Farewell to a friend

Host: Yougawalla Station
Written by Haydn Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Pastoral Co.

4.1 Doodie and his twoo great loves, Selena and the pastoral map of his country.Doodie and his two great loves, Selena and the pastoral map of his country.

Life in outback Australia can be very hard. Until you have experienced the depths of these hardships, isolation, droughts, unrelenting extreme heat, loneliness, it is hard to explain how difficult these times can be. There is a sad and tragic side to living out here that is generally not talked about enough, suicide.

The old school mentality of the hard bushman was to not talk about your problems, not share your hardships and dark times that we all go through from time to time. In many areas this is still the case and desperately needs to be worked on, organisations like Beyond Blue and Men’s Shed are making great advances but still too many are slipping through the cracks.

Last year on Central Station I wrote a blog about working with our aboriginal neighbours to agist cattle on their properties and help them muster and improve their properties in return. The main driver of this idea was Doodie Lawford from Bohemia Downs Station next door to us at Bulka Station. Since those days we have expanded to include similar agreements with Louisa Downs Station and Lamboo Station, all through the hard work and perseverance of Doodie and a driving will to achieve a better life for his people. Along the way we became great friends and our families loved to spend time together.

In December last year Doodie committed suicide. To be honest my family and I are still battling to come to terms with this, the futility, the loss to his family and community, the hole that leaves in a tight knit community and the vacuum of experience and worldly knowledge will be felt acutely for years to come. But mostly the loss of a friend.

4.2 Doodie, Haydn and Gus picking konkerberriesDoodie, Haydn, and Gus picking konkerberries.

A little about the man. Doodie was born on Christmas Creek Station, also next door to us, his dad was the head stockman there for most of his life. He was schooled in the hard lessons of cattle station work from a very early age. He spent time away at a school in Perth but was soon drawn back to beloved home land. Bohemia Downs was taken over by his father and community around 25 years ago, Doodie returned home with a passion to make a better life for his mob, and that’s what he did – working tirelessly to improve and run the station to make it one of the best operating aboriginal pastoral stations in the Kimberley. Like us all, things turned very bad financially after the cattle ban to Indonesia and the subsequent quota restrictions. Together we worked to help us both through this grim period. Doodie has travelled extensively, was a member of the Pastoral Lands Board, a prestigious position in WA, ran training and education in stock and station work for his people and generally put all his efforts tirelessly and selflessly into helping others. I believe he was one of the best people I have ever met.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoodie holding one of his leadership courses.

The day of the funeral was truly an amazing day. Burying their loved ones is a very special event for the aboriginal people and much time and planning goes into it. I knew this from past experience but nothing could prepare me for the scale of that day. Somewhere between 800 and 1000 people turned up to pay their respects. The car parade behind the Hurst reached from the Bohemia Downs turnoff to the community, around 14km. People from all walks of life spoke of their admiration for this incredible, selfless leader. Six horseman leading the coffin and two helicopters flying at each side escorted Doodie from the community to his final resting place next to his father in the cemetery on the station, followed by around 1000 mourners. What a tribute to a wonderful person, bizarrely I kept thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful if Doodie could see this.

4.4 Doodie Making his final journey on his country from the homestead to Rest in peace with his fatherDoodie making his final journey on his country from the homestead to rest in peace with his father Eric. Photo was taken from one of two choppers leading the procession with seven horsemen and around 1000 people following behind to pay their respects to a great community leader.

Like all things that occur suddenly I have to keep reminding myself that Doodie is not here, sometimes I pick the phone to dial his number to ask his advice, others I am flying by and think I will drop in for a tea and a catch-up before I realise the reality of what has happened. I think it is the wondering why, the ‘could I have helped?’ that haunts friends and especially family when these things happen. I have been told that once a person makes up their mind there are very little signs that it will take place, by then you are generally too late. These questions can never be answered and to heal we must all move on as a community and remember Doodie as the great and influential man he was. The Kimberley has the highest aboriginal suicide rate in Australia. We owe it to Doodie and all the others that have fallen to do something about this, give them the help that can hopefully prevent further tragedies.

Goodbye my friend.

4.5 Alan Doodie Lawford - A truly inspirational Cowboy and Community LeaderAlan “Doodie” Lawford – A truly inspirational Cowboy and Community Leader.

If you are experiencing depression or are suicidal, or know someone who is, help is available.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.com.au

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au/

Mindspot: 1800 61 44 34 http://mindspot.org.au/

Men’s Shed: www.mensheds.org.au

Suicide Prevention Information for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people