Young mortician carves out career with his unique skill
Luteru Reupena is a man with many passions in life but his greatest is serving his community. A mortician by day at George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals in Holland Park, Luteru is also a qualified carpenter and chef. His talent for Samoan carving has to be seen to be believed.
Luteru specialises in carving and cultural artwork on coffins, grave markers and plaques, which he hopes will give his work as a mortician a point of difference.
“Serving families in need and the satisfaction during transition from when a loved one arrives into our care to placing them into their coffin is the best part of my job,” he said.
“I just love people and serving the greater community. “Working at George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals gives the me opportunity to do this as we act with integrity and put our clients and community first, by listening, anticipating, supporting and actioning, to exceed their expectations. We take great pride in what we do each day and caring is at our heart always.”
The 29-year-old, of Tarragindi, has been working at George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals since January but his experience in the funeral industry goes back to his childhood days in Ipswich.
“From very young age I was heavily involved with the church and my father was the church minister,” Luteru said. “We would host funerals at our church and the hall. I helped guide and assist the funeral directors during services."
But it was the death of his grandfather in 2003 that really piqued Luteru’s interest in the industry. “I remember going to my parents and saying ‘I want to be a funeral director’,” he said. “I just knew that’s what I wanted to do."
After graduating from high school, Luteru completed an apprenticeship in carpentry and learnt the skills of a mortician at a local funeral home. Luteru’s Samoan heritage has influenced his carving craft from the beginning.
“During the construction of our church, I was trained by a professional Samoan carver who we flew over from Samoa. Together we carved lecterns, pulpits and icons for our church,” he said.
“Since 2011 I have been carving and customising pulpits for different denominations throughout Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. A couple years ago I worked at a family-owned funeral business where I learnt traditional Samoan custom including cultural family dressing.
"In 2017 a church member passed away from cancer and the family requested a customised coffin which I worked on for 48 hours straight to fulfil the family’s requirements. That was my first coffin carving and after that I was soon asked to complete another one for the same funeral home.
“In 2018 a family from Sydney requested a grave marker for a loved one. I designed the front for his spiritual side and the back for his beloved Manly Sea Eagles. A Brisbane family requested the same, but with a Wallabies theme.
“Last year I carved a first of its kind memorial plaque for a family member. That one I’m very proud of.”
Luteru said he could take anything from two weeks to 12 months to complete a carving, depending on the size and the amount of detail. Last year he made the switch from hand-carving to using machinery to help speed up the process. And while he is constantly working on new designs, Luteru is also looking to train as an embalmer in the near future as part of his work as a mortician. His days are never quiet or boring and that’s just the way he likes it.
“In the morning I could be in mortuary, doing a transfer at lunchtime and going to a service in the evening,” he said. “After work it could range from shopping for carving and construction supplies, checking out different suppliers and working on carving projects.”