Guy Mitchell grew up in the central-west New South Wales town of Mendooran until he was 16, when his family moved to Newcastle.
“I’ve lived there ever since,” says Guy, now 68. “Except for six years when I was in the regular army and moved around a bit.”
Guy joined the army a couple of years out of school and credits his time there with valuable skills for life.
“I worked in logistics and developed problem-solving skills as well as practical skills like administration,” he says. “But one of the biggest things was learning self-discipline.”
Following his army years, Guy moved to the Royal Newcastle Hospital and worked in the stores and purchasing departments, where his army experience was very useful. He then moved into Community Health and ran the Aids for the Disabled community team at John Hunter Hospital.
After a work accident which affected his back and his ability to work nine-to-five, Guy’s decade in the health system finished, and he looked around for something to suit his skillset and situation.
“I ended up in the entertainment Industry,” says Guy. “Music had started out as a hobby for me; I played the guitar and harmonica and played a lot of bass guitar in bands on and off. Then I met a guy who became a very good mate. We started a national country music magazine which went for while… but nothing lasts forever.
“I decided to focus on music and had a band, which was a three-piece, but could also be a four or five piece, or just two – you have to be flexible. I played in that until about 2000.
“By then I was starting to get a bit old for the lifestyle and I’d done about 15 years in bands. I decided I would retrain and go into event management. I’d been doing it anyway for more than a decade, and once I was qualified, I also started teaching it.”
But unexpected open-heart surgery which included a quadruple bypass changed Guy’s life again.
“I found I couldn’t handle doing some of the things they were doing for rehab,” he recalls. “I ended up going into hospital because my kidneys were shutting down. I came through that with the help of family and friends and started rehab again.
“Then one of the specialists I was seeing for the kidney issues said she thought I had Parkinson’s. I was 62 by then. In hindsight there were lots of things I didn’t pick up on earlier. I was put on a treatment which made me feel so much better in 24 hours and life went on.”
But after a few years, Guy’s condition deteriorated, and he needed more and more help from his wife.
“It’s damn hard for just one person,” he says. “I ended up getting assistance through NDIS. I got a bit of equipment and kept trying to just push through. But the support workers I have now are absolutely brilliant. I need assistance 24/7 and they are an absolutely amazing team.”
Guy describes Newcastle music therapist, Carlin McLennan, as an ‘unbelievable’ person who got him back to music.
“I’ve written and recorded about six songs since,” he says. “One of the support workers ended up being a musician himself, and I’ve found a bit of a network with old mates from school who were in bands, too.
“I’ve also started a YouTube music channel with a bit of music, comedy, everything.
The address is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNEBK_Ciue8
It’s named after the first song I wrote about getting Parkinson’s – Me and Mr P.”
More than a year ago Guy put together a show on his back veranda.
“It went damn well,” he recalls. “Now I’m working on putting on a better show. I can’t play bass anymore, so I mainly do vocals and most of the writing.
“I’ve also written a book on event management to help young people who want to get into the entertainment industry – what you have to know and do legally, and all the things I’ve learned. I’m hoping to get it published.”
Guy, who married a couple of years into the army, has two children aged 36 and 31.
“My son works in disability support services but also has an interest in professional wrestling,” says Guy. “He owns a production company and a training school as well as performing himself. My daughter started running kids’ discos in high school for pocket money. So, there’s a bit of entertainment business in both of them!
“A few years ago, my son put on a professional wrestling event to raise money for Parkinson’s NSW and that went really well.
“A couple of weeks ago there was the Ride for Guy motorcycle event which had motorcycle clubs, bands and raffles etc to raise money for a van with wheelchair access for me. My son’s friend created the event, and everyone ran with it. It was really great.”
While Guy applauds his family, carer team and the help he’s receiving, what he’d really like to see is more government funding for more diverse support groups for people living with Parkinson’s.
“People can have Parkinson’s at different ages and with different needs and interests,” says Guy. “Earlier on I was too busy with my work and family life to put the time into a support group. Now that I have the time and the skills, I don’t have the energy and the ability they need any more.
“There are wonderful Parkinson’s specialist nurses who would be great doing it, but they already have more than enough to do. These groups are really important for people living with Parkinson’s. Making support groups work takes time and experience.
“I hope that the government will recognise the importance of support groups to people who have to live with Parkinson’s changes over many years.”