AT the age when most young girls were playing with dolls or climbing a tree, Ellese Templeton was visiting cemeteries and reading headstones.
Despite never attending a funeral as a child, or even knowing anyone who had died, Ms Templeton developed a fascination with death and the funeral industry from about six years old.
It's a passion she has never been able to explain, but the 28 year old from Ferntree Gully now has her own funeral business — Templeton Family Funerals — and has been nominated for a Telstra Young Business Women's Award.
She'll find out tomorrow whether she's taken out the gong, but she said even being nominated was an honour — "getting to do what I love is my prize".
When she finished school, Ms Templeton got a job at the Royal Hotel in Ferntree Gully and it was there she saw a 'transfer job' advertised.
"It turned out to be a coroner's pick-up job. So I picked up the bodies of people involved in murders, suicides and car accidents and took them back to the funeral home."
That was the start she needed, and after several years she decided to branch out and established her own company.
"My mentor said I had such a passion and drive for it, and that I was good at it, so I went for it."
At 23, Ms Templeton didn't have a car, phone or computer — but she did have the support of her family.
"My mum and grandma said they believed in me so mum gave me $6000 for a small car and my grandma gave me some money for a computer," she said.
Since then, the business has "grown and grown and grown". She bought her first premises in Dandenong at the end of last year and her own hearse before that.
Ms Templeton believes she is one of the youngest — if not the youngest — funeral owner/directors in Australia and aims to keep her business "boutique".
After each funeral, she makes a donation to a charity that the deceased person was passionate about. Some of the recipients have included the RSPCA, Lost Dogs Home and tennis clubs and fire brigades
She also spends plenty of time with the family to ensure the funerals aren't a traditional "old-fashioned" affair and have plenty of personal touches.
"We were talking with a young girl who had cancer and she said she loves bright colours and heels. So at her funeral, everyone will wear bright- coloured heels."
Ms Templeton said she often bump-ed into primary school teachers who were never surprised to hear about where she ended up.
"I've just always intrigued by the death industry."
The winner of the Victorian award will be announced tomorrow.