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Paul Field wears his heart on his sleeve … literally.
The manager of the world’s most popular children’s entertainers, The Wiggles, has the name of his late daughter Bernadette tattooed on his arm along with an image of The Sacred Heart, which he says typifies both suffering and strength.
More than 30 years on, he admits his Catholic faith has helped him cope with the tragic loss of his daughter to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), the most painful experience of his life.
The former lead singer with Aussie band The Cockroaches was on tour in Queensland with brothers and bandmates Anthony and John when his second child, Bernadette, died suddenly in her sleep.
Only hours before, he heard Bernadette say the words “ta ta” on the phone to him.
Sadly, it ended up being her last words he would ever hear her say.
“You never, ever get over the loss of your child, it’s like an open wound that scars you and changes you forever,” he said with a tear in his eye.
“At first, you feel like you actually can’t survive it, that you might actually die yourself, the grief is so overwhelming.
“But you do go on and I believe in the Communion of Saints and know that Bernadette is always with me”.
“Even decades later, I still have bad ‘Bernadette days’, sometimes even weeks, when sadness overwhelms me. But there is a real comfort growing up as a Catholic, I know there is life after death and that love goes on forever. Our love for her will never die.
“My faith has allowed me to come to terms with her passing and know that her spirit lives on.
“Prayer and faith has always been a part of my life and brings me back to the fact we just need to love one another, it really is what gives me hope.”
Growing up in a devout Catholic family, Paul and his six siblings attended St Bernadette’s Primary School at Lalor Park where both his parents were very committed members of the school and parish community.
His dad coached the school footy team, his mum who he describes as a “black belt Catholic”, played the organ at Mass and together they ran the Parents and Friends Association.
It was also a house alive with music and where The Cockroaches and The Wiggles were born.
Both his parents came from musical backgrounds with his mum often saying “learning to play music is as important as learning to read and write”.
He smiles as he thinks back to his primary school years and in particular Sr Dominic … his music teacher who he attributes for the existence of both The Cockroaches and The Wiggles.
“Sr Dominic was pretty tough,” he said.
“She used to say ‘I bet you’d rather be out kicking a footy than in here playing music’ which was probably true to a certain extent, but she certainly gave us the fundamentals of music and performance while our mother gave us a love of music. And without our mum I doubt The Cockroaches or The Wiggles would ever have existed.
“I look back at our time in primary school and they are happy memories, growing up in a community and a beautiful and faith filled family.”
While at St Joseph’s Hunter’s Hill, the seeds of The Cockroaches were sown as Paul played music with his brothers and school mates. While attending ACU, Paul formed The Cockroaches and went on to have both Gold and Platinum album success.
However, after the death of his daughter and profound changes in the music scene, Paul stepped away from the industry and this is when his brother Anthony formed The Wiggles.
Paul worked in a number of fields including the judiciary and teaching at St Joseph’s Hunters Hill, before returning to The Wiggles as managing director more than 23 years ago.
Paul said growing up watching his parents volunteering around his local parish and school taught him to give back where you can and assist those in need.
Apart from the everyday charity “meet and greets” the band perform, they are also supporters of Red Nose Day in honour of Bernadette, UNICEF, Catholic agency Vinnies and the wider community.
And it was during a fundraising concert for bushfire relief in January that original yellow Wiggle Greg Page suffered a cardiac arrest.
Page collapsed after sustaining a coronary occlusion – a blockage of one of the major blood vessels to the heart – at a reunion concert where he was performing with original Wiggles bandmates Murray Cook, Anthony Field and Jeff Fatt.
“He came off stage and collapsed, there was no pulse and there was no breathing, nothing.
“None of us thought he would survive” he said.
“There were crew members who started CPR and then a nurse and a doctor in the audience took over and with the crew brought Greg back.
“I certainly said my share of prayers that night.”
As one of the world’s most successful children’s entertainers, The Wiggles have sold a whopping 30 million CDs and DVD’s, 9 million books and over 10 million live concert tickets yet his marriage to Pauline is the achievement he is most proud of.
Together for 40 years, married for 35, their relationship has endured and is stronger today than ever.
He said the bond they share is unbreakable and admits the best times in his life are those spent together.
“I guess we were meant to be; my name is Paul, hers Pauline, we are both the middle child of seven, we both went to a different St Joseph’s College, both our dad’s had major medical episodes in their 30s that they were lucky to survive and we both grew up in very Catholic families”.
“Faith is a common thread in both our lives”.
“Around seventy five per cent of couples separate after the death of a child and I can see why. Luckily, we both got counselling and got through it together. A good friend, Father Paul Glynn, also really helped us through our worst moments and we’re forever thankful for that.
“She has been at the centre of it all and I couldn’t have imagined going through it all without her.”
Today, when Paul isn’t travelling the globe with The Wiggles, you’ll find him on stage with his band, The Sacred Hearts.
With former Wiggle Jeff Fatt, the rockabilly outfit plays regular gigs around the country to a band of dedicated fans mostly unaware of the origin of the band’s name.
“I have always loved the symbol of The Sacred Heart, it represents my faith and is so beautiful to look at,” he said.
“To me it means both strength yet the struggles that we all face in life”.
“The music we play gives me so much joy. And I am so blessed with everything I have in my life. I don’t ever take that for granted ”
“My faith has been a constant in my life.”