As the sun begins to set on another Friday at Moorabbin in early 2017, Danny Frawley and Stewart Loewe (but mainly Buckets) are hard at work.
Armed with hammers, Spud’s rusty handsaw and – after realising the enormity of their task to strip the soon-to-be demolished G. G. Huggins Grandstand of its timber seats – power tools and generators, the afternoon in the resourceful duo’s newly found lumberyard is well underway.
They’ve already collected enough wood to fill Loewe's station-wagon three times over, but Spud’s grand plan is only just coming to life. The entire third tier of the old members stand will be picked clean, even if it takes all night.
As the whir of angle grinders and Spud’s hearty laugh echo around the ground, Sean Ralphsmith – watching his son, Hugo, train with the Sandringham Dragons – recognises his former teammates perched high in the stands.
“I saw them up there and I sort of knew they were doing it off their own bat,” Ralphsmith told saints.com.au.
“I went down there with this deep booming voice as if I was some person with authority and said ‘Oi! What are you blokes doing up there?’.
“It was funny, Loewey was laughing and Spud didn’t know who it was because he couldn’t see me at first. Loewey says he’s made a few things out of the timber they took and still has some boards left, just preserving a little bit of Moorabbin history.”
Now, on that same patch of earth where the G. G. Huggins Grandstand once stood, a new structure in memory of a late champion is being erected.
The Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing will be a beacon for the community at large, combining a host of physical and mental health facilities, services and programs in the name of a man so passionate for the cause.
Ralphsmith has been brought back to St Kilda in a part-time consultancy role, helping bring the vision for the world-class complex to life, develop its business model and liaise with mental health organisations to ensure the most relevant initiatives are run from the centre.
He and Frawley played together at the Saints from 1991-1994, bumping into each other around the club every so often post-retirement before taking up cycling together a decade after hanging up the boots.
Ralphsmith, whose son Hugo was drafted to Richmond in 2019, has also recently joined the Saints Past Players Committee, and sees the Danny Frawley Centre as an opportunity to create a destination and sense of belonging for St Kilda past players as well.
“The one word is ‘connection’: creating a place where people and the community can feel connected when they walk through the door and feel welcome,” Ralphsmith said.
“We’ve seen football and the AFL develop in the community where they’ve become role models.
“We’re role models as a club – players are role models, too – so if we’re talking about this and we’re creating a safe space for people in the mental health area, I think that will be incredibly important.
“I think an extension of this is creating a destination that will be really helpful for past players as well.
"I can envisage times where they might be able to use the gym or come to watch training, but also avail themselves of the help provided on the mental health space if that’s what someone needs."
The significance of the Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing’s future impact has been made even more pertinent in light of the alarming findings from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
Last month, the commission unearthed deep gaps in the “crisis-driven” and “broken” system, an over-reliance on hospital-based services, emergency departments and medication for treatment, along with poor access to suitable support services.
Furthermore, it was clearly stated that many people in need of support had been turned away as they did not meet the “threshold” required to receive treatment.
“There was a lot of evidence of people who had issues going in seeking help and being turned away because they weren’t ‘sick enough’, in inverted commas,” Ralphsmith said.
“What we need to do, and what I’ve learned in talking to people, is to make sure that people can’t be turned away. They need to be given advice and they need to be directed to those who can help them.
“That’s a big challenge because you can’t be all things to all people, but if we build a presence in Danny’s name where people feel like they can walk in, let’s make sure they don’t walk out dissatisfied.”
In the 65 recommendations presented by the commission, there was a consistent thread of the necessity to redesign mental health services and move towards a community-driven model.
And just like how Spud would embrace those who were at their lowest ebb, the centre in his name will welcome those in need of guidance and support and break down the stigmas surrounding mental health.
“It’s bittersweet really, because it’s such a perfect name to put on a centre. If he were still with us, the name might not be there, so that’s what I think about,” Ralphsmith said.
“What we’re doing is making a positive out of something that was obviously a tragedy and keeping his legacy and name front of mind.
“We want people to think that if they’re struggling and they want to talk to someone, they need to be able to walk in and feel welcome, not be turned away.”
If you or anyone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Spud’s Game: Time 2 Talk is a ground-breaking new initiative designed to tackle mental health issues within the community through a special tribute match in Round 2, established in honour of the late Danny Frawley.
The initiative aims to encourage greater connection within the community, destigmatise mental health and raise crucial funds to support research-based mental health programs at the Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing and Movember’s Ahead of the Game program.