One foot in front of the other


One foot in front of the other

words mel jaunay
>> Mark Weaver

For close to 40 years, Mark Weaver’s tools of the trade were police-issued handcuffs and the words of wisdom he carried in his police warrant card: “The loser says it’s possible but too difficult; the winner say it’s difficult, but it’s possible”.

This mantra of optimism has influenced Mark his entire professional life, helping him find solutions and a way forward in seemingly impossible situations.

But Mark’s “cup-half-full” outlook has never been more important than since his confronting diagnosis of motor neurone disease (MND) in November, after being diagnosed with a heart disorder, epilepsy and cataplexy.

While his muscles and speech are impaired, making everyday life more difficult, Mark says he’s “blessed” and chooses to focus on what’s possible, rather than what’s not.

That includes walking hundreds of kilometres through the bush, slowly but surely, to raise money for MND research and education to support other families like his.

Hiking the Heysen Trail from the Fleurieu Peninsula and the northern Mount Lofty Ranges north of Burra to the Barossa Valley, to reach his $10,000 fundraising target, has also taken Mark back to his policing roots in the State’s far north.

It was there he developed a spiritual connection to the land and came to understand the ancient culture in which you belong to the land, rather than the land belonging to you.

Mark was first deployed to Oodnadatta as a fresh-faced, single 21-year-old police graduate, who had “no excuse” to turn down the Outback deployment.

Mark recalls that despite the social, economic and ethnic challenges of living remotely, which fuelled the incidence of alcohol-related trauma, there was a prevailing sense of community spirit.

“Where I worked, I mixed with so many different people, European, Lebanese, Greek, Italian, Serbian, Croatian, Pilipino, Aboriginal. Whether they had 50 cents or $50 million dollars, they were very giving,” Mark said.

“I really enjoyed the bush, the unique people and the community…On balance people were looking after each other rather than letting them fall over.

“Despite hardship, working in the community was inspiring.”

Mark says somehow, the law of the land was able to co-exist with the local bush law.

“At Roxby Downs, I was at a concert and one fella just arrived at Roxby, he lost control and attacked me. Three brothers came to my rescue, told the fella, ‘He’s our ‘copper’ and if he deserves a hiding, we’ll do it’,” recalls Mark. “A couple (of) months later I got a transfer to Marla and he drove from Roxby to Marla to apologise to me. That was just the way things were done.”

During his posts at Whyalla, Oodnadatta, Port Augusta, Wirrabara, Ernabella, Roxby Downs, Amata, Marla (APY Lands), Coober Pedy and Nuriootpa, Mark says he worked with some wonderful colleagues, including well-known Barossa locals, David Gerhardy, Graham Munday, Nev Talbot, Mark Altmann, Chris King and a great array of officers.

“A tremendous team of police officers and experienced senior management officers gave me a foundation about life in the bush, country people and the local Indigenous community,” says Mark.

“That generation was about working with the community; old-fashioned policing as a ranger or a sheriff, not a ringer. Life at that time was about experience.

“I met some incredible characters. I always looked at the positives and things worked out well.”

>> Mark Weaver with his supporter Linc Gore.

“Every now and then I take a deep breath and think, there’s always another day. You’ve got to be optimistic.”

- Mark Weaver
>> Photo by John Krüger

Mark always loved “giving back”, and attributes this reciprocity to the role modelling and generosity of his mother, a “good Irish woman”.

“She worked different places; one was The Home for Incurables, (now) the Julia Farr Centre,” Mark says. “She used to bring people back to our house because we lived down the road – people in wheelchairs, one particular person in his whole bed, because she loved cooking, especially a good lamb roast.

“They ate with us and spoke to us, and every now and then we’d take them to the football at Unley Oval.”

Mark’s love of community and the bush continued throughout his marriage to Jo-Ann as they raised three children, Sarah, Matthew and Joshua.

“Sarah went to every school – school of the air, boarding school and Aboriginal school,” says Mark. “It’s all they knew, and they have continued in that sort of life, with Sarah working in the Tanami Desert, Pilbara and North East Arnhem Land.”

After three decades of Outback policing Mark finally relocated to the Barossa, where he found a far more sedate pace, but a much larger problem – a shocking history of vehicle crashes.

Mark set about working with Clayton Scott to coordinate an annual “mock accident” to educate high school students about the danger of drugs, alcohol and speeding. He was credited with reducing the youth casualty crash rate in the Barossa, earning him the State’s top Australia Day honour, South Australian of the Year, in 2005.

>> Sarah Kemp, Cedric Varco, Mark Weaver, Linc Gore, Grace and Rose Kemp.
>> Mark pictured with Occupational Therapists Julia, Lara and Rachel.

Mark finished his career working for the Federal government supporting local communities in the Pitjantjatjara Lands and Ntaria (Hermannsburg). His dedication during his policing career was rewarded with an SA Police Efficiency Medal – one of only two bestowed annually – and the Australian Police Medal.

Last year’s MND diagnosis, while confronting, has given Mark more reasons to put one foot in front of the other, quite literally, on his quest to walk 300 kilometres in appreciation to MND Association and Flinders Medical Centre.

Mark says he enjoys the solitude and the chance to be present with nature.

“It’s a bit challenging to get through the day physically, but breathing and taking everything in, it connects you with the flora and fauna – beautiful trees, kangaroos, emus. I’ll see a willy wagtail and think, the cheeky bugger is checking on me,” smiles Mark.

“I’m a bit of a simple person. I’ve never been involved in social media so if I get one highlight a day, I think I’ve kicked a goal.”

Supported on the track by Linc Gore, life’s pleasures include walking alongside family, friends and former police colleagues, which he describes as “emotional and pretty special”, and enjoying a good glass of red at the end of the day – from the Barossa, of course.

“Every now and then I take a deep breath and think, there’s always another day. You’ve got to be optimistic.”

Become a partner of The Barossa Mag

Get in Touch

Leave your details here and we will get in touch with you...