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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3674

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (21:02): I join with the member for Bass in expressing my condolence on behalf of the people of Gippsland for the family and friends of Jim Stynes, who died today at the age of 45. There have been a lot of kind words expressed in this House already today in relation to Jim and I hope that Sam, his wife, and two young children, Matisse and Tiernan, can take comfort in the days and years ahead.

It is only fitting that this parliament pays tribute to an extraordinary Australian, a man who lived an extraordinary life and was quite an extraordinary man himself, although he was an adopted Australian, as we have already heard here this evening. Jim was born in Dublin and, like many of the Irish, in fact just about every Irish person I have ever met, he was a man of great passions, enormous passions. He was brought to Australia in the mid-1980s as part of Ron Barassi's experiment to recruit Irish footballers. He became a trail-blazer for others who followed in his footsteps. It is in that context that I reflect also on the tragic death only a couple of years ago of Sean Wight, who was one of Jim's great playing partners in the Melbourne Demons during the 80s and 90s. He was actually Scottish born but came here as part of the Irish experiment and was a terrific footballer alongside Jim during that era of the Melbourne Demons. His life was also taken tragically too early when he died of lung cancer a couple of years ago.

Jim went on to play 264 games over 11 years for the Melbourne Football Club.

Ms Marino interjecting

Mr CHESTER: The member for Forrest quite rightly comments that that is incredible. To put together 264 games in 11 short years is an incredible effort in the modern era of an Australian Rules footballer. We have just heard the member for Bass—and we have heard from other speakers—say that he actually played 244 continuous games. In the rough and tumble of professional sport, that is a remarkable effort for any footballer. It was not because Jim Stynes had the luck of the Irish, not by any stretch—you do need to be fortunate to avoid major injuries which are incapacitating and can force you out of the game—but because he was prepared to play injured. He played many times when he was injured. That is the mark of the man and the determination to not let down his team mates, to be part of something, which is what is great about the Australian Rules football community. He would get himself up and do everything he possibly could to make sure he could play on any given Saturday, when others may have succumbed to those injuries. It is that same resilience and determination that Jim took from his football career that he took into his latest fight, which tragically ended today with his death, way too early.

As someone who met Jim only once in my previous life as a journalist, I am not in a position to comment too much on his personal life. But I am in a position to comment on his public life and the way that he has been able to touch so many lives not only through his involvement in sport but also through his latter-day involvement through the Reach Foundation and his work with young people in the community. As someone who does not barrack for the Melbourne Demons, I think I am more objective than most. Jim Stynes was not the most talented footballer to ever pull on a boot, but he was a player who probably had more determination and resilience than most. I think that is testament to the fact that he managed to play 244 games in a row. He was certainly good enough to win a Brownlow medal. They do not hand out Brownlow medals on the back of packets of cornflakes; you have to earn your Brownlow medal and Jim certainly earned his.

One night on the Melbourne footy show there was a joke. I hope it is not in poor taste, but I will try tonight to remember it to the best of my ability. It was towards the end of Jim's 200-odd games in a row. He might have played 220 or 230 games in a row. The joke went something like: 'Jim Stynes was injured on the weekend—in fact, he died on Monday, was cremated on Tuesday, but he'll be right to play on Saturday.' In an irreverent sense it was the Melbourne football show's way of paying respect to someone who was a great man and a great Australian Rules footballer—the fact that he would always find a way. Somehow, they would patch him together with tape or whatever they might have been able to do in those days and get him out in the field. Whatever happened, if he turned up to play, when he crossed the line he was part of the team and ready to make his contribution.

Sadly, Jim was taken from us way too soon. But I think as we reflect tonight in this place, and I am sure in the days and weeks and months and years ahead, his legacy will be great not only around the Melbourne Football Club and around the Australian Rules football community but in the broader Victorian and Australian communities. I think the term 'champion' is used too loosely in modern-day sport. Jim Stynes was a champion whose ability on the field was more than matched by his ability and his efforts off the field. His contribution to his adopted country cannot be measured in the years he lived but, as I said earlier, in the lives he touched.

As a footballer, I think he was someone who provided an extraordinary role model to young people growing up in the game not just to his team mates but the kids at Auskick and at other clubs, who would look at this bloke and think: 'Well, if he can make it, perhaps there is a chance for me as well.' He was not necessarily the most accomplished looking footballer—at times, he was a bit ungainly—but certainly someone who made the most out of every bit of ability that he had. I think that is a lesson that a lot of young people can take from the career of Jim Stynes on the football field.

Off the football field he devoted his life to helping young Australians through his contribution to the Reach Foundation. In 1994 he co-founded the Reach Foundation. For those who are not familiar with it, the Reach Foundation is a non-profit, non-denominational organisation which is committed to supporting young people between eight and 18 years of age. Reach and Stynes worked together to encourage teenagers to realise their potential and discover their purpose through being made to feel valued and special in a positive and supportive learning environment. Jim went on to receive numerous awards off the football field. His work with Reach was recognised, as a recipient of the Melbournian of the Year Award in 2010, as a recipient of the Order of Australia and a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship in 2007. He was also recognised as the Victorian of the Year. By any measure, his has been a remarkable life in just 45 years. That is without even going to the fact that, when his club called for him again—when the Melbourne Football Club was faced with desperate times—Jim answered that call and served as president during perhaps one of the most turbulent times in the club's history. He brought to that position his enormous passion, which I referred to earlier, and his capacity to involve others in his work. Under his leadership I would have to say that the Melbourne Football Club earned back the respect of the Australian Rules football public.

In 2009 news first broke that Jim was sick, having been diagnosed with melanoma cancer, and the football world rallied behind him. It did not matter who you barracked for at that time. Jim was an icon of Australian Rules and his personality and his contribution to the game transcended club loyalties. This is one of the most parochial sports of all in the Australian community. If you barrack for Carlton you hate Collingwood—

Ms Marino: Everyone hates Collingwood!

Mr CHESTER: I accept the interjection: everyone does hate Collingwood! Jim's personality transcended those club loyalties. We have seen such an outpouring of support for his family, of grief, of expressions of deep respect for Jim Stynes. Social media networks have been overflowing with people expressing their concern for his family but also their sadness and their debt of gratitude to a man who gave so much in such a short period of time. All of those comments have been very well earned by Jim Stynes. At a time when our football clubs and our football players are often in the news for all the wrong reasons, it is actually a great moment of celebration, in a strange way, that we can be here tonight speaking to this condolence motion and celebrating a great life and a great footballer. I think it is important that we talk about the positives of these men who are involved in our football community and go on to achieve other great things in their lives.

Jim was an inspiration to many and he demonstrated some of the most important values and characteristics that you will see at an elite sporting level and in life itself—things like resilience and determination, extraordinary courage in adversity, working as part of a team, and fighting hard but still always respecting your opponent. They are some of the things that we can all take from Jim Stynes's life. I think it is one of the great things about the Australian Rules football community that those characteristics and values are held very strongly in football clubs. At their very best they can help to shape young men so that they can go on and achieve great things after their football career is finished. As much as we say that the Melbourne Football Club was lucky to have known Jim Stynes, I am sure Jim Stynes in his own private moments would have said that he was lucky to have found the Melbourne Football Club at the stage in his life that he did.

Jimmy Stynes was a champion and it is fitting that this parliament recognises his extraordinary contribution both to Australian Rules and the nation as a whole. I thank the House.