The nation lost a once in a generation cricketer, but by all accounts we lost much, much more than that.
In March 2021, I sat here writing about the state memorial for music industry giant Michael Gudinski, reflecting on how some of the world’s greats are being taken away before their time. Now a year on, I sit here again writing after sitting among thousands of others paying tribute to yet another icon of our nation, this time a legend of the sporting world.
Shane Warne, known by most as the lovable larrakin Warnie, was a lively and colourful character. A remarkable talent on the cricket pitch, Warnie broke records and made his sporting gift known with few examples better than his legendary Ball of the Century during the 1993 Ashes series.
Following his unexpected death at age 52, Warnie’s family accepted the offer for a state memorial service at the MCG, a place dear to Warnie’s heart, which took place on March 30th. Hosted by Eddie McGuire, the event included panels of friends and colleagues, speeches by loved ones, video messages, and a mix of musical numbers. The grounds were set up with white panels on which photos were projected of Shane with his nearest and dearest, as a dynamic showcase of him and his life’s work.
Over 50,000 people were in attendance, including dignitaries such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison, valued invitees such as Matt Gudinski, and everyday fans, friends, and supporters. With the cricket pitch front and centre, with VIPs surrounding it, there was no question that Warnie’s love of the game was going to be a major part of the reflections of the evening. However, the takeaway messages of the night transcended his genius sporting abilities and were about his down to earth personality, his zest and enthusiasm for life, and his fierce love for his friends and his family. It sounded, by those who shared stories and reflections, that Warnie really encapsulated what it was to be a good Aussie bloke – someone who loved the game, loved his country, loved his family, and valued mateship above all else.
While we all knew Shane Warne as the spin King, fewer of us were aware of the depth of his charity and humanitarian work. Although many celebrities tend to dabble in acts of charitable kindness, what we learned at Warnie’s memorial was that for him, this was a deep part of who he was and what he truly wanted to do. His own father shared stories of how Shane Warne went to help following the Black Saturday bushfires, and speeches were made about his Shane Warne Foundation and the genuine and tangible impact it, and Shane, had on ill and underprivileged children and their families. How amazing it was also to have a representative from the United Nations at a state memorial, talking about the important work that our own Warnie did in environmental and animal conservation, and even better to have a new grant announced in his honour to continue his work.
Some of the most poignant moments came when Shane Warne’s family took to the lectern to share their words about their son, their brother, and their dad. Keith Warne, Shane’s father, explained that he and Shane’s mum could not imagine a life without him. He spoke about how his cricketing achievements were amazing, but ultimately it was who he was as a person that they were the proudest of. It was saddening to hear from a grieving father, but it was a privilege to hear from him during what is no doubt his most difficult time.
‘It was the person he was away from the cricket field that we will forever hold up as his finest achievements’ ❤️
Shane Warne’s father, Keith, delivers a touching tribute.
— Fox Cricket (@FoxCricket) March 30, 2022
Warnie’s brother, Jason, shared stories about when the two were younger, and how they always wanted the best for one another. A letter penned in 1992 was shared with us that Jason wrote for Shane, ultimately telling him to go for it and to make the most of the opportunities he has, and to “give people the opportunity in 20 years time to say remember Shane Warne”. Summer, Jackson and Brooke, Shane’s beloved children, also bravely shared their messages to their late dad. This was another occasion that had us in tears, with Summer sharing that her dad saved her from her demons and that he could make anyone smile, with Jackson reflecting on how the most simple times shared together were some of the most fun, and with Brooke talking of how alike she and her father were. While his children spoke it was a harsh reminder of some of the things that Warnie, and them, would be missing out on in the future, and tears were rolling down the cheeks of many.
A range of entertainment was provided throughout the memorial. Jon Stevens performed live, starting with an endearing rendition of INXS’ Never Tear Us Apart, and the ever-bedazzled Anthony Callea made many of us cry during The Prayer, which had the MCG lit up with phone lights. Throughout the memorial, there were a number of pre-recorded performances by some of Warnie’s musical mates, such as Elton John who performed Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Ed Sheeran with Thinking Out Loud, Chris Martin singing Yellow, and Angels by Robbie Williams. When The Saints Go Marching In was joyously played on trumpet in the middle of the MCG’s cricket pitch, with the crowd clapping along. There were video tributes by a range of his friends and colleagues that really helped to show us who he was to so many people. The kind words and the lasting impact is surely what we all hope for when our own time comes.
To round out the night, Shane Warne’s three children took to the formally known Great Southern Stand, and together unveiled the big sign clearly showing that this is now, rightfully, the Shane Warne Stand. This led to the crowd erupting in a “Warnie” chant, recreating the sound that would flood a cricket ground when he would take to the pitch back in the day.
The ‘Shane Warne Stand’ is unveiled at the MCG by his children – Brooke, Jackson, and Summer – during the state memorial service for the Australia legend ✨ pic.twitter.com/mhMb8W3Vck
— ICC (@ICC) March 30, 2022
Walking away from the MCG, past Shane Warne’s statue donned with flowers, cricket balls and VBs, there was a sense of reflection among the crowd. The MCG was lit up in green and gold, and travelling back through the city, so too were a number of other landmarks.
The nation lost a once in a generation cricketer, but by all accounts we lost much, much more than that. Vale, Shane Warne.