Black dog on the loose in remote communties

It was Saturday, 4 December, 2004.  A fun Saturday night planned with friends was turned upside down for Katrina Brown (nee Drake) when she received the news from a family member that sent her paralysed.

Katrina’s father, Errol Drake, had committed suicide.

“I went so numb and fell to the ground. I was totally paralysed, I couldn’t move,”

“All I could think was, this wasn’t true, they have the wrong man, [that] it was a mistake of identity,” said Mrs Brown.

The passing of Katrina’s father came as a shock to their friends and family. No one had suspected that the black dog had been following Errol around the paddock.

Fourteen years on and Katrina still misses her Dad just as much and has learnt to live with the heartache every day.

“I constantly wish Dad didn’t feel alone as he did and that he could get help,” she said.

“I also wish dad could have received professional help. [That] he knew how easy it is to manage mental health,” said Mrs Brown.

Katrina isn’t the only one in the same boat. Many rural and regional families are struggling with mental illness like depression and the main cause is the strain of financial pressure and the struggle to keep their properties running in the long drought.

Errol Drake, 45 at the time was a well-known and respected figure in the local farming community.

Errol’s family had no idea what he was battling with, as he never talked or showed any signs of mental illness.

Mrs Brown can still recall the events that took place on that day.

“Back home at Dululu, [it] was a normal day,” she said.

“Dad did a few jobs around the place [but] he never came home,”

“That was when he stopped down the road from the local hotel, sat beside his work ute and took his own life,” Mrs Brown said.

But just like many other rural and regional families around Australia, he spoke of no troubles.

Mental illness in rural and regional families is a common factor but because of exclusivity from available resources not everyone has their chance to speak.

A study conducted by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention discovered that 147 farmers committed suicide in Queensland between 2000 and 2010.

With a large percentage of the state drought declared those numbers won’t be deteriorating anytime soon.

Queensland Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services, Cameron Dick’s suggestion for this issue is the use of online services such as telephone helplines and websites.

“We’re looking at using things like the power of the internet, the World Wide Web, to use telemedicine and telehealth,” he said.

“That’s a way to connect people to appropriate counselling support,”

“There’s been a lot of work done in our hospitals and health services in the Western part of Queensland,” said Mr Dick.

The issue here is that people struggling in rural and regional areas keep their problems under their hat.

They won’t speak to anyone about their struggles let alone pick up a phone or wait for the internet to load.

The struggle to encourage rural people (in particular men) to come forward and speak up about their troubles is more difficult than you could imagine.

Mrs Brown, having experienced her father’s death admits that she also struggles from depression herself says that the Government needs to find more ways to integrate mental health seminars into other programs.

“Rural people [in particular men], are not going to make time to drive to a seminar just about depression,” she said.

“[The Government needs to] coincide these programs in with other programs such as beef production or cropping and farming programs,”

“Information and knowledge is a powerful thing. Changing the stigma of depression, would be a great start to changing the statistics of suicide,” said Mrs Brown.

Many people across Australia experience the loss of a loved one from mental illness.

Friends and family suddenly surrendering to the black dog that’s clinging to them like shadows.

Following their every step. One moment everything is fine and the next, not so fine.

Shai Ager, is an 21-year-old girl who lives in a rural area in far North Queensland. Shai was friends with a girl who was always happy and showed no sign of depression.

“Mental health didn’t seem to be a big issue where I lived until one of my friends in high school, a girl, committed suicide,” she said.

“She seemed to be the happiest of teenagers. Always had a smile to show, never complained, was doing great with her school work and was even a sport captain,”

“Our grade was torn apart and the mourning process never really stopped. We were told she had serious depression,” said Miss Ager.

It’s quite often that this is how it takes place. It’s so ‘out of the blue’ and takes everyone by shock and leaving them with ‘guilt’ for not realising something was wrong earlier, as Katrina was left with.

People who live in regional and rural areas are often stereotyped as ‘tough’ which prevents them from speaking up about their problems.

When speaking to Mrs Katrina Brown she could easily confirm that this stereotype does play a part in preventing rural and regional people from speaking up.

“They withdraw from being sensitive to their feelings,” she said.

“They don’t want to be seen as weak, and especially do not want to be treated any differently if they were to speak up about any mental health issues,” said Mrs Brown.

The key to breaking this stigma is to raise awareness.

Along with suggesting ideas, Katrina also agreed with other strategies that could be effective in breaking the stigma.

Mrs Brown agreed on concepts such as mobile services to visit those in rural and regional properties occasionally to drop in for a cuppa and see how they are doing.

As well as that Katrina sees the “Are you OK?” notion as a wonderful idea as it can be the start of a conversation about ones mental health, which can then lead someone to getting help with a professional.

Next time you visit your local neighbour or are just dropping in to say ‘Hi’ don’t forget to ask them ‘Are you OK?’ and look out for each other.

If you or a family member need help please call or visit:

  • Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
  • OR call 1300 665 232
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800



Isolation in regional Queensland

“I felt lost, trapped and lonely. It was hard to focus and gain any form of motivation. Physically, I felt drained and sick all the time. I got headaches and gained weight due to anxiety. Mentally, I felt horrible, like I don’t know what happy felt like anymore.”

Renee Smith* is 19 years old and had to face the struggle of isolation after she moved to a property far away from home.

Renee was located on a property situated over 80 kilometres from its nearest town, Eidsvold.

Moving was a big step for Miss Smith but she couldn’t wait to start her new life as a rural nanny, that was until it began affecting her health.

“At first I assumed it was just homesickness but I continued to feel worse,” said Miss Smith.

“[Two] months into the job I noticed all different negative changes to my mind and body,” she said.

Like Renee, many other people struggle to deal with the isolation of living in such secluded area with limited access to facilities.

Remote communities such as Wowan and Dululu only have limited access to such resources with many services being up to an hour away.

The towns rely on each other to support the local businesses that are still running but over the past years they have taken a downturn.

Dululu was home to many businesses such as a pub, shop, hotel, garage, post office, egg production facility, piggery, poultry abattoir and multiple dairy farms.

However, over recent years, the town has seen the closure of it’s last operating business, Dululu Pub.

Mayor of the Banana Shire, Neville Ferrier, is a long-time member of the Dululu community and says that lately the township has been struggling due to the closure of the last running business.

“Dululu is going backwards at the moment,” said Mr Ferrier.

“The pub [has been] closed for two years now [and the closure] of the shop before that has seen the town struggle,” he said.

Mr Ferrier also says that even though Mt Morgan is 25 minutes down the road, it does not cater for all supplies.

“Most people have to go to Rocky or Biloela for all farm supplies, banking, tyres, [and] parts,” said Mr Ferrier.

But travelling long distances for farming supplies isn’t the only struggle rural and remote town’s face. Another major factor is being isolated is the access to medical services.

Donna Reynolds is the President of the Wowan Agricultural Show Society and also works at the Wowan/Dululu Multi-Purpose centre and says that the MPC has medical services scheduled weekly and monthly for residents in the area.

“The MPC has a doctor visit twice weekly, Tuesday and Thursday from 1.30-5pm,” said Mrs Reynolds.

“A dietician and podiatrist visits monthly, a diabetic educator every 2-3 months and a registered nurse and enrolled nurse are employed at the MPC,” she said.

At times the doctor cannot always make it to Wowan causing patients to travel to Baralaba, Biloela or Rockhampton for medical treatment which are over 45 minutes away.

“If the clinic is not held on the day it can be rescheduled,” she said.

“Patients [then have to] travel to Baralaba Hospital or the Baralaba Private Clinic, if they require treatment,” said Mrs Reynolds.

With limited access to facilities, especially health services, emergency situations can become a stressful time, particularly when it is life threatening.

Along with limited access to medical services there are issues with educational facilities.

Fay Patterson, Principal of Wowan State School says that school is reasonably small and that enrolments have decreased over the past 10 years.

“There are currently 37 students enrolled at Wowan State School,” she said.

“Numbers have declined in the last 10 years, eight years ago there were 55 students,” said Ms Patterson.

School staff often have to make the trip to Rockhampton for training and the smaller schools across the districts combine for educational programs.

“Small schools combine for various programs and staff travel to Rockhampton for any professional development that is relevant to them,” said Ms Patterson.


But amongst what seems to be a never ending list of negatives of living in rural and remote areas there are the little things that make it worth living there.

It’s the joyous celebrations at the Wowan pub when finally, a good down pour comes to relieve the drought, the small events that bring the community together and gives everyone time off to relax and socialise, its having a coldie after a hard day’s work, the golden sunsets and living in a community that is so close knit, it feels like one big family.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

5000 Poppies project a blooming success

What started as a small project between two women has flourished into a nation-wide community.

5000 Poppies was founded by sisters-in-law, Lyn Berry and Margaret Knight, who wanted to crochet 120 poppies to display at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne Australia to honour their fathers who fought in World War II.

Their loving tribute to their fathers attracted the attention of others which planted the idea of starting 5000 Poppies.

5000 Poppies first launched in 2013 with an instalment of 5000 poppies on display and has since created a community of over 50,000 contributors both nationally and internationally.

Since the launch, the project has been invited to create instalments all over Australia and it has even taken them overseas.

“Our original instalment in 2015 was at the Melbourne International Garden and Flower Show, we did a very small installation with 5000 poppies,”

“In 2016, we were invited to go across to the Chelsea Flower Show in London. We had a wonderful time we did a 200-square metre installation with just over 300,000 poppies there,”

“In July 2016 we went across to Fromelles in France for the Centenary of the Battle in Fromelles, so they’re the major installations but we’ve had many more,” said Ms Berry.

5000 Poppies Chelsea 2016 Photographer Claire Takacs
5000 Poppies installation at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, 2016. Photo: Claire Takacs

The 5000 Poppies project is currently working on an installation for the Canberra War Memorial to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I.

“We are doing a major installation at the Australia War Memorial, we’re planting 62,000 poppies in honour of all of those souls who died in World War I on our behalf,”

“They’ll be in the ground, planted in and around the Flanders Memorial Garden,” she said.

Ms Berry says they are very close to collecting 62,000 poppies with deliveries arriving at Poppy Headquarters in Melbourne from all over the world.

“It’s a national project here, we’ve had poppies from all over Australia. Queensland has been a massive contributor.

“We’ve had poppies recently from China and Croatia, so we get poppies from everywhere. It’s really interesting having people from all over the world participating in this project, it’s just been a really gorgeous labour of love” she said.

Local ladies support project

A group of ladies in Wowan and Dululu is also taking part in the project, meeting every Monday at the local Multi-Purpose Centre to crochet poppies.

Catherine Brown is the Co-Ordinator at the Wowan and Dululu Multi-Purpose Centre and organised for the ladies to take part in the project after being informed about it by a fellow staff member.

“One of our staff members here happened to come across the project on social media and thought it would be a great activity for us to do following on from a craft session we did last year with the One Million Stars to end domestic violence,” she said.

The four ladies have been busy crocheting since October last year in an effort contribute to the project.

photo - poppies
Wowan and Dululu ladies busy crocheting poppies. Photo: Donna Reynolds

They have made approximately 200 poppies to go towards the final installation and hope to have Liberal National Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd personally deliver them to the Australian War Memorial on their behalf.

Catherine says that the project is more than just craft activity for the ladies, it provides them with the opportunity to come together as a community and contribute to a project that is significant to them.

“They enjoy coming together as a group and working on the project in that social time. But I think the fact that the project has meaning is quite important to them,” she said.

The Remembrance Day installment will be running from October 5 to November 12.

‘My Steve’ by Terri Irwin

It’s been over a decade since the passing of one of Australia’s greatest wildlife heroes. Not only did he take a family passion and build upon it, he also built upon the lives of people worldwide; educating them and showing them just how great wildlife is. Steve Irwin had a passion like no other; a passion that he shared with his wife, Terri and has been carried down to his children, Bindi and Robert.

The other day I stumbled across ‘My Steve’, the book that Terri wrote and published a year after Steve’s death. When I first bought the book I was a little too young to comprehend what I was reading and never got around to finishing it. However, in the midst of a clean out I rediscovered the book and felt the urge to read it. At first I was sad to start the book because I knew that at some point in time Steve’s death would be brought up, but I wanted to know about Steve’s life and what he achieved before his unfortunate accident through the eyes of someone who spent just about every waking minute of the day with him.

Like his children, I was young when Steve passed away. I have fond memories of watching his documentaries with my siblings, being so drawn into the way he displayed and talked about the animals he was showcasing to the world on the screen in front of us.  Just as Terri mentions in the book, Steve was great in front of the camera and as a viewer at times it felt like Steve’s gaze was looking straight through the lens; it was like you were right there with him.

This book isn’t just about all the good times though. Terri also opened up about their struggles financially and the issues they had with media. Starting off as a small reptile park on the Sunshine Coast they used their passion for saving wildlife and a handful money to gradually expand their business acre by acre. To learn that a majority of it was completed by Steve himself makes the zoo all the more special. He put absolutely everything into it and as a result it is thriving in its purpose to bring people closer to wildlife and educate them. It was lovely to read about their promise that everything they earned through their documentaries and profits from the zoo would go straight back into their business and their conservation projects. A strategy that they still live by today; they take nothing for themselves, a quality that I’ve always admired about the Irwin family.

I was disappointed to discover that on more than one occasion, they had been attacked by the media about their profession. It just goes to show that no matter who you are or what good you do in the world, there will always be someone out there to try and tear you down; a whole army of paparazzi in their situation. It comes as one of the disadvantages of living in the lime light. From ‘breaching’ wildlife laws in Antarctica to being accused of being an ‘irresponsible parent’, the media had no problem in lashing out at Steve and Terri and forgetting about all of the good they were doing for wildlife conservation.

I’m so happy that I stumbled across ‘My Steve’; it was a terrific read and even now, a decade later I feel more connected to who Steve was as a person, and have better insight into just how passionate he was about wildlife conservation. It was also good to notice how far Terri, Bindi, Robert and Australia Zoo has come since Steve’s passing. They regularly pay tribute to their loving husband and father and have done a tremendous job at continuing Steve’s legacy to protect and conserve wildlife around the world, just as Terri promised.