MACKSVILLE, Australia: Cricket bats stood silent sentry outside schools and homes, many adorned with messages for their favourite son, as the small Australian town of Macksville came to a standstill Wednesday for the funeral of Phillip Hughes.
Green and gold ribbons marked the streets and shop fronts were taken over by moving tributes to the cricketer who died last week after being hit by a bouncer while playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“It’s devastated,” said local resident Tanieka Stewart when asked to describe the northern New South Wales town with a population of 2,500 where Hughes grew up.
They had watched Hughes rise from a junior player to the national team and now were playing host to a funeral to be televised live and attended by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“The whole town stopped,” Stewart added of the moment that news came through last Thursday that Hughes had died, two days after being struck by the ball at the base of his skull in a domestic game.
“I was working and the whole town just stopped. We were all hoping that he would pull through.”
The funeral on Wednesday, attended by the Australian team and former stars such as Shane Warne, Brian Lara and Richard Hadlee, was expected to double the town’s population in an unprecedented event for the community.
At Hughes’s old primary school, St Patrick’s, dozens of bats lined the front fence, many bearing messages remembering the hugely popular 25-year-old.
“You will always be a part of Macksville’s family and forever in everyone’s hearts… you are a true inspiration and hero to all the kids in the Nambucca Valley,” read one.