If you’re familiar with the positive hashtag encouraging others to be okay with you #StayTrueStayProudStayYOU then you should know Katherine original, Jake Gablonski. Not only an Australia Day ambassador but also the only Indigenous ambassador for R U OK? In the northern territory town of Katherine.
Jake, a strong voice for equality in Australia, will be one of the key featured speakers at the local Australia Day Ceremony on January 26, at the Goodinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Cultural Centre, in his home town of Katherine.
Boasting thousands of followers on vital social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, the 21-year-old is no stranger to coping with mixed emotions of feeling isolated, depressed and struggling with life. Which is why he’s become an advocate for not only Indigenous people but also for the non-indigenous community who want to learn how to deal with powerful heartfelt conversations with challenged youth.
From the early age of 10-years-old, Jake went through some dark times which he later realised, was the result of post-traumatic stress, which made childhood in the small town of Katherine a particularly difficult one. He battled with after an incident that left him recovering in hospital for a lengthy period.
“Depression began creeping in to my life from post-traumatic stress so the next five to six years were pretty tough for me,” he said.
“Because of that, I remember feeling like I didn't belong, some days I couldn't even get out of bed. I was always crying and suicide often crossed my mind."
Despite being over a decade ago, Jake said he has never forgotten the fear he endured during this time.
“This spiral of depression stemmed from growing up in a small town with people not knowing how to approach the conversation surrounding ‘coping’, I was fortunate enough to have family that recognised the signs and got help from me before it was too late… but not everyone in Katherine has that help.”
Fast forward a few years and he’s now a successful, young professional living in Canberra using his experience to inspire others.
Australia Day Ambassador:
The Australia Day ambassador is living proof that the combination of caring family and friends coupled with appropriate support, means light at the end of the tunnel for someone going through a rough time.
As an Aboriginal Australian Jake acknowledges and respects that for his ancestors, Australia Day is a very difficult day, marking the arrival of the British and some truly horrific parts of our history. However he says that this year, the date isn’t going to change, but our mindsets can.
“On Australia Day, we celebrate those among our big Aussie family who have been honoured in the announcement of the Australian of the Year Awards and the Order of Australia Awards. Closer to home, we have Katherine's Bridie Duggan representing the NT at the Young Australian of the Year Awards for her achievements in Mental Health Awareness and that’s what we need to be acknowledging.”
“Also on Australia Day, one of the most emotional events is the citizenship ceremony. Every year well over 10,000 new citizens are welcomed into the Australian family. The pride and sense of achievement that mark these special events is something we should hold close and come away with a renewed sense of belonging and affection. Regardless of how different our lifestyles are, citizenship is one of the powerful rituals that bind us together as a community.”
The proud LGBTI supporter says It's been an interesting journey of storytelling and learning but we need to remain supportive of each other in order to move forward.
“Just as we welcome those from all around the world into our national family, January 26 is a day to appreciate those Australians who have proudly taken their place in the wider global community, showcasing the many strengths and talents of our nation.”
Apart from struggling with his own personal experience, Jake had to also deal with the sad but increasing reality of youth committing suicide - those being his own very good friends and family. This tragic incident made him determined to help more people access the support they needed.
“I've lost a few people - both family members and close friends - to suicide. The impact this had on me personally and the people around me, has been devastating,” he said.
“The pain of not knowing; questioning; wondering. I guess that’s what’s made me want to do more.”
Jake says we need to take the time to regularly check-in and a good way to start is by asking a simple but powerful question;
“A lot of the time you don’t realise you are helping, but just being there, asking how they’re going, listening to what they have to say and encouraging them to access appropriate support can make a big difference.”
Jake has aspirations to put together a program aimed for the youth in Katherine, not only Indigenous youngsters but everyone, in order to normalise speaking about coping with emotional stress.
“I’d like to input a program focused on how to approach having difficult conversations and ideals around it - how to deal with people who have issues that need help and how to assist them,” he said.
“It’s more than just sparking conversation it’s about being active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Jake's Jan 26 message:
Let's have fun, enjoy our free country and celebrate what is great about Australia. Reflect on our previous imperfections and renew our commitment to coming together, supporting each other and continuing to make Australia a great nation. So that everyone, from our First Peoples to our most recent arrivals can live in a truly lucky country. If we spark conversation change will happen, maybe not straight away but sometime in the future and hopefully a change for the better.