Family and friends carry Ben Donohoe’s casket through a guard-of-honour.
Family and friends carry Ben Donohoe’s casket through a guard-of-honour. Jerad Williams

Farewell to a fine young man

BYRON BAY was in mourning yesterday as hundreds of friends andfamily gathered to say a final goodbye to a local ‘hero’, an ‘awesome bloke’, and a ‘fine young man’.

Twenty-year-old Ben Donohoe was killed in Byron Bay on Sunday when the car in which he was apassenger struck a tree on Bangalow Road.

It was a long, emotional day yesterday for those who knew the popular Byron Bay local, with a paddle out in the morning and the funeral in the afternoon.

Among the locals was long-time friend and last year’s Australian Idol winner Stan Walker who performed a cover of Leonard Cohen’s heart-wrenching song Hallelujah to an emotional crowd of almost 500 at Ben’s funeral.

Yesterday morning more than 400 grieving locals packed the beach at Broken Head as a pod of dolphins swam alongside about 200 board-riders who participated in the paddle out that was the ‘perfect send-off for Ben’.

The sun broke through the looming grey clouds just as the board-riders made two lines to form a guard-of-honour, which Ben’s closest friends and family walked through while surrounding friends bellowed ‘Donny’ in respect for their fallen friend.

The boardriders paddled outbehind the break where they formed a large circle, joining hands before they threw flowers into the ocean.

Their yells and whistles were heard from the beach where tears flowed from groups of peoplehuddled together in mourning.

Members of the Byron Bay Board-riders joined the paddle out to pay tribute to one of the club’s keensurfers.

“The biggest thing with Benny was he was respected by everyone,” Byron Bay Boardriders president Bryce Cameron said.

“He was the best person possible. Calm, collected and a lovely-natured person.”

Mr Cameron said the huge turn out was a reflection on Ben’s family who he respected for handling the loss that had been hard on every-body.

Ben had recently moved to the Gold Coast to study sports science at university after graduating fromByron Bay High School in 2007.

Along with being an avid surfer with an ‘awesome style’, Ben was a star player in the Byron Bay RedDevils first grade rugby league team.

The sorrowful atmosphere was replicated at the funeral held at Ben’s home sporting ground, Red Devil Park.

The large crowd stood around a cardboard coffin that had been customised by his mates with messages and photographs as family, friends and his high school sweetheart took turns in telling stories about what made Ben so popular. From playfully terrorising his mates on the way home from school, to overseas surfing trips, to describing his charm and good looks that ‘were always a success for him’.

“Bringing him into this world was a breeze, but letting him go is the hardest thing I’ll ever do,” Ben’s mother, Yvonne, said.

“We must accept this is a tragedy we cannot reverse. He wasn’t alegend, he wasn’t perfect but he was a fine young man.

“This week through all the tears and laughter I can come to know he was a gift to us all.”

His brother, Tom, said: “When Ben died he was 20 years and 152 days old and although he will never see his 21st birthday, he has done more than most people have in 20 years.”

Through tears and an inevitably breaking voice, best friend Nick Colbey said he would give anything to not be standing next to Ben’s coffin.

“It breaks my heart to think of the things you are going to miss out on,” he said.

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.

Despite the tragic loss of her son, Ms Donohoe only had strong words of support for the injured friend.

“When he died, he was with a family friend who he loves and knows. Don’t forget that or think otherwise for a minute. Ben’s death has broken the hearts of many, but my love goes out to his besties.”

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