Garry McDonald AO (OC 1965), Actor

Watching TV in the 1980s, it was hard to miss the gauche and inept interviewer, Norman Gunston, with his thinning comb-over, always sporting fresh shaving nicks and an iridescent blue tuxedo jacket. On his self-titled show, the Wollongong born host interviewed the likes of Paul McCartney, Muhammad Ali, Keith Moon, Leif Garrett, Mick Jagger and Sally Struthers.1

Between these interviews Norman performed musical segments – often gracing us with excruciating solos in his “strine” accent – and comedic segments, like “Norman’s Dreamtime”, in which he answered questions such as “why do my underpants ride up?".2 Together we cringed when he asked Olivia Newton-John if she “made it so big in America” because of her relation to “Elton Newton-John” or “Patty Newton-John” and laughed when he tried to explain that a Logie Award was the equivalent of Sally Struthers’ Emmy and not a terrible disease.3

Norman Gunston was the alter ego of former Cranbrookian, Garry McDonald, who was first noted for “a quite fantastically good piece of characterisation” in 1965, when he played Colgrin in a school play, Thor, with Angels Down in the Valley.4 Garry described himself as a “bugger of a kid” with a cutting sense of humour which he used to great effect on school bus trips. His father recalls that “the upper deck would be roaring with laughter by the time it got to Cranbrook with Garry’s antics and his quick wit”.5

McDonald went on to study at the National Institute of Performing Arts, graduating with a Diploma in Acting in 1967.6 He first played a brief sketch of Norman Gunston while working on The Aunty Jack Show in 1973 and, two years later, he gave the character his own talk show with the help of celebrated author, Morris Gleitzman, and veteran screenwriter, Bill Harding.7 Following The Norman Gunston Show, Garry graced our screens for ten years as actress Ruth Cracknell’s hapless son in Mother and Son.8 He played Doctor Phillip Noonan in the popular Channel 10 series, Offspring, between 2012 and 2014.9

While Garry has enjoyed an incredibly successful career, his pursuit of excellence in an industry his co-actor Ruth Cracknell has labelled “the most public form of indecent exposure there is” has not been easy.10 Garry suffered from his first anxiety attack when he was twenty-two.11 The more successful Garry became, the higher his anxiety rose “'cause I thought there was more at stake” and he finally suffered a breakdown during an attempt to re-launch The Norman Gunston Show in 1993.12

Fortunately, Garry “did an unusual thing. He didn’t try to hide it” and sought treatment.13 Cognitive therapy has since allowed Garry to get his “life back on track” by learning how to “not allow your mind to… race off in its negativity”.14 Now he urges others to “deal with anxiety issues” from a young age “because [otherwise] you’re limiting yourself”.15 According to Garry, “You will not believe it after you have taken action, you will not believe it when you have your life back on track, it just requires a little effort in the beginning”.16

A Cranbrookian who has not only striven for personal best despite great barriers, but has also reached out to others with compassion and companionship, Garry is today not only an excellent actor, but a much needed and significant spokesperson for mental health. In 2003 Garry was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his work for mental health organization Beyond Blue and his long service to the entertainment industry.17