I had leukaemia as a child and had to learn to walk, talk and think again. Then when I was 10, I lost my father, Bill, and fell into a deep depression. Dad was such a huge part of my life and the lives of many Yorta Yorta people in northern Victoria – he was a sports coach and community leader - and to this day, people tell me how much they miss him.
After such difficult experiences, my passion for things I used to love evaporated. I remember thinking, 'what's the point?' which is pretty serious to be thinking at such a young age. I was from a community of strongly opinionated people and it often felt like my voice didn't matter. I withdrew from social situations and felt like I didn't fit in.
As a teenager, I found solace in comic books. I immersed myself in stories of people kicking arse all the time and it gave me time out from my dark thoughts. I was also looking for male role models in my life and found them in the superheroes.
A lot of people don't realise that comic books are actually quite relatable to real life. Take Batman – he's a vigilante, dealing with what's good, what's bad, what's wrong and what's right. As a young person, I think it's good to read and think about where your morals lie. There's another great comic book line called Civil War that was written at the same time as Martin Luther King was marching. It was about superheroes, but they dealt with the same concepts of racism, and I think that contributed to a lot of change.
When I got older, I started going to comic-con and sci fi conventions where people would dress up as characters from comics, games, movies and anime, which is called cosplay (costume role-play). For the first few years, I didn't dress up – I just enjoyed looking at everybody's costumes and being welcomed by a warm community of people who would otherwise be viewed as unusual in society.
I was surprised to discover that a lot of cosplayers have had similar experiences with anxiety, depression and feeling like an outsider – and it's empowering to be around them. We've all come together and made our own community.
In 2012, I met my girlfriend, Heidi, at university. She was really into cosplay and convinced me to give it a go. There's a lot more to cosplay than just dressing up – you have to create your costume from scratch, which involves learning sewing and other creative techniques – and when you dress up, you have to embody the character and all of its quirks.
I went to my first convention at the Melbourne Convention Centre dressed as Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He walks around space in a robe, pyjama bottoms and a towel – it was a big step to walk down the street and catch a tram through the city in costume. I was so nervous and nearly returned home a few times – I was worried about what people would think of me, and whether people at the convention would even recognise my character. I still suffered a lot of feelings of shame and was uncomfortable not following social norms. But as soon as I got there, everyone recognised my cosplay and I felt liberated.
I immersed myself in stories of people kicking arse all the time and it gave me time out from my dark thoughts. I was also looking for male role models in my life and found them in the superheroes.
Now I've been attending cosplay conventions for four years and absolutely love it. I often encourage other Koori people to get involved, because it teaches you courage and you get to meet an awesome group of people. I'm really looking forward to my next cosplay – I'm dressing up as Bishop from the X-Men series, who is one of three Aboriginal superheroes in the mainstream media.
To young Koori people going through a hard time, I'd say: find your niche. Find something you are passionate about and voice it. As young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we must conquer the concept of shame and self-doubt.