14 February 2023

Bear gears up for his first shave in 43 years to support the battle against the 'Black Dog'

| Chris Roe
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Man with beard

”Bear” will bare his chin for charity for the first time in 43 years. Photo: Chris Roe.

With his towering two-metre frame, mane of white hair and wild and bushy beard, Graham ”Bear” Falconer is one of Wagga’s most recognisable characters.

But later this month, there’s a good chance that even his oldest friends will walk right past him on the street after he goes the full shave for charity.

“After 43 years, I’m shaving the beard off and the hair to raise money and awareness for Ronald McDonald House and the Black Dog Ride,” he says, chuckling through his impressive whiskers.

“There’s a bit of a debate going on about what we might find, whether there’s one chin, two chins or maybe a piece of pizza from 1982.”

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Bear’s wife Nerolie has no idea what to expect when the hair is gone.

“I’ve known him for probably 40 years and I’ve never seen him without it, so I don’t know whether I’ll be scared or happy,” she says with a bemused smile.

“I’m going to have my phone filming so that I can get the reactions of our children and our grandchildren. They are not going to believe it’s their pop!”

The big shave will take place at North Wagga’s Black Swan Hotel on 25 February and Bear promises live music and games, with the beard itself to be raffled off, as part of the fundraiser.

“We set a goal of $4300 and we’ve got two great causes,” he says.

“Ronald McDonald House helps families with kids in the hospital system so they don’t have to worry about where they’re gonna stay that night.

“The other is the Black Dog Ride, which is all about raising awareness around depression and suicide prevention.”

three people and motorbikes

Bear and Nerolie are the NSW coordinators of the Black Dog Ride. Photo: Chris Roe.

Bear says that he and Neroli have been involved with the Black Dog Ride for almost a decade and they are now the NSW state coordinators.

“It’s a very rewarding job and we find there’s a lot of people out there who just want someone to talk to and they just want to have someone listen,” he explains.

“Depression, suicide, it doesn’t target any one group or race or creed or age group, anybody can get a touch of the black dog.”

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The ride had its beginning in 2009 in Busselton in Western Australia when Steve Andrews got on his bike after losing a family member and good friend to suicide.

What began as a solo ride around Australia has grown into a national community that has raised millions of dollars and had thousands of lifesaving conversations about mental health.

Bear says he has also lost people to suicide and encourages open discussion of mental health.

“You need to talk to somebody if you’re not doing well and if you see your mate’s not doing so good, say ‘What’s going on?’,” he says.

“The beauty of what we do with the Black Dog Ride is that we’ll turn up in a little place or a show and shine, and people will talk to us because we’re not there the next night.

“They’re not going to walk in the pub and see us and be embarrassed and we’re not going to hold anything against them.”


Bear and one of the only surviving pics of his chin. Photo: Chris Roe.

Bear says that while they can’t fix people’s problems, they can point people towards help.

“I met this rather large motorcycle rider a while back and I said to him, ‘Mate, you look like you need a hug’ – and I ended up hugging him and he just lost it,” Bear recalls.

“He was a young fella and he’d had a couple of [suicide] attempts and he had nowhere to go and he didn’t know what to do.

“So we spent an hour talking to him and we’re not counsellors, but we listen and we point them in the right direction, which is the main thing.”

The “Bare the Bear” shave will take place throughout the day on Saturday, 25 February at the Black Swan Hotel, and you can find out more here.

If you are struggling with mental health, you can contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue.

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