March 6, 2019
The St John the Baptist Catholic Church – and the surrounding verandah – were packed to overflowing in Wondai on Monday at a Requiem Mass for well-known South Burnett resident, Mick Duff.
Mick died, age 87, on February 27.
He lived all his life at ‘DiDi’ station at Boondooma, the property that was selected in 1916 by his father, former Wondai Shire councillor John Patrick Duff.
Mick married Lorna Sippel in 1959.
The couple had five children, including current South Burnett Deputy Mayor Kathy Duff and former Wondai Shire councillor Michael Duff.
Granddaughter Bridget O’Shannessy sang “Danny Boy” as a moving farewell at the end of the Mass.
This is an edited version of the eulogy read at Mick’s funeral:
Michael Gavan Duff was born in the Wondai Hospital on October 13, 1931.
His parents were John Patrick (“JP”) Duff from ‘Duffield’ and English-born Dorothy Ruth (Billie) Mortimer Evans.
He had an Irish father and an English mother, although he always identified more with his Irish underdog heritage.
When Mick was born, Boondooma Creek was in flood so his mother went across the water in a flying fox on her way to the hospital.
Mick grew up at ‘DiDi’ with his parents and brothers Paddy and Terry and sisters Noelle, Clare and Dorothy. His only education was by correspondence to Grade 7 with governesses – Kitty Smith and Phil Bourne.
He disliked school although he told the story that he and Paddy topped the State in correspondence by copying the answers from the back of the exam book, with the odd incorrect answer included so that no one realised what they were up to.
JP, Mick and his brothers did dam sinking and numerous droving trips. One one trip, when Mick was aged 10 and Paddy 11, they drove 600 steers to the NSW border. The droving was to earn extra money so they could buy other properties in the area. They gradually purchased ‘Byanda’, ‘Tralee’, ‘Delger’ and ‘Stockyard’. They ran all Hereford cattle. In later years, Mick introduced Poll Hereford bulls and worked the cattle with kelpies.
Mick learned to ride horses at ‘DiDi’. His father had his sons trained in boxing and later they learned to play tennis when an ant bed court was built on the property.
Mick was a very capable sportsman.
As a 15-year-old in the space of one week he achieved the following: on Saturday he was second in the Novice and won the Open campdraft at Sunday Creek, near Hivesville. The next morning he got a lift with a neighbour, Laurie Wickhurst, to Kingaroy where at 9:00am he played and defeated Roy Emerson in the final of the Under 16 tennis championships. On the Wednesday, he got a lift to Brisbane in the back of a ute and that night he outpointed Brian Brelsford in the paperweight division at Festival Hall. On the Saturday night, he scored a second round TKO over Alan Porter in the final to win the Queensland Metropolitan Boxing Championship.
In his late teens, Mick had a very bad fall at the Gayndah Campdraft, fracturing his skull. He was lucky to survive and the injury meant, for medical reasons, he was no longer allowed to box. This was very hard for him as he loved boxing, although he would still occasionally sneak a fight in the boxing tents at shows.
He still played tennis and won the Queensland Country Week Championships with Len Reinke, from Wondai.
During his 20s – and for the decades that followed – Mick spent most of his time as the driving force in the family company, travelling from property to property, camping out, mustering, dipping and branding, and doing all the work required to develop the properties.
In his late 20s, he met Lorna Joyce Sippel who was the theatre sister at the Kingaroy General Hospital. They married on December 5, 1959.
Lorna’s father Fred Sippel was against the wedding as he was a Baptist lay preacher and didn’t want his his daughter marrying a “drunken, brawling, poddy dodging Catholic”. Mick later became very good friends with Fred who even spent his last years at ‘DiDi’.
Lorna, known as “Sip”. was the love of Mick’s life and he often said that he never recovered from her early death in 2001. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 1999.
Mick was also training race horses around this time and won a number of major local races including the Gayndah Kent Memorial, the Dalby Newmarket Handicap and the Gympie Cup in 1964 with Sumarco, who also broke the track record.
His colours were all emerald green with a pink maltese cross.
Mick and Sip had five children – Stephen, Kathy, Susan, Toni and Michael – and when they came along he gave up his own interests and devoted his time their development.
He took them to pony clubs, shows, campdrafts, tennis tournaments and dances, as well as continuing to run the properties.
Many people who only knew Mick in his later life may have thought him to be a quiet person who never said very much. As he grew older he was having health issues and trouble hearing, and he would often sit back listening to his children and grandchildren’s stories rather than tell his own.
He actually had a fantastic sense of humour and in his prime could have visitors rolling around in hysterics with his stories and dry, deadpan take on events of the day.
He also had a lot of humorous theories on various subjects including the criteria for prospective sons-in-law, being that they must be under six foot, able to play 500, back a trailer and dance the Pride Of Erin.
Mick was a devout Catholic and he raised his children as Catholics.
He prayed beside his bed every night and attended Mass in Durong all his life.
Priests and bishops often visited ‘DiDi’.
On his death bed his last request was for a cross at the end of his bed and a set of rosary beads.
He lived the life of the good Samaritan and would help anyone in need.
A group of criminals could have broken down at 2:00am and Mick would help them, give them fuel, food, a bed or whatever else they needed.
He never locked the house or a gate in his entire life.
People would call in at ‘DiD’i to borrow vehicles or fuel, leave money and hand-written notes, yet nothing was ever stolen.
Mick was the local fire warden at Waringa for more than 25 years and received a State award.
He was also old-fashioned and preferred a crow bar and shovel to a posthole digger; a horse to a motorbike; and he was not interested in anything mechanical.
One day the a Bedford truck had a fuel blockage and he was forced to fix it.
He was hack-sawing a fuel pipe when the fuel tank exploded. Mick and the truck both caught on fire.
After the family put out the fire on Mick by rolling him in the damp grass, they raced to the burning truck as it was slowly moving towards the vehicle sheds.
At that point, bullets in the glovebox started going off. They had to let it burn.
When Mick traded it in on an Acco in Toowoomba the salesman asked what sort of condition the Bedford was in for the trade.
“Oh, it’s not too bad – it’s only had a light fire through it,” Mick told him.
Mick also liked poetry, Irish music, Slim Dusty and he played the mouth organ.
He never travelled the world, but the world came to him as he turned his home into a welcoming place that people from everywhere enjoyed visiting.
Mick suffered numerous health challenges in his later life which he fought off one by one.
He had diabetes, cancer, a triple bypass and both legs amputated, yet he survived every operation and at no stage did he complain, doubt his strong faith or ever lose the will to live.
Mick died in Kingaroy Hospital in the early hours of February 27 with his family by his side.
It was a fitting place for him to be.
It was where he had courted “the lovely Sister Sippel” and where his five children had been born.