Intrepid reporter Troy Whittaker hit the road to spend a day in the life of Newcastle-Hunter wellbeing officers Vince Murphy and David Turrell to provide an insight into the regular work of Foundations workers countrywide.
Anyone involved with rugby league will tell you it’s a special game which creates a unique sense of mateship.
That is shown perfectly through the inspiring efforts of Men of League Foundation’s wellbeing officers Vince Murphy, David Turrell and Garry Drummond.
Murphy, Turrell and Drummond – who have all long been associated with Newcastle rugby league – joined the Newcastle-Hunter committee upon its inception in 2008.
They work tirelessly to lift the spirits of rugby league folk who fall on hard times. Every week, the trio voluntarily spends a day travelling around the community visiting struggling people.
While financial assistance is a big part of what the Foundation is there for, often it’s the simplicity of a caring conversation that is most significant.
“It’s great for us to feel how they feel when we come to see them,” said Murphy.
“They think they’re a bit special that we’ve come to visit them. I get enjoyment out of helping people who are crook or a bit down.
“We come and brighten their day up for them and I think that’s fantastic.”
On 23 November, I had the privilege of experiencing a day in the life of a wellbeing officer by following Murphy and Turrell on their visits (Drummond was away).
The first stop of the day was Hayley Williams, the partner of the late St George Illawarra and Cronulla Sharks player Lance Thompson with whom she mothered twins Lachlan and Laylah.
In the months since Thompson’s unexpected passing in August at age 40, Williams has been emotionally supported by the Men of League Foundation.
You could sense Williams’ mood lift when he walked into her house. Over a cup of coffee, she told of the progress her kids have made in recent weeks and discussed her own health.
She said being able to have trusted people to confide in during a tough period was invaluable.
“I’ve been surprised and shocked that there’s been so much support. They’re very caring; they’re checking up, they care about the children,” said Williams.
“It means the absolute world. Knowing that we’re at the hardest point of our lives and our world’s been tipped upside down, they’ve just come in and started picking us back up again emotionally and financially.
“They’re supportive in so many ways and I’m just blown away. I feel like we’ve been friends for years.”
Williams was especially praising of Murphy.
“Vince acts like sort of a father figure to me. He always checks up on me constantly, he insists I get looked after. He’s really, really genuine in the way of caring for us and I could see it and I could feel it.”
After farewelling Williams, it was time to visit John Lawrence at an aged care facility.
Lawrence was a talented halfback in his day, playing for Waratah Mayfield and South Newcastle.
He has had both his legs amputated in the past few years but still plays hockey against able-bodied competitors using prosthetics. He has also started driving again.
It’s this never-give-up and fiercely independent attitude that Murphy and Turrell say they’re in awe of.
During the visit, the men talked footy and reflected on good times.
Lawrence explained what the wellbeing officers have done for him.
“They kindly got me an iPad because I was struggling to pay bills on the phone and now I do all sorts of things – except I’m not on Facebook!” said Lawrence.
“The visits keep me up to date with what the Men of League Foundation is doing. You get to meet blokes you haven’t seen in a long time or who you forget you played football against.
“It’s just good to keep up with who’s doing what and all the rest of it, and who has unfortunately passed away.”
Ray ‘Wagga’ Johnson was the final visit of the day.
Johnson too had a leg amputated which has limited his mobility around the house. The Foundation recently installed ramps at his residence to assist him.
Johnson was in good spirits, joking and laughing with Murphy and Turrell, and spoke of how the Men of League Foundation has helped him.
“What they did for me (the mobility ramps), I’m really happy with. I wouldn’t have got it otherwise,” said Johnson.
“Vince and everyone did a great job. They’re around and they call up all the time and Vince pushed for everything I’ve got.
“Before the ramps, my wife had to get me down one step at a time and I found it hard.
“The visits build you up, you start talking about old times and who’s doing what. Otherwise you wouldn’t know … I speak highly about what they do.”
Of course, neither Murphy, Turrell nor Drummond asks for a cent in return for the work they do. For them, knowing they’re making an impact is payment enough.
“Whether it’s emotional, physical or financial, we get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people in need,” said Turrell.
“In rugby league, we’re one big family.”