A tireless worker on and off the field
WEDNESDAY, 21/3/2012 Julia Gillard
Yesterday, the nation lost a hero.
Jim Stynes was a man who inspired fans across the nation playing Australia’s game.
An Irishman, imported from the other side of the world when he was just 18 to play a game foreign to him, he quickly became a master of it winning the Brownlow Medal in 1991.
He was part of what was referred to as the "Irish Experiment". And what a success it was.
Jim’s trademark tenacity and steely resolve paved the way for his countrymen to embrace Australia’s game and in doing so Jim made a lasting contribution to our national sport. His astounding record of 244 consecutive AFL matches in the Demons’ guernsey may never be broken.
But Jim was also a man who fought for a better life for thousands of kids well beyond the realm of sport.
As he rose up the ranks of the Melbourne Football Club, Jim saw an opportunity to use our game to become someone who changed lives and he never let a moment go by without making the most of this opportunity.
So today, AFL fans in Victoria and beyond will be rightly mourning the loss of a great sporting hero.
But also today, thousands of kids across our nation are living better lives as a result of his tireless work off the field.
I had the great privilege of meeting Jim Stynes and talking to him about the remarkable work he did for young and disadvantaged Australians.
Through his youth organisation, Reach, Jim helped thousands of young Australians recognise their potential and realise their dreams.
And I’m hugely proud of the fact that my Government has been able to partner with Jim in some of the remarkable work so close to his heart.
"Finding Heroes" has helped train teachers to better understand issues teenagers face such as being bullied, suffering from depression or being at risk of substance misuse.
We’ve also been able to help teachers support young Aboriginal students in years 8 and 9who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Through programs such as these we can harness Jim’s passion for life, to help children climb over and conquer life’s challenges.
And that work will go on.
The fact that Jim continued to put his heart and soul into his organisation, even as he fought a valiant and determined battle with cancer, is truly inspiring.
Jim was a person of such amazing courage, who kept turning up time and time again to be there for his beloved football team and be there for the kids in the Reach program, even in his own darkest days.
Just last week, at a St Patrick’s Day speech, I talked about the Irish influence on Australia’s larrikin spirit, that "larger-than-life, sceptical, iconoclastic, egalitarian defiant" way of being.
That was Jim, on field and off. On his first day in this country, on his last day in life.
Be leaves us with a legacy that will continue to deliver for kids in Australia for decades to come.