An honest chat with Michael Caton on fame and life in the COVID era

by Helen Clare

“I said hey you guys, have you been experiencing a sort of low grade depression?”

Michael Caton was recounting a conversation he had a couple of days before recording his interview as a special guest on The Shed Wireless (the podcast all about Men’s Sheds).

“I had some friends over the other day and they’re a little bit younger than me, both sort of immunity compromised a bit,” he told podcast host Aaron Kearney.

The question about low-grade depression was sparked by how Michael had been feeling recently.

He was about to turn 77 and going about everyday life (since COVID-19 emerged) had left him feeling unsettled.

So were his friends feeling something akin to a low-grade depression like he was?

“They both answered yes,” reported Michael.

“And I’m not saying it was any big thing but it’s just there lurking.

“Because of age, because I’m an asthmatic, because I’ve been a heavy smoker in the past.

“I know that I’m under the gun a bit so it just hovers there.

“And when you think about the men’s shed, it must be (too) for people who take that support and camaraderie from it.

“They must be feeling a bit isolated themselves,” he said.

He agrees that COVID-19 has snatched away a lot of the things we all  took for granted.

“Yes it has. I mean I’ve got to make a trip after we finish talking and the mask will go on.

“And the hand sanitiser will get clipped to the belt because I’ve got to drop in and have a health check for my licence because I’m over 75” he said.

“We have been out but it’s a very rare thing and it’s usually where we can dine outdoors and that’s about it.”

For the record, Michael doesn’t live in Victoria.

And while he wasn’t subject to any particular restrictions at the time of this conversation (recorded remotely) he revealed he’s been taking upmost care to avoid the virus.

On fame and that iconic movie, The Castle

“I was totally unprepared for fame,” said Michael.

“At times fame is wonderful. You know, it opens doors but at other times it sort of inhibits you.

I was always much more outgoing and a bit of a yahoo prior to fame — and I found out I had to put my head down a bit and cancel some of my behaviour.

During the 1970s and early 80s, Michael was a regular ‘visitor’ in homes all over Australia because of his role in the hit TV series The Sullivans.

He recalls that 42% of televisions in Melbourne were turned on to watch every episode.

He had never expected to become famous.

After starting out as a wool broker when he left school, he dabbled in amateur theatre.

And then came The Sullivans.

“You ride that wave and then you become a bit like the couch in the corner because you’ve been around for so long.

“And I’m not the handsome leading man type of person.

“Then all of a sudden after 12 months of unemployment and a bit of therapy, along comes The Castle. And it’s been an amazing ride,” he said.

I feel sort of terribly privileged to have the life I’ve had and I’ve got no regrets. My life took me to places I never thought it would.

It was Michael’s starring role in The Castle that still sees quips such as ’Tell ‘em he’s dreaming’ and ‘A man’s home is his Castle’ used in everyday conversations all over the nation.

“Oh, The Castle was a phenomenon. It was such a beautiful script,” said Michael.

“And it’s interesting to talk about The Castle actually because, talking about the Men’s Shed, that came a year after I’d been in a deep depression.

“So I got myself off to a psychiatrist and worked through it, behaved myself.

“And then The Castle happened, quite by accident. I was actually a last minute choice.”

On what matters most

“If you had the power to change anything what would it be?” asked Aaron Kearney before letting Michael get away for that health check.

“It’s the way we take this planet for granted,” he said.

“I’m very concerned politically about the way they are abusing our water.

“People want to drill down through water tables in some of the best agricultural land in the world to get gas out, where the science is not there to get it out safely. I try and do as much as I can in that area.

‘If I could do anything I would love to make people be aware and be active about saving the long term future of our planet.

“Because I’ve had a great run.

“I was a year too old for Vietnam. I’ve come through a time where medical science has kept us alive a lot longer than we used to,” he said.

“But at the same time what are we going to leave the next generations unless we change our thinking really quickly?”

Michael Caton was special guest on The Shed Wireless Episode 1 (Season 2)

New fortnightly episodes include a feature Shed plus all the latest Men’s Shed news.

 The Shed Wireless host Aaron Kearney OAM

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