Clermont’s Centenary Park was filled with friends farewelling the Big Fella.
Clermont’s Centenary Park was filled with friends farewelling the Big Fella.

Big crowd celebrates Big Fella

CHRIS Finnigan and his mate Slim were on their way back from a cricket carnival one year when they stayed at a pub for the night.

Thirsty and weary, they sank a few more beers than they planned and early the next morning, decided to call it a night.

Walking back to their camp site, Slim suddenly disappeared.

“Slim, where are you, mate?” Chris called in the dark.

“I’m over here,” Slim replied.

Chris followed his voice, and the next moment, he was right beside his best mate in the open septic tank behind the pub.

That was just one of the stories fondly remembered by all at Chris “Big Fella” Finnigan’s memorial service in Clermont on Saturday morning.

The sombre skies matched the tear-stained faces of the crowd that made its way to Centenary Park to say a final goodbye.

Chris’s widow, Roni, his son Jake and hundreds of friends stood tall and proud as they farewelled the Big Fella, who died on site at Rio Tinto’s Clermont Mine two weeks ago.

Brad Perrin, the Big Fella’s former colleague and close friend, delivered a moving eulogy that told of a 59-year-old who lived a full life, criss-crossing the nation to go where the work was to be found.

Born in Sydney on February 11, 1952, the second of three children, the Big Fella was a happy baby with a big heart.

Chris was left with permanent eye damage as a result of measles, and as such, found school difficult so he left when he was 14 to be a shelf-packer and apprentice butcher.

For years, he followed that trade before heading offshore to work on a loading facility, before moving to Bribie Island in the late 1980s.

There, his childhood passion for horses was rekindled and he bought an Appaloosa pony which Brad said was so small under the Big Fella, his feet would almost drag along the ground.

After a few years, the Big Fella moved to Canberra and took a job as a butcher again.

It was in Canberra that he met his future wife, Roni, and in 1987, his son Jake was born.

In 1988, the family moved back to Bribie Island for a while before packing up again and heading to New Guinea where Chris worked as a meat importer.

Brad said the 200 or so New Guinea nationals Chris had employed were sad to see him leave.

In 1997, he took a job with Cornett’s IGA in Clermont before he bought the Commercial Hotel a year later.

The transformation of the old pub would gain him the respect of the community and the town, and those in attendance nodded in agreement when Brad said it was arguably the best-run hotel in town.

A sports fanatic, the Big Fella was an avid supporter of local sporting clubs including the Clermont Bears and the Renegades cricket team.

Brad said the Big Fella couldn’t always travel away with the team, but he’d make sure there was an empty chair and a cold beer on tap for when the boys returned so they could give him a blow-by-blow account of the match.

He was the first to hire backpackers to work at the pub which worked well to keep the young lads coming into the pub for a steady customer base, Brad said.

Chris leaves behind seven grandchildren, including a grandson born just days before he died.

“Chris made us all feel good about ourselves when nothing else would,” Brad said.

“We’ll miss him very much.”

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