Speech to the stop male suicide conference, Parramatta, Australia, November 8th, 2017 / Matthew Tukaki, Executive Chairman of NewsNow & EntreHub
Good morning. I stand here on Aboriginal land, in front of all of you and pay my respects to the elders both past and present. I stand before you as a middle-aged man. I am a broken man, but no one seems to be listening. Every day I struggle with a lot of things. I struggle to pay the rent and the mortgage. I don’t know where we are going to get the money to pay for the power bill because all the credit cards are maxed out and the bank account is in over draft. My eight-year-old came home from school last week with a letter from the teacher about the end of year camp that will cost $150. He came to me this morning and said he needed to take the form back today. We didn’t have the money. Pay day is still three weeks away. My wife and I both know we need more food in the cupboards but for now its ok because she knows how far a kilo of mince, a 99c pasta pack from Coles and a tin of 80c tomatoes can go. Its nearly Christmas and we are struggling to find the money to give the kids another happy one.
Every day I pick up the papers. I am told I’ll be soon losing my job. I’m told wage growth is low and people want to play with the very penalty rates that keep us above water. My wife called me at work to say there was a rumour that her hours would be cut back. She was crying. Pay day comes around and for a few short hours it seems we are back on track – the bills are paid, the shopping is done and we come up with a creative way to make things from the $2 shop look good in the kids stocking for Christmas.
On the weekend, while my wife is over at her mother’s I head over to bills house where jack and tom, riley and mark are there – we are out in the back yard with a few beers in hand talking nonsense, each of us just relaxing – and as the beers flow there comes a point where each of us want to say something about something but we just don’t know how to say it or where to start. We are all struggling. I get home and my wife is there waiting for me – we argue about how much I’ve had to drink. I raise my voice and we fight. My wife runs to the bedroom. As I walk towards our room the door of my son’s bedroom is open and that’s when I see it. My daughter and my son cowering and crying.
I am afraid. I am afraid that I have lost control. I am afraid that I am no longer the husband I said I would be or the father I so desperately want to be. I am afraid that I will lose my job and we will lose the house. I am afraid that at age 43 I won’t be able to find another one. These days I am afraid of a lot of things. I’m not afraid of climate change or Donald Trump. I’m not afraid of North Korea or what’s happening in Canberra. I am afraid of the little things, the daily struggles in my life that no one else seems to care about. Because I don’t believe anyone is listening. If I am asked if I am ok the person asking the question may not be ready for the response – that I am not ok. I’m constantly spoken at by people plying their trade in mental health and suicide prevention to seek help for depression and anxiety – that its ok to have a mental health problem but here’s the thing – I don’t have a mental health problem I have daily struggles.
You all talk at me and yet again no one is listening. Some of you even make claims that your lived experience network is better than someone else’s or that your program is better than the one down the road at the same time as suggesting to funders that you all speak for me. You don’t speak for me because you don’t know or understand who I am. Because you’re not listening. I am a male I am middle aged, and I am struggling. I am both white and Aboriginal. I am Maori and Pacific Islander, I am Asian and Middle Eastern. I come from many faiths and belief systems and yet for all you claim to know about me you know very little. And yet you get a share of the billions of dollars invested into mental health each year whereas all I need is a few thousand to keep my head above water. And yet still no one listens.
Well my name is Matthew Tukaki and I have been listening.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have travelled to more than a hundred communities over the last several years across both Australia and New Zealand and what I have just described to you is the reality of so many people’s situations out there. There are more than 6.9 million men across the country between 40 and 64. 1,181 men in that age group took their lives according to the latest data in 2016. In 2015 I met a man called Mark Spinks, the Chairman of an organisation called Babana Aboriginal. Babana is a men’s group in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern that was established to both support Indigenous men and their families as well as work with them to get into work or stay in work, to build up their confidence and work with them when it came to suicide prevention, domestic violence, mental health, aged care and more. Thousands of people have been through their events and programs and might I add they get not a dollar in funding when it comes to suicide prevention. Like the story I have just told they help people with daily those daily struggles.
For the last two years Babana Aboriginal has been running a suicide prevention awareness day – last year nearly 200 people attended from across the community and state, this year more than 300 people came. In all of the conversations and talk around the tables and room, outside and inside we listened and now we are acting.
We recognise that one of the most powerful tools we can equip people with is the knowledge and understanding of not only how to ask a question but how to respond – even when the answer is not about depression of anxiety, it could just be about the daily struggle of everyday life. Babana Aboriginal is building a peer to peer support network in collaboration with its partners that will enable them to train Aboriginal men to work with other Aboriginal men, to identify and work on problems both related to mental health or not. We began that work a year ago and this Month, on the 23rd of November, we will gather a further 180 people to finalise our community engagement process.
Aside from the training needed to expose our peer workers to the issues and responses we will map services that currently exist in the community whether they be about mental health or suicide prevention, employment, education, budgeting and financial advice, shelters or just drop in groups. Under pinning will be an evaluation and social impact framework and it will all be steadily rolled out from the beginning of 2018.
I expect that several things will happen as a result. Firstly, Indigenous people and highly transient and mobile. Which means the men we train may very well be in Redfern one day and Dubbo the next – which means that knowledge will travel with them.
The second is we expect the model will move to higher Indigenous populated communities towards the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. That’s because communities matter. Mark Spinks, the Chairman of Babana Aboriginal once told me that if we wanted to get to the heart of why people are talking their lives then we need to start in the community and to start in a community you need to know how it works. You need to understand the beating heart of the multiplicity of a community and its diversity. And importantly you need to listen.
For more information head to www.babana.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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