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Daniher gives the MND beast a shove

Mark Knight, June 17, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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AFL umpire Ray Chamberlain talks to Neale Daniher before going down the slide during the Big Freeze at the MCG on June 14, 2021 in Melbourne, Victoria to raise money to fight MND. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraAFL umpire Ray Chamberlain talks to Neale Daniher before going down the slide during the Big Freeze at the MCG on June 14, 2021 in Melbourne, Victoria to raise money to fight MND. Picture: Getty Images


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It’s amazing what humans can do. When faced with what seems insurmountable* problems, some people just put their head down and refuse to accept defeat.

One such person is Neale Daniher, the former Essendon football player and former coach of the Melbourne Football Club. Those two aspects of his life gained him much success and respect, but seven years ago he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), an illness that little was known about, had no known cure and is eventually fatal.

MND is a neurological* disorder that destroys the motor neurone cells that control skeletal muscle activity such as walking, speaking, breathing and swallowing. People with MND will have slurred speech, difficulty walking and lack of muscle control and eventually an inability to breathe. Sadly most people succumb* to the illness within 3-5 years. But not Neale Daniher.

Neale and his family decided not to take MND lying down and embarked* on a program to raise awareness and money for research into the disease. Using Neale’s high profile in the AFL world, a special fundraising day called the Big Freeze was created. Held at the MCG before the annual match between Melbourne and Collingwood, it featured well-known celebrities raising money by sliding down a slippery dip into a pool full of ice water. It became a hit, sold thousands of blue beanies and raised over $40 million for research. Neale Daniher was given an Order of Australia for his efforts too!

I wanted to draw a cartoon about the Big Freeze event this year and pay tribute to Neale. Like all events we try to hold nowadays, The Big Freeze was disrupted by Covid. The Melbourne versus Collingwood game had to be held in Sydney due to the lockdown in Melbourne, but the celebrity slide was still held at the MCG, sadly without spectators.

Neale and his family had always referred to MND as the ‘beast’, meaning that it was something that couldn’t be controlled and when it had you in its grip you were gone. Interestingly, and just recently, Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton referred to the Delta variant of Covid as a ‘beast’ too. I thought it fascinating that we had two major illnesses both being called by the same nickname.

I decided I should create a ‘beast’ MND character for the cartoon and have Neale sending it on its way down the slide to its icy end. Since I was a child I have always loved drawing monsters and this MND creature would have to be fairly horrible to convey* the nastiness of the disease. So my sketch started with a large human-like figure but with red skin, warts, long fingernails and toe nails, horns and a blank, unfeeling gaze. Yep, that’s about right I thought!

I sat the unfortunate creature on its little sled about to be pushed down the slide by Neale.

But I needed a punchline. Neale Daniher needed to saying something.

Then I remembered the beast nickname for Covid that Brett Sutton had used. Covid has dominated the medical and health spotlight for the last 18 months. Yet here we were on this day, indeed over the past seven years, witnessing this very personal battle between Neale Daniher and the MND beast as they battled it out. MND has Neale in its grip, that is true. After seven years of fighting it, his speech is slurred, his movement is slower and we see the toll it is taking on him. But he hasn’t given up and is punching back for all sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease.

In the cartoon I drew my coronavirus character standing next to Neale as he is about to push it down the slide. As he is about to, he looks at the Covid character and says “Now this is a beast!” pointing to the MND figure.

Mark Knight’s cartoon. Right click to open in new tab and view full size. media_cameraMark Knight’s cartoon. Right click to open in new tab and view full size.

The cartoon aims to highlight that even though we are in a pandemic and the coronavirus is front and centre of the world’s health priorities, there are other medical battles going on at the same time, just as life threatening and to those affected, just as important!


  • insurmountable: too serious or big to be beaten
  • neurological: to do with nerves and the nervous system
  • succumb: give in or be overcome by
  • embarked: set off on
  • convey: carry or deliver, as in a message or idea


World-record skydiving for MND

Scientist becomes world’s first full cyborg

Mind-control brain implant trials to begin

Stars’ icy plunge for MND


  1. What does the green shape on the left of the cartoon represent?
  2. What does the big red creature represent?
  3. Who is the man in the beanie?
  4. Where is the cartoon set?
  5. Who is the cartoonist?


1. What Happens Next?

Imagine this cartoon is part of a story that is made up of three cartoons. The three cartoons tell a complete story, and Mark’s cartoon is the start of the story. Think about what the story could be and draw the next two cartoons that tell the story.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Arts, Visual Communication Design, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
‘To be a great cartoonist, being able to draw is only one of the skills that you need.’ Write a list of all of the other skills that you think cartoonists like Mark need to do their job. Next to each skill, write a sentence that explains why that skill is important or helps them to do a great job.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability, Media Arts, Visual Communication Design

Describe It
Look at the cartoon and make a list of 5 nouns that you see. Then describe those 5 nouns with 5 adjectives.

Be specific and add where those nouns using prepositions and another noun.

Now choose your favourite bundle and put all the words together to make one descriptive sentence.

Extra Reading in health