Parkinson’s Unity Walk

I rise to speak of a fantastic event to be staged this Sunday, the Parkinson’s Disease Unity Walk. The unity walk is in its fourth year and is a major fundraiser for Parkinson’s New South Wales. Moneys raised go toward research and investigation into Parkinson’s disease. The target for the fundraising efforts this weekend is $250,000.

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder typically presenting with symptoms such as slowness of movement, muscle rigidity, instability and tremor. The condition was first described by Dr James Parkinson in England in 1817, but was being treated in India as long as 2,000 years ago. It is estimated that there are some 80,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s disease and it is most commonly diagnosed in people between 50 and 60 years of age, but has afflicted a friend of mine in his forties. Parkinson’s disease is considered the second most common progressive neurological disease, dementia being the most common. It is believed the incidence of Parkinson’s could be as high as 1 in 100 people over the age of 65.

What triggers the disease is not known but it is understood that the neurones in a particular part of the brain are damaged or lost and as a result the production of an important brain chemical called dopamine is reduced. Dopamine is a chemical that assists in coordinating movement. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease but thanks to ongoing research there are various treatments and therapies that manage the symptoms and afford people many years of independent and productive living.

Some famous people have been afflicted with Parkinson’s including Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, Pope John Paul II and Don Chipp, but none is a bigger celebrity in Cessnock than a man by the name of Phil Papworth. Those members who were attentive during my inaugural speech will recall that Phil Papworth, or “Pappy”, was a significant person who gave me a go at the earliest stage of my career path. At the time he was the principal of Mount View High School in Cessnock. Phil was principal at Mount View High School for eight years and was renowned for his willingness to seek out the best in students, fight for his staff and never be afraid to live life large and without embarrassment. It is because of this latter attribute that Pappy became famous for his skits, riddles, verses, songs and dances and his smile.

Pappy had spent life travelling the State as a teacher and then as an executive teacher, deputy principal and finally principal. He must have taught in dozens of communities and engaged with tens of thousands of students. Pappy would tell stories of the various students he had taught that had gone on to greatness, including a range of Australian cricket, soccer, rugby and rugby league players. Pappy would never tell those stories to skite or lay claim to their talents. No, his message for the young students at Mount View High School was always very simple: You can be anything and you can come from anywhere; all that you need is the dream and the drive. This important message is something that every student needs to hear time and again.

At some time after leaving teaching, or maybe towards the end, Pappy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In the decade since his condition has continued to rein in his usual exuberance. This weekend it will be my absolute privilege to join current students from Mount View High School in the Parkinson’s Unity Walk. I will have the esteemed pleasure of pushing Pappy along the four-kilometre path for this important fundraising event. Such is Phil’s reputation and recognised contribution to Mount View High School that, nine years after his departure, the school still supports him in this cause. Students that attend on Sunday, in their own time, under the watchful eye of teacher Karen Blandon, may not have been taught by Phil but I am sure that his name must still be whispered in the hallowed corridors of Mount View High School.

Pappy and I will talk and argue as we wander the course, but there is no doubt that I will finish the journey a little wiser. Phil will poke and prod and challenge my thoughts and opinions, push me to think outside the square and pull on the brakes when I go completely off the trail. Pappy will not offer me the world-according-to-Phil-Papworth version of things; he never does that. He has never seen his role as telling people what they should think. He sees his role as helping people to find what they think. Pappy still has a little bit of cheek left in him. As chair of the Coalfields Parkinson’s Support Group he has taken great delight in naming its newsletter “Movers & Shakers”. Phil Papworth is a short man with a rough head that was obviously packed into the front row of far too many rugby scrums—but he is a giant of a human being. It is my privilege and honour to be sharing my Sunday with him this week for Parkinson’s Unity Walk.