The funeral for Hans Nico Battaerd was attended by many friends and family and saw a guard of honour formed by the local cycle club and fire fighters.
The funeral for Hans Nico Battaerd was attended by many friends and family and saw a guard of honour formed by the local cycle club and fire fighters. Marc Stapelberg

Funeral for 'very special' leader and hero

PEOPLE wept and friends and family embraced each other as they joined former colleagues and mates to share stories, tears and laughter at the funeral of Hans Battaerd in Ballina yesterday.

Mr Battaerd, 59, of Tintenbar, died in a tragic cycling accident on November 23 when he was struck by a motorist while on a training ride in Ballina.

He left behind his wife Cheryl, adult sons Nick and Lex, and an extended family in Australia and New Zealand still stunned by the loss of a husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and mentor.

Yet his son Nick, speaking at his funeral service, said the family were not after vengeance.

"It would be easy to feel anger at the other driver, (but) we have no animosity,” he said.

"He and his family are going through their own hell this week.”

Mark Knoffler's Brothers in Arms played softly as people made their way into the service.

It was an apt choice as his own brothers, former workmates and cycling buddies recalled him as someone whose enthusiasm was infectious, someone who would always be there for you to offer an encouraging word, a joke and a helping hand.

Mr Battaerd's brother Pietr, 61, recalled their close bonds growing up in New Zealand after their father died when they were just kids.

"Dad died when I was 13, Hans was 12 and the twins Jan and Wim were nine; we all stuck together and there was a saying, 'don't mess with the Battaerds',” he said.

"Hans I and were roomies, bunkmates, he was my wingman and I will miss him so much.”

His brother Jan, 57, said Hans was someone very special.

"You all know that too,” he told the assembly.

"This is why you are all here.”

Jan said his family had planned to visit later in the month to celebrate his 60th birthday.

"We are all here, but we are one solider down,” he said.

Wim said his brother was very modest and, despite winning numerous triathlons and medals, Hans was renowned for his humble approach.

Former colleagues, many in uniform, also shared their stories of a man whom they said during his 28 years service was a complete professional, someone you could depend upon.

They said Mr Battaerd, a retired senior firefighter, formerly of Wollongong Communications, Wollongong and Bulli Fire Stations, received two commendations, one for his work on the 1997 Thredbo disaster.

Station officer Craig Wier, who worked with Hans at Bulli, said he was a leader and a hero.

"When you walked into a fire station where he worked, you noticed the difference,” he said.

"Everyone was happy, everyone was laughing, every day was different and every shift held a surprise.”

Fellow cyclist, the Reverend Richard Brown, conducted the service and said he could recall Hans overtaking him like the wind when they were cycling at an event.

He closed the service with a special blessing.

"May your path have less traffic, without punctures. May the wind be at your back, and the hills be gentle to you. May the smiles of new riders greet you and the road be always smooth,” he said.

Finally, an honour guard of cyclists and fire-fighters formed as around 100 family and friends stood in the strong sunshine.

As a mark of respect, a peleton comprising his friends from the Ballina Masters Cycling Club led the hearse for a short distance while a NSW Fire and Rescue truck followed, as Mr Battaerd was taken on his final journey.

A separate celebration was organised by the Illawarra Triathlon Club and was attended by friends and fire fighters in Wollongong at the same time as the Ballina service.

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