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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3677


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (21:13): I also rise to note the passing of Jim Stynes. Sadly, Jim Stynes passed away earlier today at his home at the early age of 45. Jim endured a public 2½-year battle with cancer. As the member for Gippsland has said, Jim was born in Dublin, moving to Australia at the age of 18 as part of the Melbourne Football Club's Irish experiment, which aimed to recruit Gaelic footballers for the AFL. Jim became a regular with the Melbourne Demons by the midpoint of the 1987 season. But in the preliminary final of that year, with only four seconds to go, he gave away a 15-metre free kick by running across the mark. This resulted in Hawthorn scoring the winning goal and taking the match. I suppose some of my colleagues here were glad that at least it was not Collingwood that won!

Jim's fortunes did turn around and in 1991 he won the Brownlow Medal, the game's highest individual honour. It must be noted that Jim was the first internationally raised player to win that award. In addition to his Brownlow Medal, Jim won four best and fairest awards with Melbourne, equalling the club record, playing an AFL record of 244 consecutive games. He was also twice selected in the all-Australian side. It is recorded that Jim represented Melbourne in every official game for 11 years, with a total of 264 games across the seasons 1987 to 1998.

In 1994 Jim, along with film director Paul Currie, founded the Reach Foundation. The foundation's aim was to teach young people life skills and to give young people the support, self-belief and encouragement needed to fulfil their potential. The aim of the foundation was, in part, motivated by Jim's own teenage experience. He had attended camps back in his home country which were taught in the Irish language and, although encapsulating a physical education focus, additionally they were driven by a philosophy of education for life. The Reach Foundation runs programs nationally in schools and communities, which aim to 'improve young people's self- belief and develop resilience and emotional awareness'. Programs are run by young people aged 15 to 25 for young people aged 10 to 18, with over 60,000 taking part across the country every year. Jim remained active on the board of Reach even during the time he battled his cancer.

Although Jim retired from football in 1998, he did not lose that footy love, becoming president of the Demons in 2008 at a time when the club was in the midst of serious decline. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Jim Stynes Medal is awarded to the best Australian player in the International Rules series each year. Not only is Jim remembered for these AFL achievements, he was twice named Victorian of the Year, in 2001 and 2003, and in 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his work with youth and his contribution to Australian football. In 2010 Jim was named Melburnian of the Year and in 2011 the Australian Catholic University awarded Jim their highest honour, Doctor of the University, in recognition of his service to the community, particularly in the areas of youth depression, homelessness and suicide. An incredible man, and he achieved so much in such a short life.

There has been much written already today about the incredible Jim Stynes. Two comments caught my attention. Mike Sheahan from the Herald Sun said:

Irish-born Jim Stynes was one of the most extraordinary figures in Australian life

I have to agree with that. I believe that Martin Flanagan in the Age was correct when he stated that Jim was 'more than a great sportsman'.

Jim also had a connection with the Northern Territory. He visited the NT a number of times and was reported to have strongly supported Aboriginal players. He held a special connection with the Yuendumu community, which is north-west of Alice Springs. As the Herald Sun reported, Stynes was one of six speakers at the MCG, including AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, to help launch The Liam Jurrah Story, a book by Bruce Hearn Mackinnon detailing Jurrah's rise from playing barefoot on a red soil oval to taking the AFL mark of the year. Stynes had twice visited the Yuendumu community, just 300 kilometres west of Alice Springs, an experience he regards as one of the most inspiring in his life.

Definitely, his story is better than mine. I used to claim my story as a point of difference, but it can't compare with where Liam Jurrah has come from.

Said Stynes, who proudly wore his Melbourne scarf as always:

At least when I came here there was a similar culture and the spirit of our games was similar. For Liam it was so different, he'd only just put on a pair of boots. … I have been there a couple of times and to meet the whole community was so eye-opening for me. I was so privileged to be given that chance and to be given their warmth of welcome.

Former Essendon player, Tim Watson, also spoke of the recent trip Stynes made to the Northern Territory in giving his tribute to Jimmy Stynes. He said:

I think, perhaps, he did his best work away from the football field. He became a leader in the community, the work that he's done with the Reach organisation and the compassion that he's shown through that.

I saw him firsthand in Yuendumu, when he went up there in the Northern Territory to visit Liam Jurrah's family. I saw him for a couple of days there and he was struggling with his health at that time and I was just amazed by the bravery and the courage he displayed up there.

It was hot, it was dusty, he didn't have to be up there, but he wanted to be a part of the contingent that went up there to show the community that Melbourne cared about Liam Jurrah and about Aboriginal people up there as well.

He had an enormous effect on mankind. There's going to be a lot of young people out there today that owe the direction in their life that they've taken to some work that Jim Stynes may have done.

Another connection to the Northern Territory is legendary Darwin-born AFL player Andrew McLeod, who played for the Crows, and is considered by many as one of the greatest Indigenous footballers of all time. Andrew was awarded the Jim Stynes Medal in 2005 after co-captaining the Australian International Football team against Ireland. My deepest sympathies go to Jim's wife, Sam, and their two children, Matisse and Tiernan, and to Jim's parents, Tess and Brian, and their families, as well as to the many Australians who will be mourning the loss of a true legend in Jim Stynes.