A bit about Matt Gillett - Since his debut at the age of 21 against the Cowboys in March 2010, Matt Gillette has achieved just about everything including representing Australia and the Qld State of Origin. Matt played in one the most memorable all Queensland NRL Grand Finals in 2015 when the Broncos lost by one point to a Johnathon Thurston Golden Boot. At 31 Matt is fit and ready to tackle his 10th year with the Broncos – to achieve the illusive Grand Final win in 2020.
Running with The Children In this month’s Close Encounters Story, I ventured into the home of Debbie (Deb) and Peter (Gillo) Gillett, parents of Broncos Superstar Second Rower, Matt Gillett. Despite both Deb and Gillo growing up in Lismore and Macksville, NSW respectfully – they have lived on Bribie Island for more than 27 years with their three boys, Luke (26), Matt (31) and Scott (34) – well the boys mostly live in close proximity. To put this into perspective, Matt was born in Macksville, NSW and was moved to Bribie Island when he was a 3-year-old. I figured the best way to find out about raising boys and how one of three boys ended up playing professional league for the Broncos is to meet Deb. I also jumped onto the Brisbane Broncos Website to review the 197 plus game history of Matt Gillett.
This story is mostly about a mum’s journey and her drive to make things happen for herself and her family. Gillo will join Deb and I later in the story. I was met by Deb at their home on Bribie Island and taken through multiple corridors past the kitchen into the rear entertainment area. Deb was enjoying a late afternoon beer as she walked me out through the back yard and towards the rear fence to show-off a new large caravan. I would have accepted the offer of a beer if I hadn’t just consumed a bucket of Ice Latte from the local Coffee Club. Deb told me that they were gearing for another getaway in their new van. I even had the opportunity of inspecting the caravan – its bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining room – it’s a large impressive home on wheels – I might suggest an Airbnb option - thanks Deb for the tour. We sat together on the back deck to talk life, boys and Deb’s strategy for developing her grandson (Matt’s young boy) into a famous musician. Deb is a communicator, storyteller, prankster, kind soul and thrives in social environments. She was raised and schooled in Lismore, a North Eastern NSW Town of approximately 27,000 people. Her mum and dad operated The Gollan Hotel in Lismore for many years where Deb was able to master the art of living, working, counting cash, serving food and socializing amongst a bustling rural community – this was the late 1970’s. Deb said, “I had a lot of good times around the hotel. On many occasions, I would invite my country friends to stay and we would go up to the roof above the 42 rooms and sunbake. We pretended that we were at the beach. I had a bit of a set-back at 16 when it was discovered that my lower back needed to be fused due to the serious risk of permanent spinal cord damage. This was a tough few years because I had to wear a full body jacket to protect the surgery,” she said. “The best part of my teenage years was getting my car license and regularly heading to Lennox Head, a seaside village in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. We had a family caravan beside the surf beach at Lennox Head so I could tan my bod and check out the spunky surfers – They were the days. I must confess to have removed the body jacket in order to look great at the beach and maintain my tan,”
Deb and Gillo met at a Pink Floyd Concert in Sydney (1979) – it was clearly a bonus that Gillo was a long-haired surfer from Macksville and no doubt had the ‘spunk factor’ in Deb’s eyes. They have been together for about 40 years which is probably testament to their complimentary personalities and country upbringing. When I asked Deb to define success amongst her boys, Deb says that each of the boys have been successful in living true to themselves and their family. She said, “We are all born with a gift, it is how we choose to apply our gift and where your support and nurturing comes from. We are a strong family. My boys love their Island Home and we have rolled with the needs of our children. As with most parents, we would do anything to help our boys. I have always said that if you are lucky enough to have children, you need to run with them and lead the way to adulthood. When I was a 16-year-old girl, I was told that I will never be able to have children – it was tough, but we had three.” As crazy as it sounds, Gillo and Deb took an opportunity to travel around Australia when Matt was about 18 months and Luke was 4. Deb said, “It was a huge adventure made possible by a redundancy payout to Gillo. The release of the first disposable nappy prior to our Australian Tour was an absolute bonus.” You can now see the link between the new caravan in the back yard and the history of travel and adventure – it’s in the blood.
Enter Peter (Gillo) who arrived home from work to join our chat. Deb describes Gillo as a workaholic and looks forward to his retirement, although I am informed that their next caravan adventure can be taken using long-service leave. You certainly do not look at Gillo and think ‘retirement.’ Gillo appears to be a respectful character – calmly spoken – a warm and considered man. He certainly has an educated view on sport and its’ positive impact on children. When talking about raising boys, Gillo says, “Our families were always involved with helping local clubs particularly within Rugby League in Macksville. Even though I was raised as a Rugby League player and surfer, our boys initially played soccer at the local Bribie Club. I felt that soccer was not as brutal on young bodies as League and I also felt that soccer really improved your peripheral vision and understanding of the game. We were very involved in the soccer club. I was coach and Deb was involved in the committees. The boys all played but as soon as the game was over, the boys would head across with their mates to kick the footy. We were very relaxed about what the boys played as long as they were developing friendships and team skills, we were happy. It wasn’t until the age of 11 that Matt moved codes to Rugby League.” I am told that the Rugby League and Soccer Fields are in close proximity so Deb, Gillo and the boys just packed their gear, changed the ball shape and joined the Bribie Island Warringal’s Rugby League Club. Gillo was at home here because he loved coaching league and his whole family came from a Rugby League Base.
When you talk to Deb about the differences in abilities and personalities, it is obvious that Deb and Gillo knew that Matt had a slightly different gift and opportunity to advance into the professional game of Rugby League. Deb said, “As with all parents, you work double shifts and work with your husband to assist your family. Fortunately, when Matt was gifted a Sports Scholarship to Morayfield High School for his last two years of school, the school offered to pick him up and drop him home otherwise it was not going to happen. We also had support from friends to do the pick-ups and drop offs. I think that life falls in varying directions without warning or favor,” Deb said. “I think that each of our boys are extremely talented. It’s just that Matt chose a professional footy career though fortune and good will – don’t get me wrong, his talent and awards are outstanding and he has maintained a good work ethic and lived according to his own moral compass which hopefully Gillo and I developed with our boys. The important thing in life is to be generous and happy and never expect a free ride – sometimes people will reward you and say, thank you.”
These days Deb works as a volunteer at the Bribie Island Neighbor House looking after the homeless community and people in need. As Deb was talking about the challenges faced within this volunteer role, you could see that this is what Deb does best in a community - helping people – finding solutions, negotiating and never giving up.
In reflection, Gillo said, “If we isolate Matt and his Broncos Career, he has given all of us enjoyment and provided entertainment for nearly 10 years. I think that through being loyal to your family, state and club, Matt has received the same in return from family, friends and the Broncos – it’s been a great journey as parents. As a dad, we are blessed to have three amazing lads and a close family.”
I didn’t mention Deb’s strategy to develop her grandson into a famous musician away from footy. The idea is to surround him with musical instruments and less footballs. Deb tells me that Matt’s 5-year-old daughter who was born on the same day as Matt may be a great Footy Player – watch this space.
Prior to my departure, Deb walked into the house and produced an orange topped bottle of a product called, PainAWAY – a joint and muscle relief spray that appeared to be endorsed by Matt. She proceeded to spay it on her neck. This is not a commercial for PainAWAY, however it does smell nice and seems to be a natural product packed with all those yummy ingredients like, Arnica, Montana Flower, Tincture, Rosemary Oil, Eucalyptus and Emu Oil – yes I accepted a bottle as a gift which I will declare to the editor – she may like some too. It seems that we may have revealed Matt Gillett’s secret to his long pain-free footy career.
It was a delight to spend time with Deb and Gillo – clearly two bloody great Australians and parents who ran all the way with their boys and continue to help their community with guidance from a few close family and friend souls that have pasted before them.
Go the mighty Broncos and go St Kilda….oh that’s my team.