Bikes & Yarns

A grassroots collaboration between Black Dog Ride, One Life Suicide Prevention Strategy and Indigenous Communities in the Wheatbelt of WA

The suicide rate amongst Indigenous Australians is more than twice the national average. What effect does the tragic loss of so many people, particularly young men, have upon Indigenous communities, and how can we as a society work towards preventing these devastating circumstances?

Jane Mouritz is the WA Wheatbelt Coordinator for One Life Suicide Prevention Strategy, and has worked closely with Indigenous Wheatbelt communities to start conversations aimed at preventing suicide, promoting healing amongst local communities. In the course of these yarns, local Indigenous Elders requested that some bikers come to town which may help attract the attention of young Indigenous men and help bring communities together for some solid yarning about suicide prevention. Jane knew who contact to get the wheels rolling on this grassroots project, Black Dog Ride.

The call for assistance was answered by Black Dog Riders, and Founder Steve Andrews enlisted the help of ABC's Glynn Greensmith, who pulled together a team of his journalism students from Curtin University to join him in producing a documentary about this collaboration which we were calling: Bikes & Yarns.

On Saturday 22nd November, 25 Black Dog Riders hit the highways of WA's iconic wheatbelt and headed out to local townships, where Jane had liaised with local Aboriginal Elders to meet the Black Dog Riders. Over good tucker, Black Dog Riders yarned with local Indigenous families about depression and suicide prevention awareness.

Four Young Ride Captains

Along the banks of the famous Avon river in York, local lads mingled with Black Dog Riders and were proudly dubbed "Ride Captains" as they led Black Dog Riders to Uncle Jim's place on their pushbikes. Onwards to the local school, Indigenous kids of all ages climbed on bikes and chatted with Black Dog Riders about adventures on the road with motorbikes and mates.

Riding on towards Northam, Black Dog Riders weaved through the golden hills, watching farmers harvesting the golden wheat on a Saturday afternoon. It was a good feeling to see a successful year for farmers in this region.

Happy Kids - Happy Lives

Warm tucker in Northam was accompanied by a Welcome to Country by Mark Davis and yarning with local volunteers in suicide prevention. Chris, a local council ranger, has lived experience with suicide and spoke at length about dedicating himself to learning more about promoting protective and preventative activity to support local Indigenous youth. James, who manages the local PCYC, spoke to the Bikes & Yarns group about providing a safe and positive environment for local Indigenous youth which will have a deep impact for their future, declaring, "happy kids make happy lives".

Mia Davis, the Member for Central Wheatbelt, was particularly moved by the stories and the impact every suicide has on local communities, saying, "every community is affected by suicides, and from the bottom of my heart I very much appreciate Black Dog Ride coming to our community to help us raise awareness and work towards preventing suicide."

Local Indigenous families spoke to Black Dog Riders in small groups about the challenges faced in their daily lives, with one Elder telling us she lost a family member to suicide only a couple of weeks ago. Sombre but determined, Black Dog Riders headed for Kellerberrin.

Staying Safe with Solid Yarning

Welcomed by Elder Uncle Tom to the land of the Njaki-Njaki People, Black Dog Riders enjoyed a long leisurely lunch yarning with locals who were generous with their immediate friendship and appreciation of Black Dog Ride's visit. Jane facilitated a small group session based upon "Staying Safe with Solid Yarning", a tool developed by the Indigenous community designed to foster understanding about suicide prevention strategies.

It was a powerful session. Black Dog Riders heard from Wendy who told us she'd lost recently lost five members of her family to suicide, loved ones leaving behind grief so raw and tender. Step by step the group talked through ways to identify when a person is in crisis and what to do when a person is in crisis.

Uncle Tom Hayden, renowned for his uplifting songs, recently had his guitar destroyed. Black Dog Riders had passed the hat around, and Jane Mouritz presented Uncle Tom with a brand new guitar signed by Ted Egan. Uncle Tom was overwhelmed by this gift, and we hope it will lead to many more healing song sessions for the whole community.

Leaving Kelleberrin was tough, Black Dog Riders wanted to stay and yarn some more, and there were plenty of hugs going around as the Bikes & Yarns group left for Quairading.

It's Hard Heartbreaking Work

Some solid matriarchs greeted Black Dog Riders in Quairading, and Phil welcomed Black Dog Riders to the land of the Ballardong People. Yarning over more good tucker, Aunty Winnie introduced us to her son who had struggled for a long time with mental ill health, and it looked like he was now on a good path to healing. At the request of a grandmother, several Black Dog Riders rode out to meet a local lad who is going through a tough time to offer him mentoring. Black Dog Riders heard about the challenges faced both by locals suffering mental ill health and those caring for them, telling Black Dog Riders that, "it's hard, heartbreaking work."

Closing a positive session on how to reach out for support when someone you love is feeling suicidal and where to go for this support, Jane reminded all present that, "suicide prevention is everyone's business."

Speaking about the hope the Bikes & Yarns group brought to communities involved in this local initiative, Black Dog Ride promised to return.

The Bikes & Yarns group headed to Corrigin for the night, uplifted by the resilience of locals but also deeply impacted at hearing first hand of the devastating tragedy of suicide in regional Indigenous communities. Black Dog Riders committed to following up with the locals in the future, to work alongside Elders to help grow hope and healing amongst the communities.

Bikes & Yarns documentary preview produced by Glynn Greensmith and students

Thank You

To Jane Mouritz, for initiating this wonderful project. To Yahava's Dave Bassett for designed the super cool Bikes & Yarns logo which we wear proudly on our caps. To Glynn Greensmith and his hardworking journalism students Rebecca Metcalf, Sebastian Neuweiler, Tyne Logan and Matt Jones, we are looking forward to the documentary! To the WA Water Corp, their support was greatly appreciated. To MP Mia Davies for believing in this grassroots collaboration. To the Corrigin Hotel for supporting Black Dog Riders with a fantastic meal and accomodation deal.

To the Bikes & Yarns Black Dog Riders whose dedication and compassion made Bikes & Yarns such an inspiring and motivating journey: Steve Andrews; Dave Bassett; Rene and Bronwyn Baur; Keith and Elaine Bushby; Fiona Duffield; Colin and Louise Grayson; Geoff Miller; Kevin Heazlewood; Leigh Kestle, John Lewin; Jack Michael; Graeme Raine; Michelle Reid; Dave Russell; Ross Scott; Ray Sherry; Ian Steele; Alan Tilbee; Willem van Wyk; Neil Woodhead.

And most importantly, thank you to the Elders of York, Northam, Kellerberrin and Quairading for welcoming us, yarning with us, sharing experiences with us, and keeping the home fires warm for our return.

If you are in crisis, or you are with someone who is in crisis, please keep yourself and the person in crisis safe, and call Lifeline on: 13 11 14 anytime of day or night.