After graduating in History & Politics from the University of Exeter, English born television producer Matt Etheridge worked for British Sky Broadcasting in London for eight years prior to joining the flagship Australian commercial free-to-air network Channel 9 (Sydney) in 2010. Matt writes of his encounter with and personal impressions of kidnap survivor Warren Rodwell, the longest held Australian captive outside of war time.
I was lucky enough to meet Warren Rodwell when my Executive Producer asked me to chase a story on a true Aussie survivor. I was told only of his name at first and that he had been held hostage by Islamic militants for over a year. I then had a chase on my hands to read up and lock him in for an interview for the Channel 9 Today Show. .
. Reading his story, I was impressed. 472 days in captivity and at the hands of ruthless bastards, infamous for beheadings. This had to be some guy to survive that. My mind was already racing with questions and so when I got hold of him, I couldn’t let him go. We chatted for almost three hours and I was glued to the phone.
Warren had a typically Australian charm. Modest, self-deprecating and funny. His captors had shot him in the hand, threatened him, starved him and made some steep ransom demands. But Warren refused to give in. “What kept you going?” I asked him. “My passion for Rugby League and the NRL,” he said. “I held on to the spirit and determination of those players and thought to myself, how would they be coached to deal with a situation like this?” “Also, I really wanted to taste potatoes again.” I was in stitches. His sense of humour and plucky approach was inspiring. Here was a guy, who faced one of the toughest ordeals I can imagine and how did he keep it together? His love of Aussie rugby league football and mash. . Warren made it down from Queensland to the Channel Nine television studios in Sydney to appear live on the TODAY Show, Australia’s longest running morning breakfast news program. That evening, I took him to an NRL game out at Penrith in the far western suburbs, where the Panthers were taking on the North Queensland Cowboys.
It was a privilege to spend time with this man who I could see loved the game and loved life. Mr Rodwell spoke enthusiastically of how he grew up playing schoolboy rugby league in northern New South Wales, and the character and team-building qualities it so often develops in players. .
He stated that rugby league fans are, for the most part, unaffected by any ignorant negativity of non-devotees, as this code of football historically commenced as the result of a working class struggle. .
. The Panthers won and Warren was extremely happy. He had tipped the Penrith team and South Sydney Rabbitohs would make it to the season finals. He was almost spot on and I thought of him immediately as I watched the Bunnies legendary 2014 Grand Final, their first victory since 1971. I text him during the match and received a message back just before full time: “Glory glory to South Sydney.” It struck me then. The Rabbitohs and Warren share a lot in common.
Both Souths and Warren had experienced dark days. But now they are enjoying the light and I guess tough experiences make the moments of joy, elation and triumph all the more satisfying.
. Almost as satisfying as mashed potato. Isn’t that right, Warren? .