Vale Matt Callander

Happy day: Matt and Anne Callander on their wedding day.
Happy day: Matt and Anne Callander on their wedding day.

Eighteen months ago, he was told he had the type of brain cancer from which no one survived.

In my letter (Leader, Wednesday, May 31), I  wrote that Matt Callander was in for the fight of his life, having contracted stage four of this unforgiving, debilitating and ruthless disease. There is no stage five.

Sadly, Matt's gutsy battle came to an end in hospital on Sunday, October 29. He was surrounded by his close family as he set off on his end-of-life journey in a calm and dignified way, so befitting the man we knew and loved.

Along with 500 mourners, I attended his funeral service last Friday afternoon in the courtyard at the Bondi Beach Pavilion.

It was an outdoor affair not many metres from the sun, surf and sand Matt loved and shared with his equally gutsy and indispensable wife, Anne, and their four gorgeous kids - Maddy, Indiana, Digger and Archie.

Anne and my daughter Kristy were the closest of friends, having spent many hours at my home as schoolkids and later getting into mischief they shouldn't have. Ironically, Anne became a police officer whose role was to prevent teenagers getting into mischief.

I spoke with the professional MC after the ceremony about the quality of the eulogies.

They were delivered by Matt's dad, Ken; Matt's close friend, Andrew Watson; and Matt's beautifully courageous first-born child, 20-year-old Maddy. He said he had conducted about 4,000 funeral services and that those today were the best three he had ever heard.

Ken Callander spoke of his son who had worked for 20 years at Channel Nine, and had negotiated the contractual obligations with the National Rugby League and the Super Netball.  

Ken referred to Anne as "the get up and go chick from Engadine".

Andrew Watson said that Matt's life centred on "family, footy and food", and Maddy spoke of her dad who said he wasn't perfect but, in relation to his wife, "he chose perfect".

Legacy: Matt Callander's gutsy battle against brain cancer came to an end in hospital on Sunday, October 29. He was surrounded by his close family.

Legacy: Matt Callander's gutsy battle against brain cancer came to an end in hospital on Sunday, October 29. He was surrounded by his close family.

Matt lived in the shire as a kid and played junior league for St George as a second-rower.

The reception hall fairly bristled with celebrities - Ray Warren, Andrew Johns, Peter Sterling, David Gallop, and David Gyngell, among many others.

It might sound a bit trite but it has been said, "it's not the size of a dog in fight that counts, but the size of the fight in a dog."

This became the catchcry of Matt - let's face this problem head-on and if we can't beat it now, we'll put things in place to eventually overcome it. There was a local touch when Matt moved into action by establishing a foundation for research into brain cancer.

Channel Nine and the NRL combined at Southern Cross Group Stadium to sell beanies at the game this year won by the Sharks over North Queensland. It was hoped the foundation would raise $400,000 - it didn't: it made more than $2 million.

A full-time research officer has recently been appointed to get the show on the road.

Not only was the funeral service a celebration of a life, it was a celebration of love -  for Matt and from Matt.

As the concluding moments of the ceremony approached, ominous clouds formed as droplets of rain danced on the mourners, not enough to disrupt proceedings, but to let us all know that, in some spiritual way, Matt was saying  goodbye.

A friend once said to me "you Catholics do two thing well: you produce good schoolboy footy teams and you handle death well".

So it is appropriate that I end with the words of an Irish poet, George Bernard Shaw, as they relate to Matt Callander: "Some men see things as they are and say why;  he dreamed things that never were and said why not".