Mullets for My Pal Al
I am so incredibly lucky to have grown up in a small country town. While it has many disadvantages, such as access to medical treatment, the amazing community spirit and friendships formed far outweigh the tougher side to life in regional New South Wales.
Trangie is a small farming community in central west New South Wales, approximately 80km west of Dubbo. For many passing by Trangie may seem like just another small country town, but once you get to know the people who live there, you can understand why it’s such a special community.
I wanted to briefly brag about my home town to help you understand what todays post is about. My Pal Al is very much driven by my incredible family and friends. A few months back I received a message from a couple of keen conversation starters. Sam Horton (Narromine), Hugh Tuck (Narromine) and Hamish Carnegie (West Wylong), three Year 12 Scots College Boarders, The boys wanted to get in on the My Pal Al action and help spread a little bit of hope. With Dad being an ex Scots boy and having many family friends attending Scots, they thought it was fitting that they help spread the word of My Pal Al.
Fergus Tuck (Narromine), Hamish Carnegie (West Wylong ), Sam Horton (Narromine), Hugh Tuck (Narromine), Kate Kennedy (aka Mum) and Max Rush (Trangie)
These boys had come up with an idea, to start a conversation, raise money and get a few mullets in the process. They wanted to promote My Pal Al with some passion when asked why they all have Mullets.
After a few discussions between the boys, my Mum and The Scots College Sydney, their dream became a reality. The “Mullets for My Pal Al” day was held during the last week of term two and involved the whole Scots community dressing as farmers, a school assembly focusing on “hope”, a year 12 student from each house getting a mullet and a fundraiser barbecue.
As I am currently living and working in North Queensland, it wasn’t really an option for me to be able to attend, so Mum kindly put her hand up and offered to attend and address the school assembly. Travelling approximately 500 kilometres to get there and overcoming her “fear” of public speaking at the same time, Mum stood up to address approximately 1000 boys and staff. She also had the honour of cutting a couple of mullets. Thanks to modern day technology, I was able to live stream Mums speech and the cutting of the Mullets.
Mum ended her speech by saying this, and I want to share it with you all.
“Well I say it’s time to encourage change in these areas. So, all of you country boys heading home this week, have a conversation with your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles and your family friends. Asked them when they were last screened for any preventable cancers, if ever. And if they haven’t or it has been a while, then “hound the “bejeezus” out of them till they do. The day boys also need to have this conversation with their family and friends. In fact, if any of you day boys are heading out to the country these holidays with your boarder mates, then have that conversation with their parents. I guarantee you that they won’t be offended & if they are, tell them it’s for “My Pal Al”.
I think that if 3 boys can start a conversation for their entire school, then I believe we can all start a conversation with just one person, and that could be the conversation that prevents them from having to fight a future battle. And to me if we can prevent cancer in at least one person by raising awareness, then that is as good as finding a cure for that person.
So, to Sam, Hughie, Hamish, and The Scots College, Thank you. Thank you for allowing our mission to become your conversation. Thank you for letting Mum talk to you all, thank you for sporting some pretty groovy Mullets and thank you for spreading just a little bit of hope.
Sam Horton and Hugh Tuck with Mum.
NB: I am going to attach the full transcript of Mums speech for anyone interested in reading it. Or for those that couldn’t be bothered to read, then I am attaching the video footage of the speech along with the mullet cutting. The video goes for approximately 26 minutes, but Mums speech only goes for about 13 minutes, the rest of the video involves the cutting of mullets – It’s worth watching!
Good morning staff, students & friends.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge and thank Hamish Carnegie, Sam Horton & Hugh Tuck for their idea to raise funds & promote the profile of “My Pal Al” through this boarders charity day & for allowing me the opportunity to talk here today. I must say I am also looking forward to viewing the mullets that I believe are going to be “sported” about here shortly.
My name is Kate Kennedy and I’m from Trangie in Central West NSW, which for many of you is better known as the home ground for the annual Macquarie Picnic Races in December. I live, own and manage farming properties approximately 100km from Dubbo. Dubbo is my nearest regional centre for most necessities including medical facilities and the essential machinery parts.
I am here this morning to talk to you about the charity “My Pal Al”. My Pal Al was started by my daughter Annie on the 1st January this year. After losing her Dad to lung cancer in June 2018, and having the desire to “do something”, to “find purpose” and possibly most of all “make sense” of the immeasurable loss and the suffocating grief, “My Pal Al” was born.
Al was Annie’s Dad – he was also Dad to Belle, Charlie, Tom & Ned. He was my husband and my best mate. And on top of all this – he was everyone’s “Pal”.
Al actually spent a couple of years boarding here at Scots. He was here with many Dad’s & Uncles of current students who are here today, & some more recently graduated students – he was a student here with Hugh, Sam & Fergus Tucks Dad, Tom Aveyards Dad & Uncle, Jack Irvings Dad & Uncle, Harry & Carter Tucks Dad, Jock Menzies Dad & many more. Al treasured these friendships & these blokes were his life long mates, most of these mates were the ones that supported him through the good times & the bad times, right up to the end. In fact I think many of these mates were the ones that helped create many of the good times. I actually met Al at a New Years Eve party at “Newhaven”, Narromine, which is home to Hugh & Fergus Tuck. However, Al’s time at Scots was limited to 2 years as it appeared, he wasn’t cut out for city life or school for that matter. This became clear as I recently came across his year 10 report card in which the Senior Masters Comment was “Alan has had a very good term.
However, success at HSC level is not likely. I recommend that he enter Year 11 as his terminal year and plan his future accordingly”. This was then supported by the Principals comment “Agreed! I wish him well at Agricultural College”.
And Agricultural College is where Al began to shine – topping many classes & subjects and showing a desire and drive that I doubt his Scots teachers could imagine. Al’s passion was agriculture, whether it be cattle, horses or farming, he couldn’t get enough of it. He enjoyed the challenge of the farming lifestyle and the obstacles that seem to be constantly put in front of him. He had a “never say die” attitude and believed that everything could be worked out if you persevered & worked hard at it. His lifelong dream was to own and manage his own land and thankfully that dream was achieved & he excelled at all things agricultural.
In June 2017 Al went to the chiropractor for what he thought was a sore rib, or at worst maybe a broken rib from a very minor slip off the tractor. How quickly our lives spiralled from that initial appointment to being diagnosed with Advanced Stage 4 Lung Cancer a short 10 days later.
This diagnosis was huge shock to us all. Al was only 49, he was fit and healthy. He showed no warning signs of the disease – there was no cough, no breathlessness – nothing. He was working long, hard days, as most farmers do with no signs of fatigue. Although he had been a smoker, he had given up smoking over 5 years prior. We were absolutely devastated.
On 16th June 2018 - 1 year and 11 days after that initial appointment Al lost his battle with cancer.
That 1 year and 11 days was made up of 1000’s of kilometres of travel, countless doctor and specialist appointments, more scans & Xrays than you can poke a stick at. Hundreds of blood tests and hours and hours of internet searching looking for remedies, cures, alternative treatments but most of all hope. I don’t think there was ever a cancer patient who fought as hard and with as much dignity as Al did & right up until the very end he believed he could beat it – we all did.
Annie initially started the “My Pal Al” group as a way of spreading a little bit of hope for Als family and friends, but as momentum quickly grew and it became evident that the hope was being spread much further, she realised she needed to have something “material” to help start the conversation. Annie started by making beaded keyrings. These“My Pal Al” keryings are made up of 4 handmade clay beads, and 1 wooden bead, with every bead on the keyring having representation
· The blue bead symbolising the blue RB Sellars shirt which Al wore nearly every day of the year, unless he was in his “town” clothes
· The wooden bead to represent strength - a symbol of the insane amount of strength required to face any cancer battle
· The green bead stamped with the word hope.
· The rainbow bead with the 7 colours representing each member of our family as a symbol of love & support
· The yellow bead representing happiness
To date Annie has sold over 300 keyrings, with a $5 donation from every keyring being donated to benefit cancer patients.
Annie has since added other merchandise to her store including trucker caps, stubby coolers & stickers, with a percentage of every sale also being donated to benefit cancer patients.
Every keyring, cap, stubby cooler & sticker is designed to “start a conversation” to raise awareness, ask the questions and hopefully assist in cancer prevention. We know that we aren’t smart enough to cure cancer. But luckily there are certainly some very smart scientists and doctors out there working their “backsides off” trying to find a cure. The advancement in treatments in the last 5 years in Australia alone is amazing, but its not enough.
Through My Pal Al we figure if we can prevent cancer in at least one person by raising awareness, then that is as good as finding a cure for that person. A bit like in a game of footy where “saving a try is every bit as an important as scoring a try”
I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be one boy here today whose family has not been effected by cancer in some shape or form.
I’m going to share some statistics with you that I would like you all to have a think about.
· In 2019 there will be an estimated 145,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia – that’s 396 people being diagnosed with cancer each day
· In 2020 it is estimated that number is set to rise to 150,000
· Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia, with almost 50,000 deaths estimated for 2019 - thats 136 people who will lose their fight with cancer EACH DAY.
· The 5 most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma skin cancer and bowel cancer. These 5 cancers account for approximately 60% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia
These numbers are alarming, but there is hope.
Currently in Australia there is screening for Breast cancer, bowel cancer, skin cancer & cervical cancer. To me it is obvious this screening works because the average 5 year survival rate for all cancers combined in Australia has risen from 50% in 1986 to 68.9% in 2015. The screened cancers are above this average - Skin Cancer at 91%, Breast Cancer at 90.8%, Bowel Cancer at 69.9% and Cervical Cancer at 73.5%.
But guess what??? If you are a patient living in regional and rural areas of Australia you have a much poorer health outcome than your city counterparts. In fact a University of Southern Queensland study suggests that approximately 13% of rural cancer-related deaths could have been prevent if their survival rates were equal to those in major cities.
Based on Queensland figures, this means that more than 350 regional patients die of cancer each year just because of where they live. It is estimated that at least a third of all cancer cases in regional areas could be prevented with adequate screening.
This brings us to the conversation that “My Pal Al” wants you to have. We want to reduce the risk of preventable cancers, particularly in rural and remote areas of Australia. This includes encouraging family and friends to participate in regular cancer screening, quitting smoking, eating healthily, regular exercise, staying sunsmart and limiting alcohol intake.
In my experience with rural people and particularly farmers they aren’t that great at looking after their own health. Despite what the animal activists would have us believe, most farmers will nearly always put the health and the wellbeing of their stock well above their own health. They are religious at ensuring their machinery is adequately maintained & regularly serviced, but don’t take the time to have regular medical checkups themselves.
Unfortunately accessing screening and any medical services in rural areas is very restraining due to distances and lack of facilities. Ideally we would love to see “cancer screening buses”,that cover screening for all preventable cancers cruising around NSW & Australia. Something similar to the pink breastcreening buses you see about. This screening works when you look at the fact breast cancer 5 year survival rates have increased from 74% in 1986 to nearly 91% in 2015.
Well I say its time to encourage change in these areas. So all you country boys heading home this week, have a conversation with your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles and your family friends. Asked them when they were last screened for any preventable cancers, if ever. And if they haven’t or it has been a while, then “hound the “bejeezus” out of them till they do. The day boys also need to have this conversation with their family and friends. In fact if any of you day boys are heading out to the country these holidays with your boarder mates, then have that conversation with their parents as well. I guarantee you that they won’t be offended & if they are tell them its for “My Pal Al”