Ned's last stand caps a long line of farewells

LIVE COVERAGE: Ned Kelly's funeral from midday today.

I DOUBT if I will ever go to a funeral more bizarre than the one to be held for Ned Kelly today.

When I was a child, it was rare for children of school age to attend funerals and I was at least 21 before I attended one.

That, of course, was fortunate, because I hadn’t lost a close relative or friend except three grandparents.

I was only seven, nine and 12 when they died in Wales and my parents didn’t think of taking me — it simply wasn’t the Welsh way of death in the 1950s.

Indeed, many funerals were specified “gentlemen only”, for reasons I could never fathom.

Perhaps people saw that the women’s place was making sandwiches for the mourners when they returned — I don’t know.

My first funeral attended by lots of children was in Albury when a member of the famous Ashton circus family died.

He had worked with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the circus kids followed a showbiz tradition of sprinkling sawdust and glitter on the coffin as it was lowered to the grave at Glenmorus Gardens.

About the same time, 25 years ago, the Catholic Church at Rutherglen hosted a funeral of a popular police officer.

Not only did the Victoria Police Pipe Band attend, but so did a famous police drum horse, Gendarme.

When Elyne Mitchell died at Corryong in 2002, her little pony, Thowla, was brought in to lead the cortege.

However, when the mourners reached the cemetery, all eyes were on the author’s border collie, Millie.

As we approached the grave, Millie seemed to sense she’d lost her best friend and made her last farewell.

Several funerals have been held on the Border where the deceased left on something other than a hearse.

On one occasion in Wodonga, a truckie departed for the cemetery on a prime mover.

I’ve seen a bikie’s funeral when the coffin was placed on a motorcycle sidecar.

In 2008, when former Albury mayor and Wodonga commissioner Mel Read died, his coffin was placed in a hearse but four Harley-Davidson motorcycles led the way, honouring Mr Read’s love of riding bikes even in his 70s.

The same year, a model Melbourne tram and an army chaplain’s Vietnam medals were placed on the coffin of Canon Lewis Nyman at Holy Trinity Cathedral at Wangaratta.

This was also an unusual funeral in that 15 priests and 400 mourners heard Bishop David Farrer described Canon Nyman as “eccentric” — but a lovable eccentric — and there were jokes about his love for trains and trams.

Also in 2008, The Border Mail made a fitting tribute to its much-loved editor, Cameron Thompson, by handing 600 mourners a newspaper-style pictorial souvenir of his life of 38 years.

That was the funeral, I think, I least liked reporting.

Ned Kelly's comes, one might say, 132 years overdue, having been denied one in November, 1880.

But there was a kind of parallel when the Unknown Australian Soldier was laid to rest at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 1993, 75 years after World War I.

True, he had been buried near Villers-Bretonneux in France but came home to represent all our nation’s 100,000 war dead, honoured that day by thousands of veterans and serving personnel.

It was a privilege to be there with our chief photographer, the late Alex Massey.

With uncanny luck, Alex pictured the coffin carrying a soldier’s slouch hat just as a ray of sunlight fell on it.

No funeral director could have arranged the moment so well.