SAM Newman and Garry Lyon are best known for their football gags, but last night their serious sides were revealed to south-west farmers going through tough times.
The former football champions turned television stars flew in from Melbourne to taste country hospitality and share the spotlight on stage at Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre in front of about 600 people for the second annual Farmers’ Night Off event, organised by Farmer Power and beyondblue.
They accepted an invitation from beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett, who kicked off the inaugural event last year.
Beyondblue ambassador Peter McCall, who also shared the stage last night, said Mr Kennett gave instructions to “sock it to ’em” and not hold back. “You must all take control and tell city people what’s really happening in the country,” Mr McCall told the audience.
“Stand up, rise up and share the hurt, pain and trauma of what you are going through.”
Mr McCall, a former mayor, meat inspector, policeman and business operator, urged men to learn to open up more to family and friends rather than bottling up.
“There are 2147 people who suicide each year, that’s about 50 a week. What are we going to do about it?
“We men need to learn to talk about our issues.
“Society understands when we see people with a broken arm or leg, but do they understand when people have the black dog. We are afraid and we shy away from them.”
He fired a broadside at the domination of social media, Facebook “friends” and mobile phones, urging the audience to get back to making personal contacts.
Newman and Lyon quickly warmed to the occasion, seated on a lounge chair with a backdrop of a cow statue, milk bottle and flowers.
The audience treated them as familiar faces, having watched their antics for the past 21 years of the high-rating The Footy Show.
During a brief interview with The Standard before the event, they said they were keen to help lift the spirits of the farming community.
Newman is familiar with the region, having travelled regularly in the 1970s and ’80s as a hair products salesman.
“I’m cognisant of the fact that the farmers and rural folk have done it tough,” Newman said.
“We empathise with them, everyone’s been through tough times in their life for one reason or another.
“I don’t think Garry or I would put ourselves in the same category as primary producers whose lives depend on the seasons beyond their control. If you have control over your own destiny you can do something about it, but it’s tough if you rely on outside influences.”
Newman said he’d been through tough times, including a financial collapse which left him “stone, motherless broke”.
“I know what it’s like to feel down and out, but it’s like everything, you have to face the position you are in.”
He described himself as a glass half-empty man, a bit cynical, but who tried to be positive when facing adversity.
Lyon said his number-one piece of advice was to talk about issues without embarrassment.
“To not to leave it bottled up inside is the overwhelming message,” he said.
“The quicker you can find someone to talk to about it is like a burden that’s lifted.”
n If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.