One of the most overused and damaging narratives about Western Sydney is the “You’ve come a long way, you’ve do well to get yourself out of there”. Success often means leaving the West and dropping any association with it as quickly as your ex-boyfriend. The most effective way to prove our worth is to get out, move away and join in the finger-pointing at those people who live “out there.” None of us chose where we were born, some of us just make the best of it and it’s actually pretty bloody good. Footy legend, breakfast radio host and all round great guy Mark Geyer is one man who proves that success can come because of growing up in Western Sydney, not in spite of it.
I didn’t pick this career, it picked me. I think everything I’ve done along the way, good, bad, or ugly, to be here where I am at nearly 50, I’m a lucky man. I am a very lucky man, and I never take that for granted.
The Westies: You are born and bred in the Western Suburbs and continue to live here, the trend is often to move away – why have you stayed?
Mark: This area is so misrepresented, even at Triple M where I work every day on radio. They can’t believe I still live “out here” – in Penrith. It only takes me 40 minutes to get to work, people comment, “Wow, you live all the way out there”. It’s always the same, “all the way out there”. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest. I love where I live, I could move and live wherever I wanted to live, but as far as being grounded and having the best of everything, I think this is the place I want to stay.
The Westies: What do you think it is that actually keeps you here?
Mark: The people. It’s definitely the people.
The Westies: What about them?
Mark: Their unpretentious, honest, helping. I always say to anyone, if something bad is going to happen to you, you want to live in Penrith, because people come out of the woodwork to help. I’ve founded my charity work in this area and every time you put something on, you pack the joint out. Even when people can’t afford it, they’re trying to find ways to help, whether it’s donating a prize, or donating a few dollars. You don’t get that anywhere else.
My wife gave me a saying, about seven years ago that I’ve got on my desk at work, it says “To whom much is given, much is expected”. I live my life by that. And I’ve been given a really good break in life, by doing breakfast radio, I use my voice as the voice of the West. I’ve dug in and entrenched myself in the place that made me who I am.
Looking back now at how poor we were, I didn’t realise it, because there was so much love in the house. We used to break the house, which was fibro, to draw our lines on the road for handball courts.
The Westies: You grew up in Mount Druitt what do you think is the biggest gift that has given you is?
Mark: I think that I don’t take anything for granted, you know. I remember vividly on my 12th birthday. Mum gave me an envelope, and she had tears in her eyes as she gave it to me. It had a card, she had handmade, and in the card there was ten paddle-pop sticks, which were all differently colored. At the time we lived near the stormwater drain where we used to race sticks. And she said, “I just thought these”, and started bursting out in tears. She goes “I just thought these might be better than the sticks”. And I said, “These are so much better than the sticks”. I just started sobbing as well. I said, “Mum, this is the best present I’ve ever had”.
It cost ten cents. From that day on, that was the turning point in my life, when I saw how much she was upset by what little she could give me and little did she know that that was the best present she ever gave me. I thought, “Mum, this is great. You know that I love the drain, you know that I’m down there every day with sticks, cutting sticks up and this is such a heartfelt present, I will never forget it”. I can’t tell what I’ve got for my 18th, my 21st, my 30th, or my 40th, but I know exactly what I’ve got for my 12th birthday.
The Westies: Does that impacted how you raise your kids?
Mark: Look, I’m a big softy to be honest. For a bloke of six-foot-five and 115 kilos, I’m a big softy. I cry at cartoons. I’m a firm dad, but fair. I think in a day and age when life is so unpredictable with social media and modern technology, you’ve got to try to protect your kids from all that. And it’s very hard to have one eye on what you’re doing as a person, and one eye on what a 22, 21, 18, 16 and a 10 year old are doing.
I never take anything for granted and I try and instill that in my kids, you know. While they’re not getting paddle-pop sticks, still Mum and Dad are working their hearts out to give to you everything. I tell ‘em, “You want the new phone, well, work for it. Get a job. Go to Woolies.” And they are slowly doing that. They are forging their own path as young adults. As a Dad that’s all you can ask. My wife, she’s the rock that gives me everything I need and everything we are. She’s a great mum, and I’m a lucky man that I met her when I was 18.
I’ve got to get to bed at night at 8:30, 9-o’clock when I’m not tired. So I do a lot of thinking in bed, and there is one thing I think about all the time – it’s how good life is, and how I don’t want it to end. I just love life so much.
The Westies: Looking from where you are now, you’ve got a pretty impressive resume. Was there ever a plan for all of it?
Mark: No, no plan. When I was about 16, I started to take footy seriously, then I realised that I had this ability, and I had a bit of a growth spurt I went from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-4 in one school year, 9 to 10.
I went and tried out for a rep side, which was two years above me, and I made it. Then at 17 I was playing Under-23 for Penrith. So it kind of happened pretty quick and then, as they say, the rest is history. I went to first grade the next year – as an 18 year old. I represented New South Wales at 20, and my country at 22, won a Grand Final at 23, and then things changed, the landscape changed. We had a big grief here in Penrith with my brother in law passing away. People went their own ways, and we ended up in Perth of all places, had three years in Perth at the Western Reds. Then they folded in late ‘97 and I came back to Penrith and played ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000. Finished my career here, and retired in 2000, then I had a break in the media in 2002, writing a column, and doing some crosses for a Campbelltown radio station. Then went on the TV show called The Sunday Roast on Channel 9, and started doing Saturdays, with Triple M – Dead Set Legends, and then in 2009 this current job started.
I’ve never once in my life thought I’d be on Breakfast Radio. Never once! I’m far from the world’s best wordsmith, but who is? Who’s raw, who’s real in the media? I know I am. I know I can say that. When I got the job on Channel 9, I knew I was fumbling things and stuffing words up, and I went to the boss and said, “I think I might need media training”. He said, “Why?” I said “Because of all the stuff-ups, I know what I meant to say, it just doesn’t always come out” and he replied “Mate, that’s the beauty of it, that’s who you are.” He said, “Never lose that, because otherwise you’ll lose work.” And that stuck with me. I never try to be someone I’m not.
I don’t understand why we keep wanting our sportsmen and sportswomen to be our role models, let’s back off a bit and let them do the sport they’ve been blessed to play, and let them be role models to their own kids.
The Westies: You’re doing a lot of work in the community, mentoring kids. What do you think the importance of having a mentor is?
Mark: I think mainly to listen to somebody who’s walked in their shoes. I never talk about anything that I haven’t experienced myself, and I think it’s important for kids to know that I didn’t just played for Penrith, New South Wales, then Australia, then win a Grand Final. A lot of things had to happen for me to do that. A lot of things had to happen for me to be a father of five kids. A lot of things had to happen for me to be a husband of 25 years. You’ve got to work hard. People go, “you’ve got the best job in the world”. But I’ve got to work hard at it. I do my research every night, I’m going to make sure that I know something on who we’re talking to. So I can bedazzle them with the facts.
So mentors are very important in life, role model though is a label that I think is bandied about probably too fruitfully, I think a role model is someone you actually know, and have been taught by. Footballers aren’t role models, because you don’t know them. People call me a role model of the West every time they mention my name. I might be a figure of the West, I might be a personality of the West, but not a role model of the West being a role model means I might let people down and I never want to do that, I’ve done it before and it sucks!
The Westies: Thanks so much for your time and honest conversation
Mark: No worries, I’m an advocate of the West. Will be till the day I die. That’s why we’re sitting today having this chat, because there’s a lot of people like you, who are also invested in the West as I am. When you meet people who are like-minded, you do anything for them. Full stop.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James