Field & Game Australia

A healthy campfire conversation

In any one year about one million Australians suffer from depression. The hunting community, like any cohort, isn’t immune but as Brian Boyle writes from personal experience, our shared passion and time spent around a campfire means we have a regular opportunity to ask the most important question: “Are you OK?”

I was sitting on a deck at about 4 pm sipping on a nice Scotch looking across Lake Tekapo in New Zealand. I had just had a great week hunting tahr near Mount Cook with my son-in-law and nephew when I got the phone call that would change my life. I received the news that the faecal matter was really about to hit the fan in my work back in Australia. I would have to cut my planned three-week holiday off two weeks early and return to deal with issues. This came on top of a crazy but exciting year at work, which had been preceded by 10 full-on years working in an area I love: game and hunting management.

Over the next few months the issues got bigger and it looked like the hard work of a helluva lot of people in the past decade was going to unravel. It got to the stage where I couldn’t relax, wind down, or sleep or eat for days and I dropped 10 kilos in weight in a couple weeks; it was crazy. The crunch came for me after a meeting in the Minister’s office when I was waiting to board a flight home. I received a phone call from one of the people in the meeting who rang concerned about my mental state and health. It was like a light had come on and I said: ‘You know what, you are dead right.’

I went home, sorted out a few things on my desk and emailed the Director General telling him about the phone conversation and that I had some very real problems I needed to deal with and that the black dog had a really good hold of me and I needed help — medical help. I basically slept 20 hours a day for the next week and also got the doctor to refer me for counselling and help. I had amazing support from my wife and family, friends and also my work, and I started coming out the other side.

About 10 weeks later I was driving home when I had this unusual pain in my chest and back, and a horrible woozy feeling. Bugger me, I thought, the head was coming right and now the ticker was giving me what for. I pulled over and thought I was going to check out on the side of the road. I can remember thinking, this is a bit embarrassing, dying on the side of the road — crazy, eh? But I came around a bit and (foolishly) carried on driving home. I had another attack and my poor wife had to drive me to the hospital in the middle of the night where they quickly rigged me up to various heart machines and monitors. I can remember lying there thinking, all this shit just really isn’t worth it! Funnily enough, the ticker problems and that thought really helped me get back on track. It took a while, 20 months in fact, before I got back firing on all cylinders. I had moved into another area, biosecurity, and eventually had more than 100 people working for me on a full-on project for seven months; I was definitely back on the horse.

Another interesting experience I had during this period was re-applying for my firearms licence. I was honest and ticked the box about mental health issues and provided them with information and doctors’ references. This really set off an interesting chain of events with the Firearms Registry, which was possibly as a result of incompetence, bad protocols and procedures, or poorly trained staff — possibly all three!

First of all, they didn’t get my re-application processed in time, then they told me they wanted more information, but wouldn’t tell me what they wanted for three months. Then they decided to cancel my licence (which had expired), then they decided I should have my firearms seized but I wasn’t at home when they called round in office hours, I was at work, so I was given the option of dropping them into the local firearms and hunting shop, which I did.

This turned out to be a good thing as the boys there treated me well and I am eternally grateful to them. My firearms mean a lot to me and this was the first time in 40 years that I did not have them and I did not know if I would get them back. Next day I got a very apologetic call from the shop to say that the Registry had asked them to transfer my firearms out of my name and put them on their list. I was absolutely gutted. Never mind, I now set about the task of getting my firearms licence back, which I duly did, four long months later. But wait, there is one last twist in the Registry saga: they messed up my permits to acquire, not once, not twice, but three times, and this is when I was dealing with one of their managers directly on it. Unbelievable but true. I am not sure if this was incompetence or they were trying me out — you decide.

Now, you may ask why I have taken you through this protracted saga? The reason is simple: we need to be there for our family and friends if depression does hit. If it does happen with a mate who owns firearms, we need to look out for them and help them through the process and ensure that they and their firearms are looked after appropriately. It may come down to a simple question: ‘Are you alright mate?’ — and be ready for the answer.

Something to think and talk about around the campfire with your mates. Safe hunting, BB.

Field & Game Australia understands the importance of mental health and we want to raise awareness and find ways to support those organisations that provide help and support.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 Headspace on 1800 650 890

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