MND Australia

Mow Down MND: One more for the road

Woz is a truckie. Or was—for 40 years, until the middle of 2023 when he felt a tingling in his arm while doing some fencing. Soon after, Woz found out that he had motor neurone disease.

When Woz found out he had MND, he was living alone in Toolleen, a small town in central Victoria. Bendigo, the closest centre, is a 40 minute drive away. Belinda, Woz’s daughter says, “After diagnosis, you feel a bit hopeless.”

To start with, Woz kept working. But as his condition grew worse, he realised he couldn’t keep going. Giving up truck driving was hard. “I loved it,” he says. “I loved my truck. I used to whinge about it, but I loved it. It’s just in your blood.”

Woz was 65 when he was diagnosed, so not eligible for NDIS support. “I sold my truck, which I worked my whole life for,” he says. With support from MND Victoria, Woz was able to obtain a wheelchair, which helped him to stay mobile inside the home. Not one to be housebound, resourceful Woz began to use his ride-on lawnmower to get around outside.

Knowing his time was limited, Woz wanted to help others with MND. He had been listening to Professor Dominic Rowe talk about the importance of making MND a notifiable disease. If this were to happen, there would be more funding for research, better data, more information for scientists, more chance of a finding a cure.

Woz wanted to feel he had contributed in some small way, that there was something that could be done. Something that will help people with MND—if not now, then in the future. As Belinda says, “It was a clear mission and goal – we would be contributing to the work.”

So it was decided. Woz would drive his ride-on mower to Canberra. The aim was to meet leaders on the steps of Parliament House and present them with the petition. Woz, Belinda, and a team of supporters started to plan. They created a website, social media pages, and a catchy campaign name: Mow Down MND. “Belinda did all the hard work,” says Woz. “I did the easy part”.

The “easy part” as Woz calls it, was riding his mower from Toolleen to Canberra, via the Riverina district of New South Wales, a journey of about 800 kms.

Belinda and family acted as convoy. “It gave people a lot of hope” she says. “He’s an average guy who’s having a go at highlighting his story.”

The convoy rode through Shepparton, Griffith, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai and Yass. Woz’s story caught the attention of the media—local newspapers, A Current Affair, ABC News. For Woz himself, and the wider MND community, Mow Down MND became a symbol of hope.

People impacted by MND came from far and wide to meet Woz, some of them joining the convoy. Woz met Maxine on the first night at Shepperton—they’re still in touch. Then there’s his mate Freddy, and Jason, who races lawn mowers, and Margie, an artist from The Rock—her son Skip drove her in to Wagga.

“The people we met on the way were absolutely incredible,” says Woz. “Some of the stories are heartbreaking,” he says. “It blew my mind how many people it does affect and how widespread it is.”

Mow Down MND arrived at Parliament House on Thursday 21st March, twelve days after setting off from Toolleen. It was a clear Canberra day—blue sky, sunshine. 

Prime Minister Albanese was there to greet them. He shook hands with Woz and Belinda, and congratulated Woz on his achievement.

MND Australia CEO, Clare Sullivan, MND Victoria CEO, Kate Johnson, Woz’s local member, Sam Birrell, Senator Glenn Sterle, a fellow ex-truckie, and the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of MND Alex Hawke MP and Senator Carol Brown were all there to welcome Woz and the crew. Senator Penny Allman-Payne later spoke about MND and mentioned Woz’s mission in her speech.

For Belinda, Mow Down MND proved to her and Woz that “If you have a go, people will get behind you”. She says that Woz isn’t very good at asking for support. But with MND, Belinda says, “you’ve got to receive what you can”.

For the family, Mow Down MND was an opportunity to help Woz. And through the experience, Woz discovered how supportive people can be.

Woz is currently living in respite in Heathcote. After all the excitement, and as his condition worsens, he is struggling, physically and mentally. He’s getting good care, and now has a motorised wheelchair. But he can’t stand the confinement.

He’s spent most of his life on the open road but where he is now, it’s all restrictions and rules. Time drags. For him, MND feels “like being a bear in a cage.” He says, “I can’t do any bloody thing – that’s the worst part of it all”. 

Woz wanted the Prime Minister to know how it is for him and others who have MND, how quickly his life changed. “People can’t get it till it actually happens to them,” he says. Mow Down MND also gave Woz and his family a taste of freedom, a sense of possibility.

Reflecting on the day they got to Canberra, Belinda remembers the elation. They couldn’t believe they had pulled it off. “None of us expected it to blow up like it did,” says Woz. “We were like a bunch of amateurs who had robbed a bank,” says Belinda.

Mow Down MND raised a total of $36,992. The petition was signed by almost 14,000 people.

In early May, Belinda heard the news that Alex Hawke MP will likely present the petition request at the next Parliamentary sitting in June. The Mow Down MND team will be listening in. “I don’t want to miss it,” says Woz. “It would be bloody good if it got through”.