When 22-year-old Mati Batsinilas invited a lonely widower to join him on a family holiday – splashing out for flights and accommodation to make it happen – the last thing he expected was to get publicly slammed for his trouble.
But Mati was left reeling when an online opinion piece suggested his kind gesture could have had an ulterior motive.
‘When I go out fishing with friends, there generally aren’t news cameras in attendance and my “friends” aren’t draped with logos advertising their business,’ said a journalist on news.com.au.
The Brisbane carpenter tells New Idea he couldn’t believe what he was reading, and denies that the gesture was a manipulative effort to spruik his Facebook group, Bats Fishing.
‘It’s not a profitable business, it’s just a family fishing team. That’s why it’s our last name!’ he laments. ‘It’s just four brothers who love fishing. We aren’t sponsored. Yes, we have logos on our shirts, but it’s just small businesses we are helping out that belong to our mates.
They might give us some gear every now and then, but it’s because we are friends!’ Visibly upset by the backlash, Mati says: ‘We have put so much time and effort into this to do something nice, and this is what happens.’
Like many people across Australia, Mati’s heart ached when he heard about the plight of widowed pensioner Ray Johnstone, 75, who posted an ad on Gumtree for a fishing buddy after his last mate passed away.
‘When I read Ray’s story online, I was shattered about it,’ Mati explains.
Coming from an extremely tight-knit family of fishing fanatics, Ray’s story really resonated with him.
‘We are very close, very family-oriented. If something was to happen to us and our old man was left on his own, that’s just awful. There’s no way I would want that to happen to my old mate or my grandfather.
‘I spoke to my family about it and said there’s something we’ve got to do about it,’ Mati explains.
After writing a comment on the article offering to take Ray on a trip, the newspaper put the unlikely duo in touch.
Though on the surface it may appear they have little in common, Mati and his brothers Georgio, Peter and Angelo are just as obsessed with fishing as Ray is. They have four boats at home and set up their Facebook page to document their adventures on the high seas.
‘We have fished all of our lives – my earliest memory is fishing,’ Mati says.
After flying Ray and his grandson Ivan, 20, up to Queensland, the Batsinilas clan whisked them away to their favourite spot, picturesque North Stradbroke Island.
They stayed in a beach shack right by the water, and in addition to fishing, they went 4WDing along the beach, explored the smaller islands and feasted like kings on roast lamb with all the trimmings.
‘It was just a normal trip with my family, but with Ray along,’ Mati says, revealing the whole family embraced Ray with open arms. ‘Mum was cooking up a storm, just like any other Greek mother would!’
‘He’s got a beautiful family, they really looked after me,’ Ray says. ‘They are very nice people. I’ve eaten like a horse. I’m going to go home twice the size I reckon!’
’We just treated him like one of the family,’ Mati smiles. ‘He’s our new granddad, but more important than that, he’s our new mate.’
For the full story, see this week’s New Idea – out now.
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