Give it a rest, Graeme
Most of us will get one ride in a hearse. Few of us would be looking forward to it. But Graeme Lemin can’t get enough of riding in hearses. His passion for these coach-built creations is so strong, he has a fleet of five at his home on the Bellarine Peninsula. And they’re just the keepers, because there have been another 20 or so that have passed through his hands over the past four decades.
As a teenager, Graeme wasn’t the least bit interested in cars, let alone hearses, but circumstances forced his hand.
“As an 18-year-old, I was in a band and needed to cart around all the band gear,” he recalls. “I nearly bought a (Volkswagen) Kombi, but then I spotted a hearse. From there, I just got interested in the history of the whole thing. That’s when I found people were buying old hearses and chopping them up as parts for restoring ‘ordinary’ old cars. I said to myself, ‘This is crazy.’ Something had to be done. It became a rescue mission I guess.”
So Graeme began buying decommissioned hearses. He has turned some over to new owners but the hearse that started it all for him still sits in a corner of his shed. These days, the 1952 Ford is looking a little worse for its decade on the road as Graeme’s daily driver (not to mention the next 30 years in storage) but it’s clearly a car with lots of memories for Graeme.
And he’s not the least bit creeped out by the vehicle’s working past. In fact, none of his family are, having grown up with Graeme’s passion as simply part of life.
“Have I slept in it? Oh yeah. And I’ve never had anybody bashing on the window next morning to see if I was alive.”
But not everybody is as – dare we say – chilled out about the fact that it’s a hearse we’re talking about. “When we were using it to transport the band gear, a mate and I loved stopping for hitch-hikers, and telling them they’d have to ride in the back. ‘No thanks,’ they’d say. ‘We’ll keep walking.’ ”
These days, Graeme is respectful of the role hearses play in life (and death) and is cautious not to let his passion be seen as some kind of dark obsession.
“I don’t have the ‘R U Next’ numberplates on any of them, and I don’t have coffins in the back,” he says. “My interest in them is anything but ghoulish and I’m not into the macabre. I like them because they’re different. They’re hand-built cars. Nowadays, I think carefully about where I park them … out of respect.”
The rest of the Lemin hearse collection spans the years and includes a Packard, a Mercury, a second-hand Fairlane and even a Cadillac Coupe de Ville-based example. And while they’re in various states of repair, they all have a thousand stories to tell. Even if, in every case, it’s the last chapter of that story.