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In Memory of Coleen Bignell

21 July, 2023

29th March 1949 – 6 July 2023

When Peter Conaghan welcomed the family, friends and parishioners to the funeral service of Coleen, it was impressive as to how many other groups he welcomed as well: a large contingent of Vinnies, the Probus women, Girl Guides and Trefoil, and looking magnificent, a group of ladies in purple dresses with red hats. As the symbols of Coleen’s life were placed on the coffin, Fr Matthew noted even more ways in which Coleen was enmeshed into the life of our community, notably her rosary beads and the pyx with which she took Holy Communion to the sick and house bound. Since the funeral, I have spoken with others in the wider community that mourned her passing. They missed their friend.  As Jesus farewelled his disciples at the Last Supper, he addressed them as friends.

Farewell, Coleen, friend of God, friend of us, friend to so many. Enter into the Joy of your Lord.

Funeral Eulogy given by Leigh Bignell

Snapping Ducks – as mum would say. This sure is a tough one.

But if there is one thing, we all know about Coleen, it is that she had a wicked sense of humour. She loved to laugh, have fun, and hated a fuss. Particularly if it was over her. So today, on behalf of our family, I’m going to do my best to honour mum’s memory. But forgive me Mum if I make a fuss and wobble a few times.

There are many, many things mum loved.
Her husband John,
Every single one of her grandkids,
Us kids
Her faith,
Her friends
Her family
Hugs as tight as you could imagine,
And frogs.

We tried to work out why mum loved frogs so much, and through google, found out there is a tiny frog with a crucifix on its back that lives in an area just south west of Charleville. The first nation people call the area, “Land of the Happy Frog”. So, what a wonderful co-incidence that sums mum up. A happy, holy, social frog from Charleville.

Charleville was a special place to mum. Not only is it where she was born, lived as a child, and went to school, it’s where she found two of her other great loves, our dad John, and Girl Guides.

Mum was born in Charleville in 1949 to Colin and Rose Morris. She was the eldest of six children – four brothers, Ted, Steven, Warren and Greg and a much-loved baby sister, Elissa. When mum was five, the family moved to Mitchell, and she started school at St Patrick’s Convent school. She said she was terrified. She’d never spent any time away from her family and didn’t know what to make of the Sisters of Mercy in their strange clothes. When we were kids, we’d always ask her to tell stories of what it was like at school, the scary nuns, the ink wells, the chants the rival state schools would yell at them, and the bottles of warm, curdled lunch time milk.

Since then, mum hated milk except for a little bit in her coffee. Teaspoon of instant coffee, milk in first, no sugar, and served extra hot if you please.

Her family moved back to Charleville in 1955, and mum attended St Mary’s convent school. She was very bright, so it was no surprise she did well in her Junior Public exam – even scoring a B in shorthand which she absolutely hated. You’ll hear more about this shortly.

A week after completing year 10, mum got straight to work and took a job as a shorthand/typist with a local solicitor, Virgil Power. She quite liked her job, except for that pesky shorthand… so eighteen months later she accepted a new job at the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission. When Virgil Power asked why she was leaving she said it was “5 hours less a week, $3 more, and no SHORTHAND.” His reply was “fair enough”.

That was probably the only time mum ever cared about money. She spent her lifetime helping others with no expectation of anything in return. Money had little value to mum – everything she owned was 50 bucks… meaning you could have it for free.

Some people see something that needs doing and think “someone should fix that, or someone should do something about that”. Well mum knew that she was someone, and she always put her hand up to volunteer. Whenever or wherever, someone needed a hand, there was Coleen – brownies, guides, school tuckshops, sports carnivals, reading grannies, St Vincent De Paul – both in the shop and serving on the conference, the parish council, relay for life, the bus lady, washing footy uniforms, being a Justice of the Peace, and even a stint at meals on wheels.

Well, we have bad news for you mum; we reckon you were paid way, way less than $3 for all the work you did in the community over the years. Mum was an active part of all the communities in which she lived – Roma, Charleville, Blackwater and finally Yeppoon. She cherished the work she did, and she cherished the friendships she made through these and the many social groups she was part of. They filled her heart with joy.

As kids we never felt like we went without. As adults we know that we never went without, because mum and dad often did. Mum’s generosity knew no bounds. mum would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.

Mum was the bravest, most resilient, stoic woman ever born. We would joke that mum’s leg would fall off, and she would simply say “oh never mind, I have another one”.

In 1967, Mum met the love of her life, our dad John. He was a good-looking rooster back then. John was 8 years older than mum and was “very worldly”, having lived out of home of many years. But they fell in love, married in St Mary’s Catholic Church in Charleville, and proved everyone wrong and spent a wonderful 55 years of marriage together.

Of course, they had their ups and downs, but not only were they husband and wife, but they were the best of friends. They understood each other and balanced each other out. They raised three children, Tracey, Matt, and me, Leigh – and we think we turned out half-decent.

When they were first married, mum and dad moved to Roma. Mum often said it was the loneliest of times. Dad worked away all week – coming home only on weekends. And, there was no car, no telephone, no television, and only one radio station. Definitely no internet or wifi. Tracey was one year old, and mum knew nobody in town. But things soon changed, she joined the Guide association, and had me, the first redhead… And mum certainly knew and loved what comes with being a cheeky redhead.

In 1972, we moved to Blackwater, a mining town, and dad didn’t work for the mines. So once again, they knew nobody in town. But mum got to work. She bought an old school building from Blair Athol, got it put on a truck and moved to Blackwater to set up a Girl Guide Hut and create a community of friends. Matt was born in Blackwater, a much-loved son, and a little brother for Tracey and I to torture playing dress-ups.

Mum and dad had many adventures together, they travelled the length and breadth of this country, exploring the dusty outback, the coast, and even the occasional big city! They have a map of Australia in their home marked with all the roads they have travelled on, and it’s an impressive thing to behold. Mum loved those trips, sitting beside dad in the car, listening to Slim Dusty, touring for miles and miles and miles. Which really says something considering mum got car sick!

Our mum found space and patience for everyone. Her massive heart held no judgement. She let everyone simply be themselves – accepting everyone for who they were, what they believed in, and how they lived. She welcomed everyone like a friend, and lit up a room with her smile and presence.

And boy did she love hugs. She would wrap you so tightly with her whole body and would never be the first one to let go.

Mum’s hugs were special. One of mum’s greatest joys in life was being a Nanna – and I think hugging the love out of her grandkids was her favourite thing ever.

Well, our happy little, holy, social frog. We love you to the moon and back, and beyond.

You will be missed.