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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 532


Senator O'CHEE (7.51 p.m.) —In rising, I thank Senator Woodley for accommodating my opportunity to speak on the adjournment tonight. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a great friend, a mentor and a coach who took his own life a couple of weeks ago and whom I hold very dear. He was a German friend of mine by the name of Johannes Gerke. He was, I think it is fair to say, from the generation of competitors that preceded mine in the skeleton or one-man bobsled event; and Hannes, as he was fondly known, was concluding his sporting career as I was commencing mine.

  I remember very clearly seeing Hannes sliding in my first race at Innsbruck, and seeing the very beautiful way in which he was able to slide the track because he was so focused and had a tremendous understanding of what it took to be a good competitor. But he also had something else: the ability to be focused but incredibly calm about the event.

  I remember being terribly excited at my first race, trying very hard to get quickly down the track, and Hannes taking me aside and saying to me in German something which translates as, `Don't think about what you're going to do. Just slide the race.' He was saying that, if one works too hard at steering the sled, the sled will not go very quickly because one is fighting it and, as much as possible, one wants to work the sled smoothly down the track. Hannes's advice was also good mental advice because he was saying that, if one has all these other thoughts in one's mind, one will not be able to slide the track properly.

  It was Hannes's last season the year that I began because he had injured his back and was not able to slide. But for every season that followed that, he would always turn up for the races, for the world cup and for the world championship. He travelled to Canada and to the US. He was a very popular figure on the circuit and he was a friend to every man that slid world cup and world championship. Everybody has a very high regard for Johannes Gerke as a man, a competitor, a friend, a drinking buddy and, as I have, a coach and mentor.

  Johannes was very fond of his home track of Winterberg in Germany. He would always come to the races armed with a host of photos from the previous season, some sponsor's T-shirts or stickers from the Winterberg track, and always have a couple of words of good advice.

  Earlier on this year he injured himself in an accident with a truck and was incapable of working. That did not mean that Hannes was penniless or anything like that, because he was on full compensation; but it very much upset him, because his life, really, was about sport, work and socialising. So he found that he could not compete in sport and he could not work. Not long after, he lost his licence for driving under the influence of alcohol. I believe that the depression which followed from all of these things was the cause of Hannes taking his life by hanging himself.

  Nothing will bring him back and, I suppose, it was his decision. However selfish it may be of us to want to have him with us, he had a right to make that decision, I suppose, in some ways. He must have felt that he had every reason on earth to do it. All I can say,

Mr President, for my part and as far as my friends are concerned, is that we will miss Hannes. We will love him. We will always think of him and, more importantly, we will always think of the great kindness and friendship he showed to all of us. That, I think, will have to carry us through next season and the seasons to come.

Senate adjourned at 7.56 p.m.