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Things can be tough for Indigenous people. RUOK Day needs to start a conversation for change

Zak Kirkup -

In 2019 WA Coroner Ros Fogliani delivered the results of her inquest into the deaths of 13 children and young people in the Kimberley.

The report is incredibly distressing to read and hollows you out with every page you turn. 13 Aboriginal children and young people who died as a result of hanging, with all bar one considered definite suicide (the other being an open finding).

The Coroner explained in meticulous detail the cycle of violence, inter-generational trauma, complexities of distance and circumstances which saw the premature death of 13 people aged between 10 and 24 years of age.

It has been three years since I read the report and delivered a speech on it in Parliament, and even as I write this article it cuts me to my marrow.

What desolate desperation these children and young people must have faced, with hope so lost, that they thought the only solution was suicide. One of the people I remember in vivid detail from the Coroner's Inquest was that of Case 12.

Case 12 was a young man, part of the Wungu community, born in 1994 and he died at age 20.

Growing up his health was very poor, at 18 months of age he was presented to Katherine Hospital with anaemia, gastro and abscess so bad it required surgical intervention.

At age six, he was referred to a child psychologist where he stated that he wanted to kill himself. Age six.

In his mid-teens he witnessed multiple incidents of domestic violence between his parents.

On January 5, 2015 the young man, his partner, mum, brother and extended family were traveling form Wungu to Halls Creek in advance of the heavy rains. They became bogged and started walking.

Arguments started between the group, and his partner walked off.

Going to try and persuade her to rejoin the the group they started fighting.

She was walking about ten metres ahead of Case 12 when she heard him scream out "I love you so much". She turned around and saw him hanging from a tree branch.

Eventually because of the distance from Halls Creek and the approaching storms, his family had to carry his lifeless body back to Wungu and under police advice keep him in an air-conditioned room overnight until his body could be retrieved the next day.

Case 12 is one story of thirteen reported on by the WA Coroner but in reality, he is one of thousands of Aboriginal people who have taken their own life at rates never before seen.

It is now a suicide rate that if it was broken down by Mobs, would be the worst per-capita in the world.

As part of her Inquest, the Coroner released a suite of recommendations for the McGowan Government.

In truth though nothing will ever replace the importance of our community looking out for each other.

This week another RUOK? Day will pass us by. If you asked an Indigenous person that question, the chances are that things are pretty tough.

In truth we need to move beyond a single day of checking in (which is the real message of RUOK? Day) because if we're ever going to start making positive change and turning the tide of suicide, it'll only be a concerted and constant effort of talk the hard truths and face our struggles together.

The yarn may start with RUOK? but hopefully it is part of the positive change that will build a far brighter future for everyone.

Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji heritage and is the former leader of the Liberal Party in Western Australia

13 YARN - 13 92 76

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