Goodbye forever to Eugene! Hello Mick Fanning, AO!
Did you know Australia still toils under the yoke of the British monarchy, our necks under the jackboot of Queen Elizabeth II?
Does that strike you as odd? If you’re American, you might wonder why we cower under the gown of our American protectors, blooding our soldiers in futile wars in return, while still bowing to a hereditary ruler.
Of course, one bonus of our ties to England is the honours system: a series of awards doled out every January 26, Australia Day, to various politicians, sportsman, scientists and whomever else might’ve distinguished themselves in public life.
Of the 140 Officers of the Order of Australia (AO) awarded today, Mick Fanning stands in line, the third surfer, after Rabbit Bartholomew and Layne Beachley, to receive the handsome gold medal, which also comes with a stick pin version for daily use.
MICK Fanning’s mother had the privilege of being the person to inform him he was going to be appointed an Officer of the order of Australia.
She also had the joy of telling the world champion surfer what it meant.
“He wasn’t sure and when I told him it was the second top (civilian honour), he was just speechless,” Liz Osborne said of the latest — and arguably greatest — honour to have been bestowed on her baby boy.
I said ‘Mick, you’re 35 years old, people wait a lifetime for this’ and he said ‘I can’t believe how honoured I am’ and I said ‘you know what, Mick? I’m honoured that you’re my son’.
“The AO is partly because he’s three-time world champion but it’s because he does so much for everybody else. It’s for distinguished service to surfing andfor his charity work. That’s really, really important and that’s what I’m proud of.”
Fanning, who plays an active role with charities including the Starlight Foundation, Wings for Life spinal cord research and Cure for Motor Neuron Disease, said receiving the Australia Day honour was on a par with his three world titles.
I couldn’t believe it really. I’m chuffed and very honoured,” he said of joining Layne Beachley as one of the few surfers to receive the honour.
While Fanning and his mum have known about the AO for several weeks ago, in recent days they’ve been able to share the news with a few other special people.
“I’m proud of all my children, they’ve all done so well, and the best thing is my children are so proud of Mick — and that includes Sean and Peter,” Liz said of the sons who died in 1998 and 2015.
“I spoke with (my son) Edward in Bali today and he was so thrilled for Mick and my daughter (Rachel) is here and she’s excited.
“When I told Mick the news, I also said ‘I know you’re not supposed to tell anybody but I’m sure your dad would love to know’ so he rang his dad and I think he cried because he was so proud.”
John Fanning separated from the mother of his five children when Mick was two. When Liz and the kids moved from western Sydney to Ballina and later the Gold Coast, he remained down south.
“John has always supported me as their mother but I can tell you we’ve been brought much closer together through the years because of the tragedies and everything that’s happened in the family,” she said.
“It’s really nice to think that once again after 30-odd years we can talk about our children and not get angry with each other (laughs). It’s beautiful.”
As is the story Fanning’s biographer told when asked to reflect on the surfer’s qualities out of the water.
“I remember being in South Africa and meeting the local lady Primrose and her son who helped when she was diagnosed with Aids,” surf writer Tim Baker recalled.
“He paid for her medical help to get her back to health and then for her training as a nurse so she could help other people.
“Most pro surfers staying in these luxurious beachfront homes at Jeffreys Bay probably didn’t even get to know the domestic help whereas she just about became family to him.
“Mick was a bit of a wild child at a young age like a lot of surfers but the way he’s matured is a real credit to him and his mum … he’s done more than almost anyone to bring surfing to mainstream attention and in a completely positive light.”