Surfers gather on the beach at Broken Head last Friday before a paddle out in honour of their mate Ben Donohoe.
Surfers gather on the beach at Broken Head last Friday before a paddle out in honour of their mate Ben Donohoe. Gary Chigwidden

A town says 'goodbye'

‘A bubble of constant fun’, ‘the extra dollop’, ‘the surprise package’, ‘the best mate’.

That’s how family and friends described Ben Donohoe at an emotionally-packed funeral service in Byron Bay on Friday.

In a fitting tribute to Ben, 20, tragically killed when the car in which he was a passenger struck a tree in Byron Bay on July 18, more than 500 people attended the service at the Byron Bay Rugby League Ground.

Under a red marquee and with light rain falling, the huge crowd gathered around Ben’s cardboard coffin which was adorned with messages and photographs from family and friends as well as a ‘Brandon Street’ sign – a reference to where Ben lived in Suffolk Park.

Ben’s friend, the 24-year-old passenger who was injured in the car crash, left hospital for the day to attend the funeral in a wheelchair.

Reverend Jonathon Woods from the Byron Bay Presbyterian Church said Ben, known affectionately as ‘Donny’, had a quick wit and a grin.

Holding back tears, Ben’s eldest brother Tom said Ben’s death had been extremely hard on the family and on his siblings, Matt and Ebony.

He said Benny was the cool, fun kid who surfed with his brothers, played footy and partied.

“But Ben was better at all those things, he was a talented little bastard,” Tom said.

“He took to the ocean like a fish, he was a legend on the football field, but most of all he was a brother and a best mate.

“While Ben didn’t get to see his 21st birthday, he packed more into his 20 years than most people pack into a lifetime and he was blessed with talent, personality and good looks.”

Tom said one of the finest memories he had of his brother was when Ben was just 14 and surfing Uluwatu (Bali).

“He took off on his first wave and then paddled back out to me with the biggest smile on his face,” he said.

“I was 21 and somehow we convinced mum to leave us in Bali when she went home.

“So I took him out to the nightclubs in Kuta and I think that’s where he learnt to party.”

Ben’s mother Yvonne thanked everyone for the love and support they had shown the family since Ben’s death.

“Bringing Ben into the world was a breeze, but the hardest thing I will ever do is let him leave,” she said.

“Not even a mother’s love and prayers could stop him from going.

“Ben’s death is devastating but he died in a town he loved, and we must accept this is a tragedy we cannot reverse.

“He wasn’t a legend, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a fine young man.”

Yvonne said there were no cautionary tales to be learnt from the accident.

Ben’s stepfather Mick Gooley reminded everyone to always wear their seatbelts, to not drink and drive and to ‘put the garbage out’, something Ben never did.

In a heart-wrenching tribute to his best mate and neighbour, Nick Colbey, who travelled back to Byron Bay for the funeral from Europe, regaled the crowd with tales of Ben playfully terrorising his mates on the way home from school, to his charm and good looks.

“We had our own weird language and we had so many fun times,” Nick said.

 “You are my hero and I will always look up to you and I would give anything not to be standing next to your coffin.”

In a beautiful reflection on her first love, Ben’s former girlfriend Emma Nicholls, who also cut short an overseas trip to be at the funeral, said Ben was a bubble of constant fun and the first boy she had ever loved.

“He was the extra dollop to everyone who knew him,” she said.

The funeral concluded with Ben’s friend and 2009 Australian Idol winner Stan Walker performing a cover of Leonard Cohen’s emotional song ‘Hallelujah’.

The massive crowd then formed a guard of honour as Ben’s coffin was carried across the ground to the hearse, and members of the Byron Bay Red Devils Rugby League Club formed another guard of honour as the hearse left the ground.

Earlier in the day, more than 400 grieving locals attended a paddle-out for Ben at Broken Head.

Organised by the Byron Bay Boardriders, of which Ben was a member, surfers paddled out behind the break where they formed a large circle, joining hands before they threw flowers into the ocean.

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