Cliff McHardy's ashes return to Tenterfield

He wasn't born here, he didn't die here, but the impact he had on the district's young people of the time lives on long after his departure. Cliff McHardy's ties to Tenterfield remained so strong that it was his wish that his ashes be returned to Tenterfield soil, and that happened in a moving memorial service on Easter Monday.

Cliff was posted to Tenterfield as a detective in 1952, and then set about creating diversions for young people to keep them out of trouble through the pursuit of sport. He established an athletics club and was a very instrumental in getting a struggling Tigers Rugby League Club back on its feet, with both clubs using the Tenterfield Showground as their training and playing field.

That's why mourners gathered in the main ring to remember a man who had left such a lasting impression. Shirley and Rosemary Morris were among the founding members of the athletics club, and on behalf of both sisters Shirley read aloud a letter they had sent to Cliff, sadly too close to his death 18 months ago for him to read.

Shirley recalled his impact on their lives, making them feel special and always treating young athletes with kindness and respect.

"At the end of the day, we realised you were the special one," she said.

Thanks to Cliff she said they many happy, exciting and rewarding years in the athletics arena.

"You were not only a great coach but a great person," she said, "always on the sideline, cheering us on."

John Munro was also in the athletics club and ultimately appreciated Cliff's efforts to develop his young charges by handicapping them in races to make them try harder, although that appreciation may not have been evident at the time.

John and Cliff went on to develop a lifelong friendship, often revolving around horse racing tips. John said Cliff could always come up with a winner, but his picks may number more than the runners in the field.

Cliff's wife Colleen (nee Kelly) was a Tenterfield girl. She was named Miss New England in the late 1950's thanks largely to Cliff's way with words, acting as her PR officer. The two went on to marry in 1962 and had Ann-Maree, Karen and Peter. They all returned for the memorial, along with Karen's children Lucia and Oliver and Peter's daughter Ayla. Two more grandchildren, Ann-Maree's Wade and Jessie, tuned in from Sydney via social media.

Ann-Maree said she could feel her father around the gathering, although the process of saying good-bye now felt very final as his ashes were returned to his beloved Tenterfield. She said her father was an advocate of athleticism all his life, although sadly none of his three children lived up to his athletic expectations.

Peter described his father as 'a mountain of a man and 'a pretty cool bloke', and kicked a football across the showground in honour of the man who had done the same thing so many times, so many years before.

Karen recalled how her father had always urged them to remain in contact with friends, and his thoughtfulness to others extended to the very end. When she arrived at a hospital during one of Cliff's stints in the emergency department close to the end, she was immediately despatched on multiple errands to meet the needs of other patients in the ward that Cliff was looking out for.

"He was typical Cliffy, right to the end," she said.

In his recollections for A history of rugby league in Tenterfield, Cliff said the best years of his life in rugby league were played in the eight seasons he performed in Tenterfield.

"Tenterfield, for its size, has been a great survivor in rugby league and in many other sports," he wrote.

"It has been a credit to those responsible for the running of the various sports for this success and has certainly contributed much to the town."

Despite his deflection much of that credit, of course belonged to him.

After the gathering at the showground, the group moved onto the new Memorial Rose Garden at Tenterfield Cemetery to bury Cliff's ashes. Ann-Maree said all three of Cliff's children learned to dance by standing on his feet, so the memorial concluded with a rendition of Could I have this dance for the rest of my life, before a small wake at the Tenterfield Golf Club.

Here up some highlights from the event...