Sheppard contacted a suicide support service that promised an email back within 24 hours. He’d rush home, open his computer and gratefully open the email from the only other human being who knew how he felt.
He would listen to a song, Joining You, by Alanis Morissette, that told him his thoughts were not the only reality. He would listen to this song on repeat.
With these small actions he tethered himself to the world and waited for the darkness to lift.
Sheppard’s now one of Australia’s brightest young literary stars. Thousands of followers check in for his latest daily cheeky Instagram selfie, guessing what colour his mohawk will turn next. He’s attracted national attention for his debut novel, Invisible Boys, which has already won three major awards before its official release on October 1. He’s spending October touring Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. He’s an ambassador for Lifeline.
How did he come so far in just a few years? Read the rest of Holden’s moving and uplifting story here on WAtoday.
If you, or anyone you know, needs mental health support, please call a helpline such as Lifeline 13 11 14; beyondblue 1300 224 636; Mental Health Emergency Response Line 1300 555 788 (Metro) or 1800 676 822 (Peel); Rurallink 1800 552 002; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; The Samaritans Crisis Line 08 9381 5555.
For specialist help lines including for men, young people, the LGBTIQ+ community and rural residents, see this list.
This story originally appeared here, on WAtoday. It’s a long read, but I poured my heart into writing this on Friday, so if you are interested, please grab a cup of tea and give it some time.
If you’ve ever experienced traumatic grief, you will know a part of you will always be grieving, will never get over it, despite you managing to build a ‘new normal’.
But after some years passed, another part of you might have realised it taught you something, sparked a change.
Maybe something big and visible, a new mission. You’ve committed to making a difference in the world, and now you’re got the iron will to achieve it.
Maybe something more private. You’re more compassionate, more ‘present’, more appreciative of the small things.
Are you grateful for these changes? Of course you are.
Would you give them up in a heartbeat just to have that person you lost back? Just to hear their voice one more time, give them one more hug, even for one minute?
Of course you would.
It’s hard to acknowledge anything good could come from the worst thing that ever happened to you.
But just as grief is a universal human experience – as terrible as we sometimes are at talking about it – it might comfort you to know that this unexpected gift of growth is not an aberration.
“I don’t think many people have heard of post-traumatic growth, as it’s a relatively new field of study,” said Leigh Sales, who explores the concept in her new book, Any Ordinary Day.
“Most psychological research in the past has focused on the ways that awful life events impair normal function.
“Post-traumatic growth is the positive personal changes in outlook or attitude people can experience in the wake of something awful happening to them.
“Of course, nobody would ever want this, you’d rather not have the bad thing happen to you and not experience the changes!”
Sales, who appears this weekend at Perth’s Disrupted Festival of Ideas, said it was only 25-30 years ago some US researchers started to ask if, after a period of time, traumatised people might not just return to “normal” functioning but instead in some cases have “enhanced” functioning.
“Rosie Batty turned her personal tragedy into a major national campaign for domestic violence awareness.
“[Now] extensive research, looking at people who’ve experienced all kind of cataclysmic life events, from facing breast cancer to dealing with a death in the family, shows that people do develop in positive ways from those experiences.”
Sales, best known for her work on ABC’s 7.30, herself lived a blessedly lucky life until one day, about to give birth to her second child, she suffered a uterine rupture – a rare and often catastrophic event that frequently kills the mother, baby or both.
They both survived, but Sales’ sense of trust in the world had been irrevocably damaged.
She began to dwell on luck and chance, on blindsides, fear and how people cope with loss. Not losses like the expected death of an elderly parent, but the ones that can instantly tear a life apart.
She had spent much of her career trying to avoid direct exposure to these events, she wrote. But her own life in 2014, plus the news stories she anchored afterwards, made her realise avoidance was pointless – like “trying to hide from life itself.”
In an effort to walk towards, not away from, such possibilities, to stare them in the face, she wrote Any Ordinary Day.
Sales interviewed people including Stuart Diver, the sole survivor of the Thredbo disaster, whose wife died beside him; Walter Mikac, whose family died at Port Arthur; and Louisa Hope, a sufferer of multiple sclerosis who was also a hostage in the Lindt Cafe siege.
She crunched the numbers on the actual odds of a person experiencing such happenings and examined the reasons we all tend to be far more afraid of being involved in, say, a terrorist attack, than a car crash (spoiler alert… the media plays a role).
She also spoke to “ordinary” people who had lived through events that never entered the national consciousness, but were nevertheless the stuff of nightmares, asking them and herself: How did you survive? And if it happens to me, how will I bear it?
The answers were unexpected and precious: stories of resilience, love and hope, such as that of Juliet Darling, the priest and the detective.
Juliet’s late partner Nick Waterlow had an adult son from a previous relationship who had paranoid schizophrenia and believed his family was plotting to destroy him.
One night at a dinner, Antony stabbed his sister and father to death. His sister’s daughter, a toddler, was also seriously injured.
Juliet had not gone to dinner. The news of her partner’s death was brought to her doorstep.
But so was something else: people whose actions illuminated the vital role other people can play for another’s recovery.
In the following days, while Juliet was rocked with shock and fear, Father Steve Sinn, who would oversee the funeral, and lead investigator Detective Graham Norris, made countless small and yet infinitely compassionate gestures.
Father Sinn’s first gesture on entering her home was to throw away a vase of dead flowers, without pausing for permission or directions.
At Nick’s funeral, with Antony still at large, Detective Norris slid up to her and murmured, ‘You don’t need to be afraid, you can’t see us but we’re everywhere’, freeing her to farewell her partner without having to glance over her shoulder.
“Often people reported to me that when something dreadful happened in their life, some of their friends disappeared because they didn’t know how to cope,” Sales said.
“It was a bit like being plonked into a foreign land … if you found people who could speak the language, they were like lifelines.
“In Juliet’s case, she had two people who came into her orbit who seemed to speak the language … both seemed to understand death and they didn’t seem rattled or fearful.
“Both acted as if they believed she’d cope, and so that made her feel more calm.”
Three years after Nick was murdered, Juliet’s son George, a healthy 26-year-old, died of sudden and unexplained heart failure while at work.
“She had such a rough trot and she was a lovely person,” Sales said.
“I found her, like everyone in the book, completely compelling and moving in describing what she’d been through and how much insight she had into it. And also her bravery in telling me about some of the worst things in her life because she wanted people to understand what it’s like and to know better how to help others.”
Juliet’s experiences forced her to re-evaluate the beliefs that had previously shaped her understanding of the world.
She had once believed that everything happened for a reason, for example.
And that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
She now dismissed that as a cliché; no, she believed, something so terrible could easily weaken you.
But she was now more attuned to kindness in the world around her.
And more compassionate towards people who struggled to know what to say or do in the face of loss.
“People can sometimes feel resistant to the idea that such a horrible thing has changed them in positive ways, because of course, the pain of what happened is so much more present than any sense that you’re a more compassionate or present person,” Sales said.
“As I said, nobody would want post-traumatic growth if they had a choice. You’d rather be a lesser person and not have the trauma.”
And of course, anyone would choose to take that trauma from a friend if they could.
But in the absence of such an ability, Sales remembers advice from Father Steve Sinn.
“[This] has stayed with me more than any other thing anyone I interviewed said to me,” she said.
“He said all you have to do is accompany. You don’t have to say the right thing, do the right thing or even have any idea what to do. You just have to be there.”
Disrupted: Festival of Ideas runs this weekend at the State Library of WA in Northbridge, with guest speakers Leigh Sales, Karl Kruszelnicki, Geoff Gallop, Tracy Westerman, Bri Lee and more.
All Disrupted events are free and all panels will be live-streamed and on the Perth Cultural Centre screen.
Property damage, midnight cement mixing, secret meetings with rogue public officials: in her new book, an Australian environmental protester has described the surreal experience of doing what she felt was right, only to find herself on the wrong side of the law.
Chinna, who has published four previous poetry collections and whose doctorate research documented lost wetlands, has just launched The Future Keepers, describing how ordinary people risked injury, confrontation and criminal charges as they wrecked fencing, chained themselves to trees and faced off with police horses; and how public servants risked getting the sack, to support the protesters.
It describes the lead-up: years of attempts to toe the line and work within approved Environmental Protection Authority and Supreme Court channels, and the eventual failure of these attempts leading to the last resort of physical protesting. One of the biggest Perth has witnessed, at its peak huge police teams were on site daily, protecting machinery the outgoing government rushed into action before election day.
Chinna’s poems flicker through images like a film: of official meetings at the EPA offices, conservationists and public officers poring over a 368-page report full of tea-stained maps; of clandestine meetings in anonymous cafes, where government workers against Roe 8, but afraid of losing their jobs, used cafe detritus – napkins, salt, sugar and water bottles – to demonstrate the scientific principles that would bolster the protesters’ arguments.
“How alienating it is to talk about nature in those terms, to have these graphs and statistics and offsets … if we take this we will give you something else,” Chinna told WAtoday following the launch of her book.
“They can measure the species, the flora, the fauna, hydrology, geology, but they don’t mention things like the experience and reality of it, the wonder and beauty, the extraordinary.
“To go through all these supposedly protective channels … then to find that there is no protection.”
Chinna reveals, after all else failed, the dislocation of being an everyday citizen – a longtime community volunteer, who saw herself as a good and law-abiding person – suddenly undertaking acts of civil disobedience in an increasingly hostile conflict that saw numerous injuries, arrests and charges laid.
Anxiety rises from the pages like steam as Chinna describes damaging fences by night, the local hardware store running out of spanners as the contractors repaired the boundaries daily.
So many older women took part that they had to cover their silver hair so it would not shine in the moonlight as they wielded their spoons – not over mixing bowls of biscuit batter, like good grandmothers, but over buckets of cement to be poured into the holes of the fence posts.
They recorded licence plates of utes driving in and out, even followed them, in their efforts to document gaps in the wildlife trapping process; and they donned armguards, thumbcuffs and even nappies, preparing not for admittance to a nursing home, but to trespass barriers and spend long nights chained to trees.
“A friend held my hand, and they kept coming and came straight into us and knocking us out of the way with their horses,” Chinna said.
“We were stumbling and falling as this line of police and horses just kept pushing.
“We were just a bunch of people; of all ages, old ladies, older men and women and all sorts of people there just standing in the road.
The footage appears to show a police horse trampling on protesters at Roe 8.
“A lot of the police in attendance were very decent people, but there were just like in any crowd, people who were pretty rough.”
She described a young policeman, who confiscated her phone.
“He was only about 20, and being so rude and aggressive, I said to him: ‘You know, I’m old enough to be your Nanna.’ He snarled at me that I should start acting like a proper nanna. And I thought, I am! I am trying to protect this world for future generations. Isn’t that what a nanna should do?”
Chinna said the effort to attend repeatedly, as one poem puts it, to “the latest urgent request to bear witness” caused tension so intense it was at times nauseating.
“To watch a place you know intimately to be destroyed is a gut-wrenching, horrible thing,” she said.
“There were several times there when I suppose I lost it. I cried when I watched the tawny frogmouths being killed, the woody pears being torn out of the ground, the beautiful flowers that I had known from years of walking and being among them, weeding and planting.
“But … that was the only way we were going to stop this thing. We didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think the police enjoyed having to be there. But at the same time we felt that we had no choice.”
Meanwhile, government and media commentary painted them as ‘dole-bludging scum’, she said.
One morning, she stopped by the blockade about 7am on her way to work, and stood there with an elderly woman.
“People would do that; before work, or after, or some would get the day off work if they needed to,” she said. “Someone drove past and honked and yelled, ‘get a job, you bastards’. This lady turned to me and said, ‘I am a retired teacher. I am 80 years old. What do they expect me to do?’
“We were all sorts of people just asking the government for better solutions for transport. I know there’s been talk about putting Roe 8 back on the agenda and it seems to be the battle that is never won; but really I think people should learn from what happened in that suburb: that the community really won’t put up with this anymore.
“We want progressive solutions … to retain green spaces … not just ovals; places other species can live in. To have our shops and goods and transport and retain our natural systems as well.”
It was this hope that lay at the heart of her work, Chinna said; hope and celebration of conservation work taking place in Perth, such as at Kings Park and Botanic Garden, where Chinna was the first ever Writer in Residence in 2016, and which inspired a whole section of her book as well as its titular poem, The Future Keepers.
“The quietness of the work they do is such that I don’t think people know about it,” she said.
“They work all over the state and internationally working to revegetate old mine sites and preserve endangered species; they are at the top of their field and they are such amazing people.
“There is a metaphorical thread through this book that we can work together, respect Indigenous knowledge, and protect this extraordinary planet.”
The Future Keepers is published by Fremantle Press at $24.99
On Christmas Day 1957, Bruce Trevorrow’s father Joe was concerned about his baby son’s incessant crying. He knew little Bruce wasn’t well.
Joe was an Aboriginal man, who had no way of getting from his home in South Australia’s Coorong region to Adelaide Children’s hospital, a two-hour drive away. He walked in the blistering heat, cradling his feverish son, into the nearest town and pleaded for help. A relative of his wife agreed to drive Bruce to hospital, to the panicked father’s enormous relief.
That was the last time he ever saw his son.
Fifty years later, Bruce Trevorrow became the only member of the Stolen Generations ever to sue an Australian government for compensation – and win.
Tony Buti, now a member of the West Australian Parliament, was at that time a legal academic and expert on the Stolen Generations.
After reading the judgment on the Trevorrow case handed down in 2007, Dr Buti could not forget it.
“It was an incredibly beautifully constructed judgement; logical and at times poetic,” he said.
“I wanted to bring this story to life.”
Six years of interviewing and research followed, considerably slowed by the sheer volume of material and by his election to Parliament.
“I essentially did it over summer periods and weekends but I could never spend long stretches, because in this job there is always another commitment,” he said
“I considered giving up … but I felt an obligation to the people that I interviewed.
“I also knew this story should be given to a wider audience.”
Buti after a long road to publication. FREMANTLE PRESS
It took ten years to complete A Stolen Life, launched this month to a sell-out crowd just ahead of NAIDOC Week, an account of the ruining of a child that is all the more devastating for the careful precision of its language.
Joe and Thora’s home was a shack Joe had built himself. It was basic, with a swept dirt floor, but clean. ‘Native welfare’ officers had inspected, but not reported it unfit for children. They found no evidence of neglect. None of Bruce’s siblings were ever removed.
Yet on January 6 the hospital allowed a foster family to take the recovered baby ‘Brucey’ home without so much as a fostering licence.
The laws of the time stated that to remove a child from their family, there had to be either parental consent or a government order. Neither happened.
Bruce’s frantic mother, unable to get to the hospital, wrote multiple letters to authorities asking how Bruce was and when he could come home.
They responded that her baby was still not well enough. Thora only discovered the truth when it was far too late to reverse.
Bruce’s foster mother had her own mental health issues, which worsened when he grew older and began to display signs of emotional trauma.
“There was love there, but it was always a problematic relationship,” Buti said.
“She was having difficulty coping, he was being a difficult child and she would threaten to send him away so he felt this great sense of insecurity.”
When Bruce was around eight and his skin had noticeably darkened his older foster sister bluntly broke the news of his Aboriginal heritage, and the boy’s sense of rootlessness deepened.
He eventually met his birth mother Thora on his ninth birthday and soon afterwards authorities abruptly decided he would be better off – after all – back with her.
They told Bruce he was going to Thora’s for the school holidays and removed him from his foster mother without warning or allowing for goodbyes. The 10-year-old, with little experience with Aboriginal environments, who had not been emotionally prepared to leave his foster mother, was thrust back into an Aboriginal environment he had no knowledge of and taken to meet a host of strange relatives.
Bruce’s father had already died. He never bonded with his siblings or mother and adulthood brought full-blown psychological problems and alcoholism.
The adult Trevorrow was always able to work but he grew familiar with psychiatric hospitals and ended up in court repeatedly for hitting his wife. He never connected with his children.
When this lost soul walked into the office of Joanne Richardson, who was working at Adelaide’s then-equivalent of the Aboriginal Legal Service, he was her age but she couldn’t believe how much older he looked.
“He was a man who didn’t feel comfortable anywhere. He didn’t exude warmth. He wasn’t an attractive person to be near,” Buti said.
“But when Bruce told her his story, she felt it needed to see the light of day.”
It took thirteen years for that day in court.
The ALS had few resources. Richardson carried a heavy load, dealing with civil matters, and had a couple of paralegals and another lawyer assisting her but was engaging barristers to help out. Every time she engaged a barrister, that barrister would then get promoted and leave.
Things turned a corner when Richardson’s persistence secured the now-famous Julian Burnside QC, whose initial reluctance to take on such an uncertain case turned into a burning determination to win after meeting Trevorrow and, like Richardson before him, being shocked by his appearance.
The trial went for 38 days. The state threw everything at it; no member of the Stolen Generations had yet successfully sued the state and they were worried about opening the floodgates. There were skilful advocates on both sides and keenly contested expert evidence.
Trevorrow, although he had difficulty communicating, was a good witness in the very truth of how he stood in court: as a broken man. The appearance of his siblings, who had had every success in life, underpinned his case. Their strong family upbringing and connection to culture meant they coped with their ups and downs in life, ending up with important leadership roles in the Aboriginal community. His older brother even lectured at Harvard.
This brother, Tom, told the court Bruce was very quiet, and “different”, from his first visits.
“He’d missed out on – how could I say – our way of life, because he was raised differently and we had to be aware sometimes when we talked, and we’d talk in our language,” he said.
“We’d talk about somebody, or we’d talk about something, that Bruce wasn’t familiar with … even sometimes our actions of what we do with our body language, our Ngarrindjeri ways.
Tom told the court later in life, Trevorrow would sit with family on his intermittent visits, and “tears would run down his cheeks in front of his eyes, he was hurting and didn’t want to show it … everybody knew of what happened to him and it wasn’t fair and we knew that the way he was carrying on is because he couldn’t fit in again, even though we tried helping him fit in, he couldn’t … it’s hard to put into words sometimes; it’s what we feel as blackfellas, as Ngarrindjeri, inside, what we sense about each other.”
It was hard, he said, to put into whitefella words.
“They belonged to a world that Bruce never belonged to,” Buti said.
“Bruce … was caught between two worlds, unsure of who he was, and without the security of a family that would allow him to forge his own identity.
“He was stolen and it just seemed so cruel.
“That they weren’t told what happened to him. That the state lied about it. That he never saw his father again. That he was not prepared to be stolen a second time. That he could not form a close relationship with his mother, or his siblings. That he could never reconnect with his Aboriginal world or the non-Aboriginal world. And perhaps most greatly that he could love or care for his own children.”
Justice Tom Gray awarded damages in respect of injuries and losses, unlawful removal and detention, misfeasance in public office and false imprisonment, totalling $525,000. Bruce Trevorrow died the following year, aged 51, months after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his famous apology.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of emails have poured into my inbox over recent years from distressed residents begging me to help them save this or that bit of bushland. Not a week goes by without another one.
Battles have raged in Shenton Park, Midvale, Bayswater, Trigg, Cockburn, Kenwick and Ascot, to mention just a handful, and together these battles represent a war.
People are worried and depressed about the state of the biodiversity that has always been Perth’s genuine claim to fame.
And anyone who’s ever tried to deal with the Perth’s environmental approvals and planning system, whether trying to clear bushland or protect it, finds an intimidating maze that makes little sense even to the agencies that are part of it.
No one really knows how important each patch of bush is in a city-wide sense. Developers can proceed with the assumption that if they cut this bit down, someone else will save another patch, somewhere… just not in their backyard.
Yet after eight years of work on it, the McGowan government has suspended work on one of the state’s biggest planning documents, the one that might have fixed this mess once and for all.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees will require nations to phase out coal by mid-century and leave most fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Even at 1.5 degrees, warmer, up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will die.
Oil and gas companies are pillars of our society. Requiring them to offset their pollution would amount to reckless endangerment of our jobs and economy.
WA’s emissions have seen the most rapid increase of any Australian jurisdiction, rising more than 27 per cent in the past 15 years.
So our Environmental Protection Authority had the gall to suggest Chevron, and the other oil and gas companies causing the rise in emissions should pay to offset their own pollution.
Shell, Santos, Chevron and Woodside sent their biggest wigs into town to talk to Premier Mark McGowan behind closed doors and hours later, the EPA backed down and withdrew its guidelines pending industry “consultation”.
I’m not saying that the guidelines were perfect or that business certainty counts for nothing.
The Macquarie Group warned the guidelines could delay projects and cost WA’s LNG industry billions.
But Macquarie and now the Reserve Bank of Australia have both warned, in the same breath, that the economic risks of climate change can no longer be ignored.
And let’s not forget we are talking about companies used to measuring costs and profits in the billions.
Chevron reported $2.1 billion in revenue for 2016. Gorgon is a $55 billion project. It’s reportedChevron can potentially make $32 million per day across Gorgon and Wheatstone. Canberra-based think-tank The Australia Institute has calculated – using the publicly reported potential earning above, Chevron’s publicly reported emissions and the price for a federal government carbon credit – that Chevron could go carbon-neutral for about 2 per cent of their profits.
This would drop to around 1.7 per cent if they managed to get their underground carbon storage facility at Gorgon working.
Promising they would take 80 per cent of the CO2 in the gas coming from the reservoir, and inject it beneath Barrow Island, was key to them getting their environmental approval to operate in the first place. But they have been permitted to operate without having fulfilled that promise – surprise, surprise.
They recently told media it was going to take another nine months. This was reported on March 5, the same day Chevron announced commencement of domestic gas deliveries from Wheatstone.
The WA government put out a media statement “celebrating” Chevron’s “important milestone” getting Wheatstone going, without ever mentioning Gorgon’s little problem.
If it was a problem stopping their gas flowing, you can bet your bottom dollar Chevron wouldn’t allow that situation to continue for a year and nine months. They’d throw everything at fixing it. Maybe even billions.
“I was a little surprised by the crowd though. It’s not my first book – I’ve written three books about bowels now.”
But this book is something of a departure from the first, The Bowel Book, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press – a textbook of bowel disorders aimed at the general public.
The second, The (Other) Women’s Movement, published in 2008, focused on managing constipation and while it was more approachable than the first, Dr Levitt said it still had “too much detail for general interest”.
But The Happy Bowel, whether it’s the bright cover, engaging tone, the endearing cartoons inside or a combination of it all, has enjoyed runaway popularity.
“In the course of a career your thoughts inevitably change over time; are subtly modified, based on feedback from patients,” Dr Levitt said.
“I also wanted to write a bit more in my voice.
“This subject is about significantly troublesome systems, and I have found approaching it with a lighter heart gets people onside.
“Every person in the planet has their bowels open in their own quirky fashion. Having that on the table, as it were, I think I get more information and patients become more receptive.”
But the book is not about cancer, colitis, Chrohn’s Disease, or even haemorrhoids.
It is for people who simply find bowel actions difficult – to start, to stop or to control in general. Who struggle with constipation, incontinence and dissatisfaction.
It’s what doctors call “functional” bowel disease.
To illustrate how function fails, Dr Levitt first describes what a “good action” looks and feels like.
“Prompt, effortless, brief and complete,” he said. “And the single most important thing? The strong urge that says, go now.
“People who can generate that urge but choose to go early, like guys who grab a book and wait on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, get into trouble.
“And people who never get that urge, more often women, have another significant problem.”