• Riverbank Frank Doolan, Wiradjuri Traditional Owner (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Frank 'Riverbank' Doolan, is passionate about improving the lives of everyone in his community - and with suicide affecting too many young men, Frank is calling for action.
Sophie Verass

14 Sep 2017 - 4:59 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2017 - 4:59 PM

Frank Doolan, or 'Riverbank Frank' as he's more regularly known, resides by the river in Dubbo NSW on the grounds of what was once, the old Talbragar Mission. With the council's permission, the Willae (Possum People) Wiradjuri Traditional Owner lives close to nature in a caravan with his cats and dog.

While Frank enjoys the quiet life at home being a writer, poet and philosopher, he also has very active responsibilities being a leader in his community. He is one of the founding members of the Dubbo community Men's Shed and is currently a community worker at the Apollo House centre in the spirited-but-troubled Apollo estate. His commitment to improving the lives of his community and his philosophy in practicing reconciliation in everyday life has also made him a recent ambassador for the national suicide campaign, R U OK? 

Suicide rates for young Indigenous men are some of the highest in the world. Dealing with living situations like housing, money and employment; the added societal pressures and notions of hyper masculinity and carrying generations of trauma, grief, loss, makes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men between the ages of 25 and 29 one of the most affected groups of suicidal thoughts. 

For Frank, these statistics are much more than data figures - it's the reality of his community.

"I found it [working with R U OK?] extremely interesting, because it uncovered all this stuff," Frank told NITV. 

"It’s so typical of what’s going down in Australia, especially with Aboriginal men. We don’t have the conversation at all; we don’t know the triggers and the signs, and in reality there is a train crashing all around us and its affecting our communities.

"I speak from experience, for example, in 2015, by December we’d lost eight men to suicide - and with the exception of one – all were under the age of 25. Last man, who was 30, was a cousin of mine and even though I'd talk to him and say, 'are you travellin' alright' he gave no indication that he was struggling.

"If our young people are just heading off into the sun in the best years of their life, then we have failed them as a community." 

Frank says that with the right campaign and with the right Aboriginal people leading it, national organisations engaging with communities can be quite successful. He was approached by R U OK? through a friend who works in the Sydney office. "She said to me, 'Frank, this in no way speaks to Indigenous men nearly as much as it needs to'."

A veteran public speaker, Frank soon became the face of the R U OK? campaign, starring in a viral video which documented his treasured, long-lasting friendship with his mate, Warwick.

"It hasn’t been about ego, It’s been about passion - it’s all about the heart. 

"Look, I goto a face for radio – but I’m black, and I look like it, and every mob can identify with Riverbank. And after the ad went out, my phone was ringin' from a WA number at midnight and I was thinkin' 'who's that'? Then this bloke was sayin' 'I saw you on TV', and he starts cryin' because he lives about 300-400 kms from Exmouth and in the last week, three young people had taken their lives. How do you get back to sleep after hearing something like that?"

One of the Conversation Convoy events that was a highlight for Frank, was arriving in Bourke, the NSW town where he spent his formative years. 

"The campaign gave me the opportunity to speak with all my people; Aboriginal people, community members, non-Aboriginal people and I said to them, 'Brothers - this R U OK? campaign is the best thing to come to town. We need to support each other and we can use the campaign to further."

That morning, before addressing the crowd, Frank was up with the sun at 6.30am and wrote a poem to inspire men to take an interest in mental health. 

There are three words in the language
Australian men rarely say,
We fail as men to see the need
To ask RUOK?
I understand the reasons why
I am an Aussie bloke
But male depression is so real
And suicide is not a joke.
We find it hard to talk
Will anybody understand?
What it is I want to say
About the troubles of a man?
We internalise our deepest fears
We practice isolation
And when it all comes out
It’s anger and frustration.
The care and share philosophy
We’ve had it from the start
It isn’t just a feminine thing
Australian men have heart
I sincerely hope
As we all grow older
That Australian men will see the need
To stand shoulder to shoulder
It isn’t black or white
Forget discrimination!
Australian men caring about each other
Will really add to this great nation.

Frank says that you could be the strongest man, but mental illness can reduce you to nothing - and you're not alone.

"We all suffer insecurity, pain, every other difficult emotion - no one is scot free. It's where you can take the ability of the human condition. 

"It's okay to ask, 'RU OK?' It's not like saying 'g’day', actually go outside yourself and see what they reply, what they tell you and where you need to go next."

This year, NITV & R U OK? are working together encourage more life-changing conversations in communities across Australia.

R U OK? Day is a national day of action on Thursday, 14 September. Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found at R U OK Website or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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