A team of six men are travelling across the rural New South Wales to promote men’s mental health and suicide prevention throughout the Riverina region.

The men, who all work for mental health support organisation Wellways, come from a range of different backgrounds but they all hope to promote acceptance and the importance of talking about mental health.

They also hope to learn as much about each other as the communities they’re visiting on their five-day, five town road trip from Wagga Wagga to Hay. The Riverina Roadshow will take in a mine at West Wyalong, a barber shop in Griffith and end at the first ever Hay Mardi Gras on Saturday, March 3.

Suicide rates have been rising in regional areas, especially in men.

“We want to start up conversations about men’s mental health, so we’re visiting interesting and different places. Places where this topic is not discussed much,” said group spokesman David Bauer, a Wellways recovery support worker.

“We want to start supportive conversations with men and for them to feel more comfortable talking about these things. In my work I talk about this a lot. But we decided we could do something about this ourselves,” he said.

In 2015 suicide claimed 33 lives in the Murrumbidgee area alone, according to HealthStats NSW. That year the region had about 15 suicides per 100,000 people, compared to state figure of about 10 per 100,000. The figure was statistically even higher in the Aboriginal community, and for young Aboriginal men in particular.

“Suicide, mental wellbeing and life challenges can impact anyone at any time. No one is immune to challenging life situations – mental health does not discriminate despite our diverse communities,” said Wellways CEO Elizabeth Crowther. “This trip is a fantastic way to get the word out.”

Wellways is delivering grass roots support to people after a suicide attempt with a $781,500-a-year investment from the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network, made possible through funding from the Australian Government under the PHN Program.

If you or anyone you know need to talk, please call:

Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78
 

 

The team before they left Wagga Wagga
The Team (left to right) Stephen Smith – Jay Morris – David Bauer – Dean Baylis – Pat Lawson – Romeo Remi

About the team members who all work for Wellways:

Pat Lawson Peer Worker
“Bringing suicide prevention and mental health to the forefront is crucial in educating people. Suicide can effect anyone, anywhere.”

Stephen Smith Community Engagement Coordinator
“I am a proud Wiradjuri man from Wagga Wagga. We are engaging with men from all walks of life discussing, listening and working towards changing the stigma around mental health and asking for help. I see this as a way we can work/promote in Aboriginal communities and work with our Koori men to empower them to become strong leaders in our communities.”

Dean Baylis Suicide Prevention Support Coordinator
“I love the Australian bush and the strong and proud communities that band together when times get tough. It is important to hear the raw stories of how suicide and mental health affects the men, families and the local communities.”

Jay Morris Suicide Prevention Support Coordinator
Everyone has a story, I am looking forward to hearing them and learning from the amazing people we will meet along the way. Learning about resilience, honesty, integrity and compassion whilst meeting an amazingly diverse, strong group of humans. No matter what colour, creed, sexuality, gender or identity we all have a story and their all worth sharing.

Romeo Remi Recovery Support Worker
“This trip is important to help let men know that it is okay to sometimes not be okay.  It is about reaching into communities and letting them know that suicide and mental health are things that can be spoken about safely. Being from Africa, where there is much taboo and no words to describe mental health, starting these conversations with our multicultural communities is very important.”

David Bauer Community Connections Coordinator
Why is this trip important? “Because suicide and mental health have affected me both professionally and personally. If this trip can save one life through raising awareness, then it’s made a difference.”

 

 

Roses and sign

 

Day 5 Hay to Parade

Six men, one vehicle, and a road trip across rural NSW to promote men’s mental health and suicide prevention ended at the first ever Hay Mardi Gras. Our weary travellers joined the revellers at the rural New South Wales town, population 2700, on Saturday.

They arrived after hundreds of kilometres, dozens of conversations … and consuming quite a bit of takeaway food.

The team joined the street parade and party, taking a well-earned break from talking about men’s mental health in macho places where those conversations are often taboo.

The Wellways crew were there to promote inclusion as Hay turned “gay” for the weekend. The Wellways Well Proud crowd were there too. It was a milestone celebration of community and family to end a landmark journey. Great work team.

 

Wellproud sign on the back of a ute in Hay

 

Barbers shoes and bottom of barber chair

 

Day 4 Griffith to Goolgowi

The passion, raw emotions, genuine smiles and true life stories that were shared over the buzzing of a number 2 haircut were deep, inspiring and real. Today visited Tristan’s Barber Shop in Griffith. We started off with just us men and the barbers in the shop, when Jay decided to get a haircut and chat to owner Tristan. As the barber shop filled with people the conversations flowed. Then a second guy jumped in the chair and had the whole room silent listening to what can only be described as his battle. 

His was an amazing story. Have you ever been in awe and felt that inspired where you feel the innate need to pick up the phone and call your mum? (Or other loved ones?). That’s how we felt.

Taking the time out for all important self-care, we decided to share some of the highlights so far and reconnect as a group. In discussions with one another, we came to the consensus that we were so proud of the way people have opened up and shared their stories.

We know from the people we have met, that reaching out is a key part of staying well and alive; over and over again we were told that building a strong network around you is a way to be able to share your story safely. 

As we enjoyed a beautiful pub feed we sat and talked to the owners about the effects of suicide in their small town of Goolgowi. One of the biggest preventers of suicide, as they explained it, is “talking about your issues, reach out and ask for help”. Our appreciation for rural NSW is at an all-time high, the openness and receptiveness of people has been amazing. As one of the lads we interviewed yesterday said you’re smack bang in the middle of NSW – depending on how big you make the circle, of course.

Travelled – 134km
Members left – 4 - Did you know Dean has actually gone to Thailand? (Insert eye roll here)
Hotel stars – We are lucky enough to be staying in the same room for more than one night :D
Meals - We had what could be considered the best steak sandwich on earth at Goolgowi Pub
Conversations – 3 amazing, heartfelt conversations with locals in Griffith and Goolgowi
Complaints about lack of phone reception – Many
Fire Danger rating – The yellow one

 

Dean Interviewee and Pat Behind the scenes

The lake

 

Day 3 photo of the photographer

Day 3 Lake Cargelligo - Griffith

Waking up before the sun, we had an amazing opportunity to truly feel connected to the land we were so gratefully on. Stepping outside our cabins and walking to the foreshore of Lake Cargelligo, overlooking the water we waited. As the sun began to peep its face over the distant trees, a stunning array of reds, blues and yellows could be seen in the sky. This was a simple reminder of how beautiful life can be, if we just wait out the darkness.

As our trip continues, we become busier and the distance we travel becomes farther. We have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the difficulties of living in a remote, rural town. We understand the shame and stigma that can be worn when dealing with mental health.

There is nothing more special - yet equally heartbreaking - than hearing the impassioned plea of a family that have lived through a death by suicide. As our time in Lake Cargelligo came to an end we were met with an overwhelming sense of community, compassion and caring from the people we met.

As people who work within a community service, we sometimes get bogged down or stressed over the “tasks” we have to complete, but the reality is, everything we do is for the greater good of the people and communities we lend a hand to. That reference group we hold, affects a community; that filing that we do, protects a person’s privacy; that printing we do, allows us to educate another person. Going forward, as a team, we are learning that everything we do has a cause and effect and everything we do is to make one more life that little better.

Overall, day 3 was fantastic. Getting to meet some amazing individuals that were willing to share their stories and still, getting to know each other a little better too.

Travelled – 150km(ish)
Pit Stops – One (Romeo this time)
Filming time – Roughly 4 hours of filming including some more fantastic travelling shots. (Pat can now officially describe himself as the next James Cameron)
Stories told – Two mind blowing stories. Plus, some sensational stories told between groups of mates at the local.
Radio Interviews – Zero today. Pat’s dream of becoming Jackie-O have been smashed out of the water.
Green “Distance” signs – 34 (maybe a few more. I stopped counting)
Road Works – Zero today. Stephen didn’t have to lose is cool this time.
Wildlife sighted – Family of goats just chilling out in the hills between Lake Cargelligo and Rankin Springs
Members left – Still six. No broken fingers but, Dean will be leaving tomorrow to go to Thailand. (No one knew about this)
Chinese food consumed - Lots! Jay ate a whole plate of chicken and growled at anyone trying to even see what he was eating.
Hotel Stars – Four. The Kidman Motel is glorious.
Holidays mentioned – One. Dean is going to Thailand and hasn’t said a single word about this to us. (For the last 2 minutes anyway)
Food consumed – Fishos (as mentioned in our lunch post yesterday) was even better. Romeo got a big breakfast without bacon (like, who doesn’t get bacon?) and Stephen ate toasted sangas with onion (that made us nervous on our trip)

Day 3 sunset over the lake

 

Day 2 the red earth and the road...

Day 2, Tuesday 27 February West Wyalong – Lake Cargelligo

It might just be the way nature works but the sky’s presented a beautiful wash of blue as we drove from West Wyalong to Lake Cargelligo today lifting the clouds on what can be (but shouldn’t be) a dark subject.

Our group of men had an amazing opportunity to present our trip to 20-plus services from around the Murrumbidgee and introduce our service, training and community connections. It is impressive to see the amount of passion in our region in assisting those who need it most.

Throughout the day we captured and celebrated the stories of people from vastly different backgrounds, life experiences and professions. Lunch on the go, a tight schedule and road-works brought us into the quaint, quintessentially Australian town of Lake Cargelligo.

Lake Cargelligo has a large Indigenous community, who are often the most vulnerable in relation to mental health and suicide. Our aim is to leave this beautiful town a little “Suicide safer” than when we arrived.

The most important thing to take out of today is the lessons, impressions and stories of the courageous men who shared their lives with us, even just for a moment in time.

Overall a fantastic day. Getting to meet some amazing people who were willing to share their stories and still, getting to know each other a little better too. A lot of kilometres travelled and a lot of tired eyes after a lack of sleep last night. But, we know it’s worth it because of the greater cause behind what we are doing.

It’s been a great trip to this point and I really can’t wait to see what the next few days have in store. Stay tuned.

Travelled – 180km(ish)
Pit Stops – 1 (Pat and Romeo couldn’t hold it in any longer). Also, Jay, Stephen and Dean had to go do some “interagency” stuff as Romeo and Pat were stuck doing the hard work.
Filming time – Roughly 5-6 hours of filming including some fantastic travelling shots. (Pat has learnt to operate the camera a lot better. Some fantastic clips, if I don’t say so myself.)
Stories told – Four Amazing stories so far, with a few more to come.
Radio interviews – One: Pat spoke with Simon at ABC Riverina and discussed what we were up to on this trip and how important it is.
Dust Clouds – Countless: so much red dust.
Road Works – Two: BIG trucks doing big jobs (slowing us down).
Wildlife sighted – Lots of cows and horses. (Do they count as wildlife?)
Members left – 6. Remember Dave’s broken finger and the boring story that followed it? Well, he has an appointment tomorrow so, sadly, he has gone home.
Hotel Stars – Zero!!! We are staying in Cabins tonight and living the life of luxury on an amazing Lake.
Holidays mentioned – One. Did you know that Dean is going to Thailand, still?
Food consumed – We had an amazing breakfast in West Wyalong, Pat’s latte and one of Stephen’s eggs were forgotten (don’t mess with Pat’s morning coffee or Stephen’s food) oh, and Jay got a free smoothie.
A late lunch was at a very popular café in Lake Cargelligo. Fishos Takeaway comes highly recommended.

Day 2 the team with Wings

 

view from the car day 1

Day 1 - Wagga Wagga – Temora – West Wyalong.

Wow! One day in and the stories that have been shared are nothing short of admirable. Driving from Wagga Wagga to Temora we all had the opportunity to get to know each other a little better, learning each of our intentions for being on the trip, a bit of our past history with suicide and mental health and our hopes for the next 6 days brought us all together.

Driving into Temora we were all anxious to hear the first set of stories from local, hardworking, honest men. Our first interviewee John sat down and shared his story, his raw, honest recount of what it has been like to live through a suicidal crisis and mental health in both a personal and community sense left us all having to pick our jaws up off the floor. What we loved even more was the fact John wanted to share some of his life experience and skills with us, being outside the set of questions we had intended to ask we all sat there on the edge of our seats eager to learn from him.

Throughout the day we met two more courageous men that wore their hearts on their sleeve and shared their journeys thus far. The afternoon rolled on and came to an end, but the conversations didn’t, as we embraced ourselves in the West Wyalong community during dinner we met a couple more legends: a family that had been through a lot. We were blown away by the trust and care that were given to us to hear their story, tonight we met a family, but left with an even bigger one.

Travelled – 200km(ish)
Pit Stops – 0 (surprisingly, considering the water that had been drank and Stephen eating a curry pie on the way)
Filming time – Roughly 6-7 hours of filming and a heap of photos (Pat is learning how to operate the camera now)
Stories told – 3 incredibly powerful stories for the DVD. Countless stories told in the cars.
Wildlife sighted - HEAPS. Kangaroos, Emus, Goannas (Romeo was too slow) and, they were all alive.
Hotel Stars – 3. Although, Jay thought that was 3 too many.
Holidays mentioned – Countless. Did you know that Dean is going to Thailand?
 

Day 1 Green sign with Jay