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Sunday Age

'It took my breath away'

Date: 26/01/2003
Words: 371
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: News
Page: 11
Entertainer Garry McDonald remembers that his long-time friend, the late actress Ruth Cracknell, always tried to get extra mileage out of her awards.

``Ruth used to say to me that after she got an honorary doctorate, she used to try to use that to get hotel bookings overseas," he joked.

McDonald now has the chance to test out Cracknell's theory, after he was today named an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for raising awareness of mental health issues and for his service to the arts.

He described the honour as completely unexpected. ``I was gobsmacked," he said. ``I actually had a little weep - it really kind of took my breath away."

McDonald, 54, rose to fame as a comic actor with his alter-ago in The Norman Gunston Show in the 1970s. He followed this success in the 1980s and early `90s with his role in the long-running ABC comedy series Mother and Son. In 1993, McDonald suffered a nervous breakdown while filming a series of The Norman Gunston Show, and it was later revealed that he suffered from an anxiety disorder and depression.

The multiple-Logie award winner is now a board member of the national depression initiative Beyond Blue, and patron of the NSW branch of the Anxiety Disorders Foundation of Australia.

McDonald said he was proud to have helped increase public understanding about mental health issues, and that he was ``really chuffed" to have been recognised for his contribution to the entertainment industry.

``My career has been basically in comedy, and you tend to think that that's kind of looked on in a way as a lesser skill, so that was really nice," he said.

McDonald said he was also ``really moved" to discover that Cracknell, who played his slightly dotty mother Maggie Beare in Mother and Son, had been one of his referees for the award. She died last May, aged 76, of a respiratory illness.

``I would have loved to have been able to thank her," he said.

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