The Long Goodbye: A Photo Essay

Full Moon, Cloudy Night Sky, acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 30cm, copyright © 2019 Merryn Apma-Atkinson

Full Moon, Cloudy Night Sky, acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 30cm, copyright © 2019 Merryn Apma-Atkinson

Full Moon, Cloudy Night Sky, acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 30cm, copyright © 2019 Merryn Apma-Atkinson

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following contains images of deceased persons.

Glen Atkinson’s life was marked by tragedy and love. A Wolithica man from the Yorta Yorta nation, Glen loved his people and country, his fiercely loyal camp-dog Max and the mighty Essendon Bombers.

He was a tall man, with quiet mannerisms and a cheeky grin. The wrinkles around his eyes told you he wore that grin often, but occasionally his lips would purse, his eyes turned glassy. When I asked him to tell his story – of being stolen, of the sexual abuse he experienced in State care, of the life he lived after - he spoke softly, with dignity and purpose.

NITV first shared his story in 2016, when we were invited to film his marriage to his best friend, Arrernte woman Merryn Apma.

In 2019 I visited Glen again. This time he had just received a terminal diagnosis for an eight-centimetre tumour in his liver. Years of drinking away the pain of a life stolen, a boy abused and an Aboriginal man disregarded finally took its toll.

“They took everything from me. They took my family, once they took that they took my dreams. They stole my Dreaming. They just destroyed everything,”
Glen Atkinson

But Glen, true to the life he had lived, wasn’t leaving without a fight. Both Merryn and Glen fought for compensation from the state up until his final breath.

On April 15 as he lay in bed, fragile but determined, Merryn held the phone to his ear while the person on the other end told Glen his application under the National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse had been successful.

At 3am the next morning Glen passed peacefully into the Dreamtime.

On April 24 I traveled to Echuca, Victoria, on Yorta Yorta country where, at Merryn’s request, I read the eulogy at Glen’s funeral.

NITV are sharing Glen’s story again, this time with the help of photographer Michael Weinhardt who documented, with permission, the final months of Glen’s life and the Sorry Business which followed his death.

"If you want to get something done, get a couple of black women to do it."
Karen Atkinson, Glen’s older sister
Part administration, part counselling, talking helps Merryn and Karen stay strong as they care for Glen. Karen has temporarily moved from her home on Kaurna Country (Adelaide, SA) to care for Glen and Merryn. 14 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Part administration, part counselling, talking helps Merryn and Karen stay strong as they care for Glen. Karen has temporarily moved from her home on Kaurna Country (Adelaide, SA) to care for Glen and Merryn. 14 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Part administration, part counselling, talking helps Merryn and Karen stay strong as they care for Glen. Karen has temporarily moved from her home on Kaurna Country (Adelaide, SA) to care for Glen and Merryn. 14 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

There is little time to rest before the living wake in two days. 18 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

There is little time to rest before the living wake in two days. 18 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

There is little time to rest before the living wake in two days. 18 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Almost immediately after Glen receives his terminal diagnosis, Merryn and Karen get to work preparing for Glen’s ‘Living Wake’ at their beloved home in Tilba on Yuin country.

Merryn tells Glen she doesn’t want him to ‘worry about one damn thing”.

“Let me and Karen put the love around you, so that you can just enjoy whatever you want to be and do, and wherever you want to go, and not have anything to worry about,” she said.

Stephen "Rainbow" Hutchison visits. He is one of Glen's closest friends in the Tilba community, which Merryn often referred to as "our Tilba family". 13 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Stephen "Rainbow" Hutchison visits. He is one of Glen's closest friends in the Tilba community, which Merryn often referred to as "our Tilba family". 13 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Stephen "Rainbow" Hutchison visits. He is one of Glen's closest friends in the Tilba community, which Merryn often referred to as "our Tilba family". 13 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Gunditjmara Singer/Songwriter Archie Roach and Glen talk before the living wake. They have known each other since Glen was a teenager. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Gunditjmara Singer/Songwriter Archie Roach and Glen talk before the living wake. They have known each other since Glen was a teenager. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Gunditjmara Singer/Songwriter Archie Roach and Glen talk before the living wake. They have known each other since Glen was a teenager. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen and Merryn greet their daughter, Candice (next to Glen) and grandchildren, Djarmbi (left) and Tyson. They have come to be with family and help complete preparations for Glen's living wake. 16 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen and Merryn greet their daughter, Candice (next to Glen) and grandchildren, Djarmbi (left) and Tyson. They have come to be with family and help complete preparations for Glen's living wake. 16 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen and Merryn greet their daughter, Candice (next to Glen) and grandchildren, Djarmbi (left) and Tyson. They have come to be with family and help complete preparations for Glen's living wake. 16 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen left an impression on most people he met, including Gunditjmara singer songwriter and friend of many years, Uncle Archie Roach.

At the living wake, speaking from one man to another Uncle Archie said:

“We’ve been through fire. We’ve had similar journeys in life, and we could be bitter, bitter men. We could be angry; we could be violent because of what we’ve been through. But both of us are better than that.”

Both Merryn and Glen share a past of being removed from their families. When they eventually fell in love, Glen said it was Merryn who taught him how to forgive.

On the day of the living wake, standing in front of hundreds of family and friends and next to the red cowboy hat Glen wore at their wedding, Merryn listed the traits she admires most in her husband.

“You are a pure gentleman, honest, speak the truth, kind, loving, staunch, extremely protective of me. You are cheeky as well, and comical,” she said.

“For someone who has endured the life that you have been dealt and the damage that has infested you, you are truly an amazing man.”

Glen listens as Merryn speaks at his living wake. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen listens as Merryn speaks at his living wake. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen listens as Merryn speaks at his living wake. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's speech for Glen is part history, part love letter, and reveals Merryn's love and vulnerability. Merryn's daughter, Tamara, is by her side in support. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's speech for Glen is part history, part love letter, and reveals Merryn's love and vulnerability. Merryn's daughter, Tamara, is by her side in support. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's speech for Glen is part history, part love letter, and reveals Merryn's love and vulnerability. Merryn's daughter, Tamara, is by her side in support. 20 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Jude Graham (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Services), watches as Glen records his choice to not be resuscitated if required. It is one of many difficult discussions that occur in palliation care but allows Glen to control what happens to him and health services to respect his choices. 17 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Jude Graham (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Services), watches as Glen records his choice to not be resuscitated if required. It is one of many difficult discussions that occur in palliation care but allows Glen to control what happens to him and health services to respect his choices. 17 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Jude Graham (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Services), watches as Glen records his choice to not be resuscitated if required. It is one of many difficult discussions that occur in palliation care but allows Glen to control what happens to him and health services to respect his choices. 17 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen has pain so severe from the liver cancer it is beyond the ability of his endone prescription to contain it. Paramedics must administer morphine to help. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen has pain so severe from the liver cancer it is beyond the ability of his endone prescription to contain it. Paramedics must administer morphine to help. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen has pain so severe from the liver cancer it is beyond the ability of his endone prescription to contain it. Paramedics must administer morphine to help. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn sits with Glen as morphine causes his pain to subside. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn sits with Glen as morphine causes his pain to subside. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn sits with Glen as morphine causes his pain to subside. 31 January 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen sits in silence with Max on the back veranda. He gave up smoking years before but restarted on the day of his diagnosis. Ironically, Glen is a relatively fit man with healthy lungs. He often joked that he was doing great except for dying from liver cancer. 11 February 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen sits in silence with Max on the back veranda. He gave up smoking years before but restarted on the day of his diagnosis. Ironically, Glen is a relatively fit man with healthy lungs. He often joked that he was doing great except for dying from liver cancer. 11 February 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen sits in silence with Max on the back veranda. He gave up smoking years before but restarted on the day of his diagnosis. Ironically, Glen is a relatively fit man with healthy lungs. He often joked that he was doing great except for dying from liver cancer. 11 February 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

After the living wake Glen is exhausted. Merryn and Karen say goodbye to their guests, pack up chairs and clean the house.

The next day life goes on, and they go back to caring for Glen.

“In the media, we are just dumb blackfellas, we don’t know jack shit, we don’t look after anyone, that’s why the welfare take our kids, we’re all drunkards, we’re all this and that, you know, we burn our fucking furniture. This gives you an aboriginal perspective of people, truly in love, just trying to get on."
Karen Atkinson, Glen’s older sister
Over dinner, Glen tells a story about a car he and Merryn bought, not knowing it was stolen, and interactions they subsequently had with local Police. 14 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Over dinner, Glen tells a story about a car he and Merryn bought, not knowing it was stolen, and interactions they subsequently had with local Police. 14 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Over dinner, Glen tells a story about a car he and Merryn bought, not knowing it was stolen, and interactions they subsequently had with local Police. 14 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen has returned from Adelaide where she lives to continue caring for Glen and Merryn. 22 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen has returned from Adelaide where she lives to continue caring for Glen and Merryn. 22 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen has returned from Adelaide where she lives to continue caring for Glen and Merryn. 22 March 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Deana Efraemson (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Nurse) and senior Nurse Practitioner, Theresa Pot (left), consult on the swelling of Glen's belly and what is causing it, which they determine to be mainly from the liver cancer. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Deana Efraemson (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Nurse) and senior Nurse Practitioner, Theresa Pot (left), consult on the swelling of Glen's belly and what is causing it, which they determine to be mainly from the liver cancer. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Deana Efraemson (RN, NSW Health Eurobodalla Community Nurse) and senior Nurse Practitioner, Theresa Pot (left), consult on the swelling of Glen's belly and what is causing it, which they determine to be mainly from the liver cancer. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen listens as Theresa and Deana relate the diagnosis. For Glen, it is both bad news and good news in that strange kind of way palliative care engenders: bad because the swelling is due to the liver cancer which has continued to grow, good because it is not due to other possible conditions that would treatment in hospital. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen listens as Theresa and Deana relate the diagnosis. For Glen, it is both bad news and good news in that strange kind of way palliative care engenders: bad because the swelling is due to the liver cancer which has continued to grow, good because it is not due to other possible conditions that would require treatment in hospital. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen listens as Theresa and Deana relate the diagnosis. For Glen, it is both bad news and good news in that strange kind of way palliative care engenders: bad because the swelling is due to the liver cancer which has continued to grow, good because it is not due to other possible conditions that would require treatment in hospital. 10 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen is suffering the most severe pain of his illness, a pain he barely whispers is 10 out of 10. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen is suffering the most severe pain of his illness, a pain he barely whispers is 10 out of 10. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen is suffering the most severe pain of his illness, a pain he barely whispers is 10 out of 10. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

The morphine eases Glen’s pain initially but Paramedics are called to come again. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

The morphine eases Glen’s pain initially but Paramedics are called to come again. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

The morphine eases Glen’s pain initially but Paramedics are called to come again. 15 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Hours before Glen married Merryn in 2016, he told NITV that Merryn ‘melted away the rough edges, what growing up in those orphanages did.”

“We’ve just been able to heal each other,” Merryn added.

As grieving begins, Karen is consoled by her new puppy, Tjutju. 16 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

As grieving begins, Karen is consoled by her new puppy, Tjutju. 16 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

As grieving begins, Karen is consoled by her new puppy, Tjutju. 16 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's close friend, Kathryn "Chookie" McKellar gives Merryn a should rub to ease tension in her back. Tamara, Merryn and Glen's daughter, "assists". 17 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's close friend, Kathryn "Chookie" McKellar gives Merryn a should rub to ease tension in her back. Tamara, Merryn and Glen's daughter, "assists". 17 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn's close friend, Kathryn "Chookie" McKellar gives Merryn a should rub to ease tension in her back. Tamara, Merryn and Glen's daughter, "assists". 17 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

At 3:33am on 16 April, 2019 Glen Atkinson died in his home, next to his wife Merryn and his sister Karen.

Sorry Business on Yuin country begins, and Merryn and Karen prepare Glen to be taken back to his beloved Yorta Yorta country, his final resting place.

The community in Tilba rally around the grieving family and farewell Glen from the country he called home for the final years of his life.

Before Glen is picked up and transported to Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC) where he will be buried, Merryn shares with Glen the final moments they will have in their home together. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Before Glen is picked up and transported to Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC) where he will be buried, Merryn shares with Glen the final moments they will have in their home together. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Before Glen is picked up and transported to Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC) where he will be buried, Merryn shares with Glen the final moments they will have in their home together. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Rosie Watt (friend, left) and Melissa Carmicheal (niece), Merryn and Karen say goodbye to Glen. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Rosie Watt (friend, left) and Melissa Carmicheal (niece), Merryn and Karen say goodbye to Glen. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Rosie Watt (friend, left) and Melissa Carmicheal (niece), Merryn and Karen say goodbye to Glen. 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen watches Glen leave and says, "I'll see you soon, Bruz." 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen watches Glen leave and says, "I'll see you soon, Bruz." 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Karen watches Glen leave and says, "I'll see you soon, Bruz." 18 April 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen is laid to rest on Yorta Yorta country on April 24.

Family and friends travel across the country to pay their respects.

Glen is carried to his grave by his pallbearers: Michael Long (brother), Tyson Edwards (Arrernte/Gunditjmara Man), Ronnie Burns (son, Tiwi Man), Haley Rosenow (niece, Yorta Yorta Woman), Wayne "Buddy" Martin (friend, Kamilaroi Man) and Robbie Oldham (friend). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen is carried to his grave by his pallbearers: Michael Long (brother), Tyson Edwards (Arrernte/Gunditjmara Man), Ronnie Burns (son, Tiwi Man), Haley Rosenow (niece, Yorta Yorta Woman), Wayne "Buddy" Martin (friend, Kamilaroi Man) and Robbie Oldham (friend). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen is carried to his grave by his pallbearers: Michael Long (brother), Tyson Edwards (Arrernte/Gunditjmara Man), Ronnie Burns (son, Tiwi Man), Haley Rosenow (niece, Yorta Yorta Woman), Wayne "Buddy" Martin (friend, Kamilaroi Man) and Robbie Oldham (friend). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen's funeral service is led by Joe and MC'd by Warlpiri Woman Rachael Hocking (NITV). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen's funeral service is led by Joe and MC'd by Warlpiri Woman Rachael Hocking (NITV). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC)." should read "Glen's funeral service is led by Glen's cousin, Yorta Yorta Man and Njernda Pastor Joe Day, and MC'd by Warlpiri Woman Rachael Hocking (NITV). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen's funeral service is led by Joe and MC'd by Warlpiri Woman Rachael Hocking (NITV). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC)." should read "Glen's funeral service is led by Glen's cousin, Yorta Yorta Man and Njernda Pastor Joe Day, and MC'd by Warlpiri Woman Rachael Hocking (NITV). 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen is laid to rest on the country of his people. 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen is laid to rest on the country of his people. 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen is laid to rest on the country of his people. 24 April 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

The day after Glen's funeral, Karen visits Cummeragunja on the banks of the Murray River outside Moama (NSW). Karen didn't grow up here but it's home to her, culturally and spiritually. She has come to be on country, and to remember her mother whose ashes were spread where Karen is standing several years earlier. 25 April 2019. Cummeragunja, Yorta Yorta Country (Moama, NSW).

The day after Glen's funeral, Karen visits Cummeragunja on the banks of the Murray River outside Moama (NSW). Karen didn't grow up here but it's home to her, culturally and spiritually. She has come to be on country, and to remember her mother whose ashes were spread where Karen is standing several years earlier. 25 April 2019. Cummeragunja, Yorta Yorta Country (Moama, NSW).

The day after Glen's funeral, Karen visits Cummeragunja on the banks of the Murray River outside Moama (NSW). Karen didn't grow up here but it's home to her, culturally and spiritually. She has come to be on country, and to remember her mother whose ashes were spread where Karen is standing several years earlier. 25 April 2019. Cummeragunja, Yorta Yorta Country (Moama, NSW).

Merryn lights a fire for Glen the night before she leaves Tilba. 18 May 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn lights a fire for Glen the night before she leaves Tilba. 18 May 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Merryn lights a fire for Glen the night before she leaves Tilba. 18 May 2019. Yuin Country (Central Tilba, NSW).

Glen's headstone has been erected and Merryn and Karen return together to Echuca Cemetery for its unveiling. 24 August 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen's headstone has been erected and Merryn and Karen return together to Echuca Cemetery for its unveiling. 24 August 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

Glen's headstone has been erected and Merryn and Karen return together to Echuca Cemetery for its unveiling. 24 August 2019. Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca, VIC).

"I'll see ya when I'm lookin' at ya."
Glen Atkinson
Yorta-Yorta warrior: In 2007 Glen challenged the state and 'white man's law'. His wardship number across his chest and his criminal record number on his back.

Yorta-Yorta warrior: In 2007 Glen challenged the state and 'white man's law'. His wardship number across his chest and his criminal record number on his back. 

Yorta-Yorta warrior: In 2007 Glen challenged the state and 'white man's law'. His wardship number across his chest and his criminal record number on his back. 

Photographs: Michael Weinhardt
Words: Rachael Hocking
Production: Daniel Gallahar


About the photographer:

Michael Weinhardt is an Australian photographer who has covered stories in the USA, Peru, Cuba and Australia since 2008. Michael’s work has appeared in both exhibitions and media (print/online), including Real Change News (Seattle), HEAVY and VERI.Live (Melbourne), The Courier (Ballarat) and SBS (Australia). He primarily works on longform photojournalism projects.

The photos from this essay are from his most recent project, The Long Goodbye: https://www.michaelweinhardtphotography.com/stories/aftershock/thelonggoodbye