Ausnew Home Care | Gayle and Mac Shann say it's 'happy days'

Gayle and Mac Shann say it's 'happy days' two decades on from Australian Story appearance

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After the recent rains, the grass is long and waving in the soft breeze. With the sun setting behind them, Gayle and Mac Shann walk among their pretty broodmares in a paddock that stretches to a golden horizon. 

These are good days on their 28,000-acre station Cantaur Park in Central Queensland. For the Shanns, the good times and bad times have come in extremes.

"My story is written on my body — in scars and missing limbs," Gayle says.

portrait of a woman wearing a widebrim hate and check shirt in a grass field as the sun sets behind her. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
After a good season of rain, the grasses are tall on the Shanns' remote Queensland property.(Supplied: Ally Graham Photography )

The Shanns are old friends of Australian Story. As the program celebrates its 25th anniversary, their story is one our audiences have loved more than any other. Both at the time of our 10th anniversary and now.

When a call was recently put out to our audience to nominate their favourite of the 1,000 programs made in the past two-and-a-half decades, you voted for the Shanns.

Since the first program in 2003, by popular demand, Australian Story has been back to catch up with their progress in 2006 and 2015.

The Shanns' faithful dog Wilson.(Supplied: Ally Graham Photography )

Now, as we visit them for a fourth time, Mac says watching those earlier programs is "an amazing diary to look back on and just see how tough the tough times were and how good the good times are".

It is a story of lives being torn apart by a savage accident, of resilience, acceptance, overcoming and great love.

When the Australian Story crew arrived to make the first program in 2003, they stayed for two weeks. Those were the days.

"It was full on, we didn't know what we'd said yes to, to be honest," Gayle recalls.

During those two weeks, Mac shaved the head of the late, much-loved cameraman John Bean ACS for the Leukaemia Foundation World's Greatest Shave.

Australian Story crew
Australian Story crew Leigh Wayper, Janine Hosking and John Bean ACS with Gayle and Mac in 2003 while shooting the original episode.(Supplied: Gayle Shann)

Back then Gayle was frail, badly wounded and traumatised.

She worried she would be too much of a burden for Mac, that no-one would find her attractive. She had wondered if she would be better off dead.

Since then, there have been drought years, multiple operations, letting go of things they had wanted and hoped for.

"I don't think I would have had a clue what 20 years down the track would have looked like for me," Gayle says. "But I would never have imagined that I could be as happy as I am now."

A woman in white brim hat with one arm looks out to distance at sunset
Gayle says the Australian public has "put Mac up on a bit of a pedestal", but he deserves it.(Supplied: Ally Graham Photography )

A life on the land

Gayle had grown up on an isolated cattle station two-and-a-half hours west of Ingham, coming from a pioneering cattle breeding family.

Mac too had grown up on a remote property in Far North Queensland. Both mustered on horses from an early age.

The young Gayle was hardworking, independent, an aggressive competitor in campdraft riding. "She was just so capable," Mac says. "She could do anything a bloke could do."

Mac knew when they met at a campdraft that she was "the best-looking girl I had ever seen".

"I didn't think I had much of a chance."

It was an instant attraction for her, too. He was 21 when they married, she 24.

Mac adored Gayle, he idolised her; still does. Her sisters wondered how they could get their own boyfriends to be so devoted.

Passionate about their cattle and horses, they worked hard together on Cantaur Park.

Three years later, the worst thing would happen. And nothing would ever be the same again.

Photo of a young couple- man and woman- standing in front of a vine with red flowers in bloom
Gayle and Mac in 2000.(Supplied: Gayle Shann)

The day everything changed

Gayle has no memory of that dreadful morning on August 9, 2002. She doesn't even remember having breakfast.

They were building a garden fence with a post hole digger when her glove was caught in one of the release pins.

Mac remembers: "One minute she was there and the next minute she was getting thrown around, making a dreadful noise, she looked as dead as you can get."

By the time they brought Gayle inside, her right arm was missing, her left fractured and smashed.

It was two hours before medical personnel could get there. Robyn Newbury, a neighbouring former nurse, kept Gayle alive by locating the main blood vessels and pinching them off with her hands.

When she was told she had lost an arm, Gayle thought she could still ride her horses.

She had lived to ride and compete and couldn't imagine doing anything else. But then the doctors told her that her left arm had been irreparably damaged. And then, Gayle says, "it all became 10 times worse".

A frail woman in a hospital bed with husband and two sisters standing beside
Gayle in hospital in Townsville shortly after the accident, surrounded by Mac and sisters Sherri and Kylie.(Supplied: Gayle Shann)

She was in constant pain, there were sleepless nights. "It's a nerve pain," she says. "It can get as bad as it just constantly bends me over every few seconds."

She was back and forward to Sydney for surgeries. "In the last eight to 10 years, life has been so much better for me physically."

Gayle still wears her arm in a sling, but surgeries on her spine mean she has no control of her left arm.

"I've got a bicep muscle that came back to a degree," she says. "I can bend my elbow, I can bend my wrist, but I've got no muscle to straighten them.

"But it's much better than it was originally."

Mac becomes Gayle's 'arms'

They both had to adjust to the "new Gayle".

Mac has had to be her hands and arms. There was no way he was going to leave that to a carer.

For 20 years now, he has done everything she would do with her hands. Cleaning her teeth, getting her dressed, feeding her meals.

He had a crash course in "girlie" things like putting on make-up.

"Even if you do have a bit of an argument, you have still got to go and help them clean their teeth and take their make-up off," he says. "There's no cooling period that other couples might have. But our strong bond kept us solid the whole way through."

Mac Shann helps adjust his wife Gayle's hat.(Australian Story)

Gayle says Mac doesn't make her feel like "a burden" as her carer.

"He does everything for me," she says.

"Mac has always made me feel that my body and disfigurements are normal. They are normal for him, and they've become normal for me."

Mac was impressed by her strength. "She showed me that she was going to be able to do virtually anything that she put her mind to.

"She has never once said, 'I'm too sick or too sore'."

Adapting to a new way of living

Gayle has learned to do things with her feet.

"I do all the books; I have the keyboard on the ground. I drive the vehicles, the tractor, drive the buggy," Gayle says.

"I think doing what you love is the answer to everything. Our business is what we love and it's what gets us out of bed every morning."

Gayle and Mac both wanted children. Early on after the accident, they still thought that they would try. But Gayle would never be able to hold or hug them, be tactile with them.

She knew she would get "very frustrated" having to rely on other people to care for them.

But the couple talked and realised the best decision would be not to have children. They were both on the same page. "I think that helped her a lot," Mac says.

Mac Shann plays with a small dog beside a large horse trailer.
Gayle and Mac take time out with puppy Wilson at a campdraft in 2015.(Australian Story: Marc Smith)
A man in a wide brim hat competes in the ring on a horse
Mac competes at a campdraft.(Supplied: Gayle Shann)

Gayle tried to ride horses again, hoping that she could learn to ride with her legs. But they came to the realisation that it would be too dangerous if she fell without her arms to protect her.

It's "bittersweet" watching Mac competing at campdrafts from the sidelines, but she could still be involved with the horses, be around them, still connected to them.

A woman with left arm in a sling and wearing a wide brim hat puts her face on a horse's face
Gayle still has a deep connection with horses.(Supplied: Ally Graham Photography )

Gayle manages the breeding side of the business. "We do a lot of embryo transfer, artificial breeding. It's gone from a basic horse breeding operation to a much more complex one."

Mac and Gayle have been together for 22 years now. "We are still madly in love," Mac says.

When they go down to the main stud paddock to see what calves have been born overnight, "there is definitely a bit of a warm and fuzzy feeling between the two of us".

This year has been a good season. For Gayle and Mac, it's happy days.

"Having beautiful green waving grass around us, beautiful fat, happy calves, cows, horses and foals, this is where we are now. I wouldn't change a thing."

Source: ABC

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