The State Funeral


The state funeral represents a considerable honour accorded a citizen in recognition of achievement and service to the community.

The Protocol Division of the New South Wales Premiers Department has issued a Policy and Procedures document covering State Funerals (PDF).

In recent times, military state funerals have been given to the dwindling number of Australia's World War One veterans, and for distinguished New South Wales governors in recognition of their civic and military contributions to the nation.

  • Sir Arthur (Roden) Cutler VC AK KCMG KCVO CBE
    (Governor of New South Wales)
  • Air Marshall Sir James Anthony Rowland AC KBE DFC AFC KStJ
    (Governor of New South Wales)
  • Rear Admiral Sir David Martin KCMG AO
    (Governor of New South Wales)
  • Albert Edward (Ted) Matthews (World War One Veteran)
  • Lionel Charles (Charlie) Mance ( World War One Veteran

Though each person honoured is very much an individual, state funerals draw upon traditional protocol and practice:

Flags at Half Mast
As a sign of respect and remembrance, the practice can be traced back to sailing ship's lowering their sails, and later their flags, to allow VIP's the chance to board - if they so desired. As a act of mourning, flags are flown at half mast during state funerals and other appropriate occasions. The national flag is draped over the casket, with, if a military person, their headdress.

Music for a military state funeral may incorporate traditional hymns such as "Abide With Me", words by Francis Lyte, (1793-1847), composed by William Henry Monk (1823-1889). The "Recessional" may also be chosen, written by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, set to the tune of the hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" - a hymn also sung on occasions in its own right, and referred to as the Navy Hymn.

The Last Post is also sounded by a lone Bugler at military state funerals, along with Reveille to remind the living that life must, and does, go on.

Funeral processions proceed at "slow time", typically 65 or 70 paces per minute, depending upon distance. Suitable music includes "The Dead March", from 'Saul' by George Frideric Handel, Beethoven's "Funeral March" (from the "Eroica") or some other notable slow time composition, with honour guard participants carrying their weapons (if of sufficient length) in the reverse position, a mark of respect dating back to the ancient Greeks.

Gun Carriage
Now very much a part of a military state funeral, the origins are based on practical necessities. The practice adds a military touch and saves the bearer party from tiring over extended distances. Queen's Regulations for the mid 19th Century allowed the use of a gun carriage to carry a casket when the distance to the burial ground exceeded one mile. Black arm bands represent a further mark of respect for the departed.

Liturgical Aspects
Practices vary between Christian denominations, and even within the same denomination, and as a future Australia will doubtless represent achievers from a number of faiths, other forms will be incorporated.

The more traditional and ritualistic Christian form of service sees the clergy robed in either purple, or less commonly, black copes/vestments. Purple is a liturgical colour synonymous with sacrifice and mourning and is also worn during the period of Lent.