Farewell, three great Aussies

What drives some people to push the boundaries, to defy convention, to beat the odds? That’s the question many Australians ponder as they mourn the passing of three national trailblazers in the past few days.  Political activist and prime ministerial partner, Margaret Whitlam, footballer and philanthropist, Jim Stynes, and mountaineer, Lincoln Hall, all made their marks in very different fields. Whitlam, 92, wife of former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was a champion swimmer before meeting her reformist “soul mate”. A published author and social worker, Whitlam took a controversially proactive role as ‘First Lady’, advocating for issues including women’s rights, abortion law reform and conservation and serving as a role model for generations of Australian women. Australians quickly took Irishman Jim Stynes to their hearts from the time he arrived in Melbourne as an 18-year-old Gaelic footballer ready to swap codes for his new country. During his 12-year Australian Rules football career, Stynes became the first non-native born Australian to win the prestigious Brownlow medal and held the record for the most consecutive senior games played (244). Regarded as a bigger accomplishment by many was his role in co-founding the Reach Foundation for troubled youth, which earned him numerous civic honours. Toward the end, the 46-year-old took his battle with cancer public in an effort to educate and inspire others, the hallmark of a man dubbed ‘Gentleman Jim’. For adventurer Lincoln Hall, death came knocking twice. A member of the first Australian expedition to Everest in 1984, Hall’s first serious encounter with mortality came during another expedition in 2006 where he developed altitude sickness on the way down, was covered with stones and left for dead. Despite the incredible odds, Hall was found alive and returned to tell the tale in Dead Lucky, featured in an Emmy-nominated documentary, ‘A Miracle on Mount Everest’. In a cruel twist, Hall contracted mesothelioma after helping his father build cubby houses from asbestos cement sheets in the 1960s and died this week aged 56. All three were awarded the country’s highest honour, the Medal of the Order of Australia.

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