. I just thought what a way to go out of this world!

“What a way to travel and to be out there.”

Justin was diagnosed a little over 12 months ago and left his job soon after. He says he has troubling memories of his father’s own decline with dementia, but has found strength and kinship at the coffin club.

“People here have been like family, they welcomed me in, helped me out with so many things,” he said.

“It helps me so much with the process I’m going through.

“I come out of my shell here and I can be someone who’s weird and wonderful.

“This disease just comes at me and I’ll take every opportunity to laugh, make a bit of fun out of it and make it really good.”