PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Today we lost a truly great Australian and, as Mike Sheahan said in today’s Herald Sun, ‘one of the most extraordinary figures in Australian life’—we lost Mr Jim Stynes. As the member for Flinders, who spoke just before me, so eloquently said, Mr Jim Stynes was not just a footballer, he was not just a husband, he was not just a father; he was an extraordinary figure who gave so much to our broader community. So many people connected with him in a very personal way. In his passing today, which came unexpectedly for so many people, there was an enormous and almost instantaneous outpouring of emotion for him.
Mr Stynes is best known for his achievements on the field as a footballer. He came to this country when he was 18. He responded to an advertisement placed in Irish newspapers looking for young people who might be interested in playing Australian Rules football. He came out to Australia and joined, as we know, the Melbourne Football Club. He was a natural talent and went on to have an extraordinary career. He holds the record for the most consecutive games played—244. He was also of course a Brownlow Medal winner—the greatest prize there is in Australian Rules football. As a result of this, he became Victorian of the Year in 2001 and in 2004. Later on, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. His career itself spanned all of 11 years. He fought tirelessly for the Melbourne Football Club. He played 264 games in total and kicked 130 goals over those 11 years. He got through many of those games with sheer determination—through his injuries, through the broken ribs, through the other obstacles he had to overcome in order to stay on the football field and battle it out for his beloved Melbourne Demons.
But football was just one part of his life. That is how we got to know the man. We got to know his spirit on the football ground, but in some respects that is the least important part of who Jim Stynes was. He was of course a husband and a father. He would probably have said that that was the most important role in his life. I do not know, but I am sure he would say that. For me, being a husband and a father is of course my most important role, despite being a member of parliament and having other responsibilities. From what I understand, Jim was an exceptionally generous husband and father and an exceptionally loving one.
We knew him outside of his football career and outside of being a husband and father for his tremendous contribution in helping others. He established the youth program, Reach, in 1994 to promote mental health and wellbeing in young people. Since its beginnings, Reach is credited with bringing thousands of young lives back from the brink. As a person who has been championing youth mental health in my local community, I certainly take my hat off to Jim Stynes for the tireless work he did in helping so many young people overcome depression and other mental illnesses.
As the member for Flinders pointed out, in addition to the work he did and in addition to the exceptional football prowess that he had, we had an immediate connection with the man because of his character. That character was one of authenticity at its best. People could immediately identify that this guy was fair dinkum. He was not seeking the limelight. He did not seek media coverage, as we sometimes see with celebrities these days—far from it. If anything he was working behind the scenes. He was out there in remote locations working with Aboriginal youngsters. He was there working on youth mental health issues before that became a prominent issue, as it is today. He was doing all of this extraordinary work because, I think, deep down it was core to who he was. I think that the Australian people—young people in particular—can see that, they can sense that, they can smell that and they can love it. Today in a sometimes cynical world, I think that the Australian public and particularly the Victorian public saw in this person a deeply principled man and a deeply caring man and a fair dinkum man who cared for them and who cared for the community and who worked tirelessly for them. It is truly a very sad day for Melbourne, for Victoria and for Australia with the loss of Jim Stynes. A truly great man, we will miss him greatly but of course the people who will miss him the most are his family and I pay my respects to his wife Sam, his children Matisse and Tiernan and his wider family. My thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time and I wish them all the very best.