Macksville remembers star allrounder

Locals say there are only two sports in Macksville – cricket and rugby league.


“And maybe a bit of surf life saving,” said Mark McPherson, born and raised in the small town on the NSW mid north coast.

When they weren’t playing, most were working the cattle or banana farms, or at the old abattoir, known simply as Midco before it closed.

Humble Macksville folk don’t know much else.

But they all know each other – and they all knew and loved Phillip Hughes.

That’s why the whole of Macksville – and most of the country, to be fair – stopped on Wednesday.

Macksville stopped to line the streets and say goodbye to Hughes, who tragically died last Thursday, two days after being fatally struck by a bouncer at the SCG and three days before his 26th birthday.

More than 300 from the world’s cricket community, including the entire Australian Test squad and Australian captain and pallbearer Michael Clarke, descended on Macksville for the biggest funeral in town in 50 years.

In total, some 5000 mourners, also including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, gathered to pay their last respects.

Hundreds from the media came too.

Getty Images had eight photographers in attendance, only a couple less than they supplied for soccer’s World Cup final.

“This place hasn’t seen anything like it since Frank Partridge was buried here in March of 1964,” former Macksville Primary and Macksville High School captain Darrell Wallbridge told AAP.

“And it’ll never see anything like it again – ever.”

Partridge, later of Pick a Box TV quiz show fame, was Australia’s youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross, awarded for his gallantry during the Bougainville campaign in World War II.

Many are too young to remember Frank Partridge VC.

But few in Macksville will ever forget Phillip Joel Hughes.

“He was a hero, an inspiration to everyone young and old,” McPherson said.

“Phil wasn’t just a great talent, but a typical genuine country kid with a great spirit.”

While most Australians knew him as the Test cricketer, others in his home town remember Hughes fondly as a budding rugby league star.

Twenty two months younger than Kangaroos superstar Greg Inglis, Hughes grew up with the area’s other most famous sporting export.

He and older brother Jason – who won two Group 2 rugby league premierships with Macksville before the age of 18 – both played with Inglis in the juniors.

Hughes’ cousin Nino Rammuno, who delivered a heartfelt eulogy on Wednesday, is a local legend who played with Inglis’s father in Macksville’s famous 1995 grand final triumph over Coffs Harbour.

“I first refereed Phil as a kid,” said Wallbridge, an official still to this day in Group 2.

“He wasn’t very big, but he could play. He had a lot of potential.”

A nuggety lock or halfback, Hughes gave the game away after hurting his ankle in the under-18s.

Cricket and rugby league, there were no other sports in Macksville, as they say, and Phillip Hughes was good enough to play both.

And there were no greater sportsmen from Macksville than Hughes and Inglis.

But now one has been lost – and many in Macksville are lost too.

“It’s very sad,” McPherson said.

“Everyone will miss him. They already do.”