FORMER Newcastle state MP Bryce Gaudry was farewelled in a moving two-hour service at Newcastle City Hall yesterday afternoon attended by about 400 people.
A smiling image of Bryce beamed down from the stage throughout the ceremony, which opened with didgeridoo player Perry Fuller playing an evocative piece called Yidaki, at one point mimicking the sounds of kangaroos thumping their way on a journey: in Bryce's case, to whatever afterlife was awaiting him.
Although he had been unable to find documentary proof of his family's apparent Aboriginal side, Bryce was embraced by the Indigenous community, as Fuller's didgeridoo playing and an emotional contribution from leading Indigenous identity Ray Kelly showed.
Bryce's widow Barbara gave the main eulogy, recounting his progress from a humble upbringing in the bush at Kendall near Taree, through their teaching careers in Sydney and Newcastle and on to his election to parliament in 1991.
She said she wanted to tell people about the other sides of her husband, saying: "The reality if you are a politician is that your life is that which is presented in the media, and that isn't necessarily what the person is."
Describing Bryce's life in and out of politics, Barbara said her husband had always been motivated to do what was right for the community ahead of anything else.
That determination continued to the end, after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and through its treatment by surgery and the eventual discovery of metastases in the lungs, which was what took his life last Friday.
Barbara said Bryce's values of "honesty, integrity and fairness" came mostly from his grandmother, who raised him after he was "agisted out" to her to get away from "the alcoholic violence" of his father.
But his father was also a strong trade unionist, and Bryce also imbibed the social justice teachings of a Catholic upbringing.
Bryce walked away from the church as a young man.
To much laughter, Barbara told the service that it "wasn't me who brought him undone", but they were newly married and when Bryce asked about using birth control, the priest said "no".
"He never went back to the church," Barbara said.
Daughters Justine and Brooke also reflected on their father and his influence on them and others, while Brooke's daughter Hannah - one of four Gaudry grandchildren - was tearful as she spoke of her "grandpa".
Barbara said Bryce's determination to follow his own moral compass cost him progression within the ALP, which was why he decided to stand as an Independent candidate at the 2006 election after he was pushed aside by head office.
He was always motivated by working for, consulting with and standing up for his communityBarbara Gaudry on husband Bryce
Ray Kelly spoke movingly of a man he described as "a brother, because that's how he embraced me".
He talked about marching together during NAIDOC week, and how he had met "so many wonderful people in Newcastle" after escaping from an Armidale life of "division, exclusion, fear and anger that made me feel ashamed".
After recounting a story about two journeying brothers, Kelly finished by singing an Indigenous language song from Goori Dooki, a play he co-wrote about an Indigenous man helping his grandson, which premiered this year at the Civic Playhouse.
State Labor member for Newcastle, Tim Crakanthorp, said Bryce was a mentor and father figure and someone he would turn to in times of difficulty.
"Bryce was a community unto himself, someone people gravitated to when they need assistance or a friendly word," Crakanthorp said.
He recounted how Bryce held his seat for almost 16 years through four successive terms.
While a number of Bryce's stances "did not improve his career prospects" with the ALP leadership of the time, "his large political margins demonstrated his popularity within his electorate".
"His exit from the position, and subsequently the party, wasn't pretty," Crakanthorp said.
But the mass resignations of ALP branch members showed the regard he was held in.
That regard was on show at the service, with a number of past and present Labor representatives paying their respects, including Sharon Grierson, John Manning, Nuatali Nelmes, Jodie Harrison, Peter and Allan Morris, Kay Fraser, John Price, Bob Martin, John Mills Kim Yeadon, Gerard Martin, Paul Crittenden and Peter Primrose.
Crakanthorp said two of Bryce's greatest legacies were the Worimi National Park at Stockton and the Green Corridor from the Watagans to the coast.
He described how walking along Beaumont Street, "every second person" would stop to talk to him, either to ask him to fix something, or to pass on a message to Barbara - a Newcastle Labor councillor for eight years - about a local government matter.
"Because above else, Bryce was approachable," Crakanthorp said.
"No matter who you were or where you came from, he always gave you his time and made you feel important.
"He was a true community, a man of the people."
With Barbara having spoken of Bryce's love of literature and the arts, Crakanthorp summed the situation for many by quoting from the "to thine own self be true" speech of Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet.
"Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
This above all - to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
Among all of the speeches, this was also a musical funeral.
Perry Fuller's opening on the didge' was followed by a classic piece of '60s pop, Procul Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale.
A slide show of Bryce's life played its way from infancy to his last days of palliative care at home, with a predominance of family and social occasions giving weight to Barbara's emphasis on life outside of politics.
These images were shown to the sounds of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, the 1939 Wizard of Oz number that became the signature tune of Eva Cassidy, an American singer who died from melanoma at the age of 33 in 1996, with most of her fame coming posthumously.
This was followed by another '60s hit, He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, by The Hollies.
Earlier, Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face gave time for reflection, while Gaudry family friend Lauren O'Brien sang the 23rd Psalm, accompanied by Capree Gaul on piano.