Adrian Nelson is the kindest, nicest person I never want to meet....

...unless he is in his Rotary Club attire!! Adrian's daily is one of sorrow and remembrance putting loved ones to rest, managing a family funeral business his great-great grandfather started Nelson Bros.

Colour match blue by Clockwork  Ψ

Colour match blue by Clockwork Ψ

Adrian’s level headedness is both refreshing and admirable in a world of decreasing sound bites, 144 character tweets, seconds of snapchat and a daily feed of augmented selfies by the billions.

To walk the timeless design and seasonal style trends tight rope, is a duality only a few can successfully negotiate and Adrian is one of those people. The ever increasing focus of advertising campaigns and resulting corporate commonality has made personal style a rare commodity in modern corporate life.  A place where decision by committee can water down inspiration and personality. To meet an individual who confidently executes both individual charm and corporate process, demands our attention. So I began by asking Adrian when did he first discover or really appreciated ‘good design’.

Adrian I’ve spent over 20 years designing as a professional, the final result for an Industrial Designer shows only a tiny percentage of the processes involved. In many cases ‘Good Design’ is taken for granted as “it just works”. How do you embrace Industrial Design into your everyday?
I get excited when I see good design. I remember first seeing the Dyson Airblade hand dryer in a restaurant bathroom in England and thought it was the greatest revolution! But for me the best design is simple. I call it elegant simplicity. There’s no need to over-engineer for the sake of it. In my industry, classic style works best. We are constantly in the public eye, so we need to make sure that everything we do works well on the first time.

At a personal level, I like colour. To have the classic simplicity with a flash of colour or style provides personalisation and individuality. My variety of eyewear (sadly not all Niloca) is probably the most obvious example of this.

Adrian, you’re one of the busiest calmest people I know. Do you find it innate or do you have a secret to balancing work, life and your contributions community.
It’s about priorities, plus not sweating the small stuff. With a growing family, you’ll only get to experience it once, so I don’t want to miss out. I’m fortunate in that my work enables to engage with the community, so my community work is really an extension of my working life.
Also, technology helps. I’m busiest on the phone in the car en route to picking the boys up from tennis lessons or cricket practice. It means I get my work done, make the decisions that need to be made, then can spend the last 15 minutes of the training watching balls being whacked around.


The circle of life is a time of reflection, reconciliation and mourning. How have you seen various generations change the way in which they remember a loved one?
As Nelson Bros Funeral Services is one of Australia’s 10 oldest family businesses, our family has been doing what we do for a long time. We often say that the one constant we have seen over the last nearly 160 years is change. Every family that come to use our services we treat individually. There is no “cookie cutter” approach.

State Funeral for Former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen.

State Funeral for Former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen.

Funerals have historically evolved from practical considerations. There are more cremations in Hong Kong than burials, for example, because land is so expensive. Jewish and Islamic funerals share similarities because they came out of countries with a hot climate and therefore became accustomed to burying the deceased quickly.

As Australian families become less involved with organised religion, there is more uncertainty about what to do at the time of death. The rituals that religion provides have evolved over centuries to assist those left behind to cope with grief. We find that we are now working with families to create new rituals that provide those similar benefits.

Rituals are important.

There’s a trend towards “celebrating” the life, in part because of some aggressive marketing by some funeral directors. I instead prefer to look at it as “honouring” the life. It’s OK to cry, to be sad, to miss the person who’s died, whilst still smiling when you remember how grandma always burnt the scones. There’s a push towards convenience ahead of responding appropriately to death and grief. People don’t like feeling “bad” and repel against it.

Social Media has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our life, whether it’s a latest product launch, social debate, Spring rising of the middle east, how have you seen this effect your industry?           

We were one of the first funeral directors in Australia to provide online memorials, about 10 years ago. We thought families may wish to set up a memorial page with photos, videos, and comments. Some do, but we find many use their regular social media to share these rather than a separate memorial. The most visited section of our website is our Upcoming Funerals section and we know how many families sign the online guestbook, share the information and maps of when and where the funeral is. Often where families are spread around Australia or the world, we can webcast the service for them.

We saw an unusual trend in the United States about 12 months ago of “funeral selfies” where people would take a photo of themselves at a funeral, often with the casket in the background, then tweet it or post on Facebook. When Rowan Atkinson did exactly that in his Mr Bean – the Funeral sketch, we saw the trend drop off!


When it comes to departing this mortal coil – what advice have you would you give your 16 year old self?
I’ve grown up with the funeral industry around me, so I’ve always been exposed to it. I think what’s important is that funerals are really for those left behind, so for those people wanting to pre-arrange it to the nth degree before their death, it’s probably not necessary. Let those left behind make some decisions because it will help them get through it. It’s also healthy to talk about death and funerals in advance.


How long have you been a part of the Rotary Club, how did you become involved and how can people join.

I’ve been a member of my local Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Glen Eira, for over 13 years. Quite simply I had a phone call one day inviting me along to see what they do.
Essentially we are there to “do good” in the community and beyond, to use our skills to help others. And we have a lot of fun doing it. There are over 30,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide, so for people who are interested, they just need to find out where their local club is and they are more than welcome to come along to a meeting to see what it’s all about.
It feels good to do good.

The Rotary Club sponsored surgery on Failyne.

The Rotary Club sponsored surgery on Failyne.

Your role with the Rotary Club is exemplary and community involvement often under rated. I find tabloid headlines and main stream media overlooking the good that is done locally and internationally by the Rotary Club. What are the proudest moment(s) you’ve been involved with?

You’re spot on Colin that in our tabloid world it’s easier to focus on the bad and the shocking than the plenty of good that is being done in the world.
I remember taking my then six year old son Harry out to Monash Hospital to meet Failyne, a four year old girl that Rotary had brought over from a remote island of Vanuatu. In her first night in Melbourne she slept on top of the bed because she had never used sheets before and didn’t know what they were. With Rotary’s support, she underwent about half a dozen operations to remove a tumour the size of an orange behind her eyes that was turning her blind and impacting her brain.
Rotary’s engagement and networking enabled teams of 15 of the best plastic surgeons and neurosurgeons in Melbourne create a better life for her.

At a more local level and being a junior football coach, I was also proud when our club established a Sports Scholarship scheme to enable those families who could not afford to participate be able to play junior sport. We have now given multiple scholarships across sports including netball, cricket, footy, soccer and athletics. We also established a fun run at Caulfield Racecourse that raised $100,000 in two years for local community organisations and projects. That felt good!!


For more information about Rotary Glen Eira and Nelson Bros.