By sports editor Russell Bennett
Stories of hope, resilience, recovery and healing continue to spur Gippsland’s Matt Runnalls on in his mental health mission.
They’re stories with chapters still to be written, and they’re echoed by similar lived experiences of residents right throughout the region in the wake of the devastating new year fires.
Originally from the Warragul area, Runnalls started registered suicide prevention charity Mindfull Australia when he was a 24-year-old tradie who played country footy at clubs including Warragul, Garfield and Cora Lynn.
He had no real financial worries, his professional life was in order, and he had a strong network of family and friends by his side.
But since the age of 17 he’s battled severe anxiety and depression, which led to several suicide attempts.
Mindfull’s purpose is to encourage those affected by mental health battles to come out of the shadows of stigma through self-acceptance, and education of the wider community.
On 16 February, Mindfull will combine with the Warragul and District Cricket Association (WDCA) to host a Twenty20 All Stars match to raise more much-needed funds for those devastated by the Gippsland blazes.
A number of the region’s biggest cricketing names will come together to take part, playing for either the East All Stars – skippered by Western Park captain-coach Sam Batson – or the West, led by Hallora’s Fraser Duncan.
The East will feature players from Western Park, Warragul, Buln Buln, Neerim District, Jindivick, and Yarragon, while players from the West will represent the likes of Garfield-Tynong, Longwarry, Iona, Catani, Hallora, Ellinbank and Drouin.
Yarragon legend Gamini Kumara is set to take his place in the East side, with both groups featuring a host of players with Victorian Premier Cricket and even Test cricket experience, in the case of Hallora wonder spinner Natsai M’Shangwe.
Runnalls could hardly hide his excitement in the lead-up to the clash at Western Park in Warragul.
“Community is unity, and together we’re stronger,” he said simply.
“I didn’t have any doubt that we could bring this all together at pretty short notice, because there are so many good people in this community.
“When it comes to the impact of the fires and people’s mental health, they go hand-in-hand.
“There are going to be new waves of young kids who’ve grown up around the bushfires and trauma-affected areas – and that includes the Bunyip State Park fires too.
“A lot of people are rebuilding their homes and lives and will be struggling for years to come, so if we can provide something that brings the community together and helps provide some mental health tools – through Mindfull Aus – that’s the main thing. The more events that do that, the better.
“Everyone is affected in different ways, but to me it’s no surprise that the people in Gippsland – especially this part of Gippsland – have stepped forward and want to play in this game, or support it in some way.”
Batson said just about everyone involved on the day would have either been affected by the blazes, or would know someone who’s been affected.
“Coming together to help people, for a cause like this, is really important to a lot of us,” he said.
Duncan said it was great to see so many of the WDCA’s biggest-name players put their hands up to be involved.
“It’s just great to see everyone coming together for such a great cause to raise as much money as we can,” he said.
“You’re not just playing for yourself, or even your club, in a game like this – you’re playing for a cause bigger than yourself.
“Hopefully we get a great crowd along and we can put on a show.”
Batson said some former WDCA players who’ve recently stepped away from the game have even put their hands up to be involved.
“It just shows that once a few people have got behind it, so many others want to as well,” he said.
“Collectively, the community is jumping right behind such a great cause, and when you see the amount of money being donated to help those affected (in both New South Wales and Victoria), it’s mind-blowing and it brings the best out of people.”
All the action begins from 1pm on the 16th, with raffle prizes, DJ entertainment, food trucks, barbecue food, and drinks all available. All proceeds will go towards the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund.
Of course, the day wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated support of a range of sponsors who’ve jumped on board behind a fantastic cause.
Those sponsors include Findex, Smith McCarthy Wilson, Optus, Big Dogg Australia, Jazala, Anton Hair, Bakers Delight, Zagame’s, INTERSPORT Warragul, Daniel Carew, and Jindi Pig Butchers in Neerim South.
For more information about Mindfull, search ‘Mindfull Aus. Stand up against Stigma’ on Facebook.
Anyone needing help can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.