Wes Herring reckoned he had life all mapped out. He would take over the family farm, continue the tradition of raising merino sheep and, with wife Kate, bring up a family who would continue the succession. But nothing went to plan. Wes was hit by one blow after another until the physical and emotional pain finally became too much and took him to a very dark place.. This is his story about how, by getting professional help, connecting with a very special mate and sharing his thoughts through, of all things, some pretty amazing poetry, he found his way back to the light.
Read the transcript of Wes's story
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So the next one I'm about to read out is , um, probably the toughest of all. It's the one I wrote , um, back on the day that I decided I was gonna end it. Um , but how it come about was I was away in the truck as usual. And , um, I was in the BP Roadhouse at Pinaroo and a mate rang me as , um , going through a divorce or about to, and , um , yeah, as ugly as most divorces are, I guess. And he , um , yeah, he said to me what he was gonna do, and I talked him out of it. I must have coz he didn't do it. And uh , he's still here. So , um , yeah. Anyway, it got me thinking about when I was gonna do something stupid and , and yeah, by the time I finished a Scotch fillet and chips and salad, this was the result. Here as I sit a call did just end from a dear old mate who's facing wits end. And as we spoke his troubles he lay out on the table, it had been a rough day. The words that he spoke did trigger my mind. It took me right back to my darkest time to a day in April of 2016 for to end all my pain. I was only too keen. I had it all planned right down to the spot, all on my lonesome that day I would stop the feelings of failure being useless and weak to stop all of this pressure. The end I did seek as I left home, that call April day, my poor loving wife knew nothing of what may become of her husband.
Welcome to lifeline's, holding on to hope, a podcast in which those who've attempted suicide, explain what led them to that dark place and what helped keep them tethered to life. Wes Herring is a fourth generation grazier. He's reading that poem at Gum Park, 110 kilometers of red dirt roads Northwest of broken hill. The property was settled by his great-grandfather and he always dreamed of taking it over himself. He lives there with his wife, Kate and son Angus, when the drought's not biting, Wes farms sheep, and a few cattle out here, but drought is a vicious mistres he has to supplement his income, driving a truck.
Yeah . I can remember back to probably late primary school. Um, people say , you know, you got any idea what you knew when you grow up . Yep, own Gum Park. And I made a promise to myself at a young age that by the age of 30, I would either be here, own here or somewhere else. And the process was underway when I turned 30 and I was 30 and nine months when I signed the contract to officially own the land. We'd come out of the 08, 09 drought, which was I'd sort of come home then. Dad had left and I went into partnership with me , grandparents. So I was managing a place 90,000 acres on the Sydney road. I'd come home here. I was going between the two, we had three, three and a half thousand sheep spread all over the west coast to south Australia. We had 300 head of cattle down around Euroa and Seymour on agistments. I was traveling a lot, newly married. Kate and I had only been married for 18 months. And uh , um , I was never bloody home. And then it started the rain in November 09 and 10 and 11 and world was pretty good. And we had Angus , um , in 2011, we had him albeit 11 weeks and four days early. And , um , which was a big shock. But once FT knew we were having a boy, he set wheels in motion for me to take over. FT is my grandfather, Frederick Thomas, him and I were not just grandfather and grandson, we were much, much more. Like it just, there was nothing we didn't discuss. There was. So that was good. Uh , you know, we had kind of string of good seasons and everything and I swear to Christ , but the day I struck that pen on that paper, it stopped raining and it's hardly since. So by 2013, we were in drought, September, 2013, the bores that had been sunk , fifties wool boom was collapsing, so to sink new bores and run pipelines and we weren't feeding, but we were selling a few and a few more than we wanted, but yeah, it just, you know, I'd done it all my life. I'd been going on adjustment with stock since I was in year six at primary school, christ I've been to Lake Eyre and all up in southern Queensland and you name it, I've been there with and sleeping in swags or back the car , whatever don't make any difference. So , but it's different when you own them . It's a lot different when the zeros are coming outta your checkbook. And you're not just getting a wage. Towards the end of the drought we had one dam left with water, which was 27 kilometers away. We had four diesel pumps running to get water here to the house, coz it's all as much as it looks flat, it's not, it's all bloody up hill. So. And they had to be running a certain succession because if one stopped or run outta water, then you bugger that pump. There's a thousand bucks for repairs there. Plus the three, $400,000 worth of sheep that aren't gonna get a drink because you haven't got water to them. So most of the time I was away in the truck, carting hay for here. Um, I would do three, 4,000 Ks a week in the truck. Um, Kate , my wife and dad was here. Um, and they would have to do that pump run twice a day. So there's over a hundred Ks on your vehicle alone, let alone, 50, so there's 60, so there's 120 liters a day, roughly of diesel, just to pump water, not including the diesel in the vehicle. You would feed sheep every day . So we bought , uh , a feed mixer, second hand feed mixer. I bought one tractor for it and it wasn't big enough and died . So I laid out another a hundred thousand and bought another tractor. And then there's the time to drive the tractor out and feed the sheep and come back and then mix up another lot and go again. So it was all day, every day and every day there would be sheep you would either have to shoot or sheep that were dead. Um, it was just a constant of loss, grief and sorrow, you know, and then in to top it all off, you'd get a , a wind change and there'd be a roaring dust storm come in fill your house up full of dirt, all your troughs. So you'd have to then you'd lose all that water that you'd pumped. You'd have to let it out to clean your troughs out . So your sheep could have a drink. It was just a constant outlay of money and time and effort for nothing to come back. I mean, we weren't the only ones that , that we weren't, I I've never, ever claimed during any of whatever I've gone through be it drought, depression, whatever that I am, Robinson Crusoe. It is just my story of it.
Wes will tell you now his son Angus is his greatest gift, but there were times he didn't always feel that way.
So Angus was born, like I said, 11 weeks and four days early . So he was extremely premature. By the time we got Angus and Kate to Adelaide and done the scans, they were both within half an hour dying. Kate's body took a massive hit , uh , and she has since suffered medical issues. Um , number one, mainly being that her immune system was shot. So this COVID for the last two years has been pretty, you know? Yeah, tough going . Um, but to be, you know, she was trying to teach and feed and hold it all together and be there for me and be there for Angus and yeah. You know, it was a massive, it was hard on her Angus would just whether he liked it or not, he'd go in the tractor , um, you know, to feed and it would be, you know, schooling was, he got some done, but it was minimal as most drought kids, and you know, it was a great laugh amongst , um , you know, a lot of the Bush mums, that all their kids were learning to drive a hundred thousand dollars landcruiser wagon while mum was on the trailer throwing hay off . So it was , uh , yeah, you know, he was part look , he , he lived it. He, you know, he has a lot of, most kids did in the Bush day look , they were feeding sheep or cows before school, after school , bloody weekends, you know, they were all living it. You know, Angus has autism. Um, uh , he can do anything, everything except talk. He can get his message across . He can say his some words. They say he is non-verbal, but for a non-verbal child, hell he makes some noise. Um, but look, he, he understands the situation. He, he, he knows and, and when you'd least expect , he'd walk up and give you a hug or pat on the back or whatever. And , and you think, well, that's what I'm doing it for. You know, that's, that's what we're going through all this crap for. I mean, the day that Angus was diagnosed with autism, we were in Adelaide , um, was the day I had my first major scan on my back and found that I'd broke it. You know, I come out radiology SA, and Kate sitting in Hudson's coffee at the Memorial hospital in tears. I knew, I knew before she even opened her mouth. I knew that... Anyway, I said, no crap, bullshit, not on, denied it, denied it, denied it for months. So once I come to realize that and accept it, it changed the whole situation for the better. So I'd done some reading , uh , mainly of Temple Grandins , um, spoke to a couple of different people. Um , we got associated with the local autism group in town. Some people took a step back. Couldn't possibly associate with a family that had an autistic son. That's fine, screw you. Um, and then other people who we didn't expect stepped up. We're the first family ever to have a child with special needs in school of the air, out of Broken Hill. And when we enrolled like the school were doing somersaults and really how are we gonna handle this? And there's been plenty of talks with the school, particularly with Kate. Um , and then that was why Kate stepped up and done a stretch on the isolated children and parents association under the portfolio of children with special needs and went to state parliament and the education minister and said, this is what we're lacking. So we had had Angus , um, we went back to see the OB, whatever you wanna call him, specialist. And , uh, he said, you can try again. Um, Kate would have to be in Adelaide for pretty much entire pregnancy. The risk of an early ,again premature child was massive, high percentage. Um, the risk of Kate losing her life is mid to high seventies percent. And then if you know, and there's also the option that we could lose the second one and Kate. So I just, it was more my decision than Kate's, which is probably selfish. But as I said to Kate, I was the one that was hunted out of the operating room when Angus was born, because the doctor thought you were gonna die on the table. Um , you know, I had to sit there and watch you hooked up to this stuff to keep her alive. And I was the one that went in with Angus when he first went into the humidy crib incubator, call it whatever you like. And you know, he obviously couldn't see, and, but I can still close my eyes and see it as plain as day . He was on his left side and he put his right hand out straight towards me as if asked me to hold him. And they put seven different lines into him. So I couldn't. Say I'm tough. There's no way in the world that I could do that again,
The pressures on and off the farm were building the drought was a constant. Wes and Kate didn't know anyone else with an Autistic child so had to fight to get help for Angus. On top of that Wes's family support was disappearing.
My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and wasn't gonna live. And we lost her on the 27th of April, 2016, Lost grandma. We were shearing. Bloody I , had a couple of thousand lambs on my own. And it just , it was all going to shit. Sheep were giving me a pissling and Things weren't going right. You know, it hadn't rained. Uh , at that stage. Drought, bloody poor sheep pools was average. Pumped, tens of thousands, close to a hundred thousand dollars into genetics on sheep and classing. And it just wouldn't rain. And it was just stuff. And these sheep were going everywhere. And I thought, you know what? I'm fuk'n over this. And I pulled up and went, you know what? That's the answer. To the edge of the Creek, The planes in full view , my hounds would be first of this, no one new As I stepped from the bike, the old gun I drew, the dogs for they cowered as if they knew. So them I did spare. I hoped they'd sit by until I was found, they needed not die. And as I raised that straight cold steel , for reasons , unknown a guilt I did feel
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Kate was distressed, but did her best to hide it so as not to make the situation worse, she encouraged Wes to seek help,
Come home and tell Kate. And it didn't, you know, she was busy and shearing and she sort of didn't register at first. And, and then it did. She said you better do something about it. So I did and made an appointment, went to the flying doctor and I skirted the issue. And The doctor said, hang on a minute. He said, come with me. And we went down and seen Gabby, who was the mental health nurse at the flying doctors , beautiful lady. And , uh , she asked me some questions, doctor come back in. And he said, right, come with me. He said, you need some help. I kept it hidden for a long time. Wouldn't tell, I don't think I told FT there till he probably was only 18 months before he died. And that was years before I had a couple of bad experiences with antidepressants till we sort of got the right one. There was days I done nothing. Didn't leave the house. Couldn't leave there . Couldn't, hated the place. Absolutely hated it. Hated people, the place, the sheep, the whole lot. I just, you know why it drove me to that point. Why, you know, i t, it's not, i t's not me. It's not, you don't, you know, it's not what men do. You know, always been told i t's a cowards way out, y ou k now, am I a coward? Yet, I've never back down from a fight. You know, It , uh, yeah, it just, I couldn't. Turned to the grog, hit that pretty hard . Just nearly cost me marriage, the whole lot. And , um, Greatest thing I ever done was admit it. And I admitted it on the local ABC radio at about two minutes to nine, as far as I know I'm about the only person to ever make the nine o'clock news hold over on the ABC.
One of the people listening to the radio that day was another Broken Hill, grazier , Brendan Cullen. He'd had his own battle with depression. So understood.
I mean, it was a shock to us . Um, I remember when Wes was born. I'd seen him grow up over the years and, and , um, you know, move outta school. Um, and he went and worked out in the Bush and worked for a , uh , managed a handful of places and , um, worked at his own place. And , um , he even worked for us. Yeah . He's a lovely bloke . I can recall Wes , having a conversation on the ABC and I can recall him saying that he was having a tough time and he literally just said , uh , he nearly took his own life and, and that's when, you know, my ears picked up and I thought you poor soul. And usually when you're in that state of mind , um , you know, you you're quite sick. So , um, you know , the first thing I thought was, you know, I gotta get in touch with this lad and see how he's traveling, because obviously he's not traveling well at all.
Brendan , you you've met Brendan . He he's an absolute Monster of a man. Uh , he , he just He's one of God's angels. Like he just, he took to me like his brother and he was determined to make sure that he was not gonna put me in the ground. And it , I , I could message him day night ringing whenever. And he was the most constant support that I had. Phenomenal didn't matter what was going on with him or whatever, you'd be here and he'd ring you. He'd say I'll see an hour, and he'd show up here . He'd been to the bakery. He'd determined to make me fat because he'd show up with cakes. And well Angus ate most of them, buns and he'd sit here for hours, just talking and we'd go for a drive. And, you know, he offered to come out fencing and helped me pull a bore or whatever I needed doing . He was there
Culmination of plenty of things. I think that , um , got him into that space. Um, and no fault of his own. I mean, it just sometimes can encroach on you and it , and it can get too much. Certainly I have been in that space. And , um, you know , the , the difficult part is, is to be able to, you know, take that first step and have that conversation, you know, and it's , it's so seems to be a , a common denominator in , you know, people that are struggling with mental health, that's taken that first step to , um, ask for help. Um, and then once they do, you know, in most cases they tend to get themselves in a better space because of it. But , um, um , for me now , uh , if someone is struggling or like Wes, or whoever it may be , um, it's quite easy for me now to ask that question. Um , half the time, you know , probably two thirds of the time you already know what the answer is, but I think it's important that you ask the questions. It , you know, pretty much, you know, are you okay? Hey , going ,? um , you know , open ended questions where, you know, you give them the freedom, the capacity to be able to give you an honest answer back. And , um, and sometimes they may not do that, but at least, you know, that you, that you know, that you've asked and , um, and you could always follow up with those questions again.
Stuff. Just wouldn't necessarily talk about what you're feeling or what you're thinking. It was just in a , in his own way, he was able to get you to spit it out without asking you straight out. And it was just a release . It's basically what it was, just open the gate and let the sheep run, you know, just there's no, and it was pressure free and judgemental free . And that, you know, that's the biggest thing to, you know, I mean, you gonna admit, you know, that you, you are not well mentally and , and you've tried to, you know, take your own life. And it's, there is a massive amount of judgment out there. Um, so yeah, and to be able to sit down and talk openly, like we are here , you , uh , but I've also learned that stuff what anyone thinks you , you , we haven't walked in my boots mate, and I've walked in yours, so don't you dare judge my bloody life. And you think you can do better hop your frame up here and have a crack. Um, so yeah, it, it was just, it was the constant support that was honest and open.
The other thing is too, is that, you know, people don't , um, just become, well as a general rule, depressed overnight. You know, that it it's something that grows on you, it's like a drought. And, and then, you know , um , to self-assess and say, well, I'm in this state of mind , um , you know, it's time to act on it. You know, some people don't know how bad they are, so they just don't act on it , um , until they're in a space that they feel they can't get out of . And that , and that's, that's probably the thing sort of, I find most out in the Bush that , um, you can just see the signs. And if someone has a conversation with you, you can just see they been through hell and high water for such a long period of time. Yet there still going. And, and then they get to point , um , usually by someone saying, you need to go and see someone as opposed to them going to see someone on their own volition. And that that's, to me , um, that's, that's where we're at the crossroads, I reckon in mental health is being able to recognize. And you may not even be depressed. You might be just tired and completely worn out. And, but there are ways and means of going about things to not allow that to happen. Um, uh , even through droughts, I mean, you can, you can find excuses to be busy all the time. Uh , at some point you've gotta find an excuse not to be, and there's a trick in that and that about giving yourself permission to not be busy. <laugh> , um, you know, it's as simple as that, I'm not talking days on end, but I'm, I'm talking, you know, giving yourself an hour or two or three in your day or every second day of your own time. And , um, you know, giving yourself the opportunity to take a breath for five minutes. You know, it's , it's important,
Despite good mates and antidepressants, Wes was still having bad days, but then self-help came from an unexpected source.
Hadn't never written poetry in my life. And , um, I was carting water . I was out at Nelly only , which is the big tank up the top before we put the pipeline in And , um, jumped up on the back and climbed up on the back of the truck. I don't jump much anymore. And , um, looked out and there's just red sand and no feed and there's no sheep out there just because the feed had gone. It was too far to cart feed. But the water was the only fresh water we had left on the place. And um, I used to , to fill in time while I was waiting for the pump to fill all the shuttles, I'd play solataire. I had to phone out and I dunno I just this , a few words just started floating around. for those who choose to live here and call this country home. So open up notes, put 'em down and by the time I had the water loaded I had the first poem wrote. Anyway, come home, unloading the water and Kate come out and see how it's going . I said , come here and have a read of this. And though we are tired and weary with our souls so drained and bare . We do our best for what we love to show them that we care. So please do not condemn us for asking for a hand, unless you , She read it and said where did you get that from? I said, I wrote it. She goes , no, you didn't. I said yes I did. Anyway, we had a governoress here , Ellen from Wales. She , she was here. Kate said come here and read this. And s he r ead t hat. And as these days turn into weeks, the seasons we hope will turn. We thank you all from deep within for all of your concern. She goes, is there anything you can't do. I said , yeah, make money and uh , make it rain. And um , anyway , she said, you should put that on Facebook. I said , no . Anyway we did. And it went from there and then it just happened . You can be walking a mob of sheep along on the bike. You be driving the truck, you'll be laying in bed, whatever. And it'll just start. I can always remember someone saying, if you feel bad or sad or whatever, you bloody write it down on a bit of paper or , you know, you , you know , hate someone or whatever you write it down and you screw it up and burn it or put it in the freezer or whatever you wanna do with it. You know, some, you know, you wanna send a text message to someone, type it out, say it and delete it . Well, I type it out and then I press share . So , um, and then it's, It was a , oh , sort of become a coping mechanism because it allowed me to say what I wanted to say in my own words. Um, As to how I was feeling at that time. And I mean, it's shared public is not just friends. It goes anywhere , and everywhere and people can make it what they like, but it's, it's out there,
I suppose, with Wes . Um, uh , it's a great coping mechanism for him , uh , to be able to, you know , put pen to paper and he really does expose himself every time he writes a , a poem and it has a fair bit of meaning about it and you know exactly what's going on in his life, which is great. I mean, that's that helps Wes and his family. And um, you know, if anyone can find a tool , uh , to fight their way out of a dark space , um, whatever that tool may be and in Wes's case is it's, you know, poetry. Um , that's a really good thing because you can't always pick up the phone and have that conversation with someone at three o'clock in the morning, sitting in your bunk bed in the truck, but you can pull out a pen and start, you know, writing things down and , and that's been gold for Wes I just hope, you know , I hope he keeps doing that forever. Um, cause he'll have a hell of a hell of a poetry book to put together. I mean , um, some really good stuff.
I wrote one after one of Brendan's trips, A mate of old paid a visit today. Our place is well out of his way. He called on us to see we're well and how we're surviving in this living hell. With coffee mugs full and smoko in place. How are you doing? Are you winning the race? How are your ewes, your pride and joy? They credit you three, dad, mum , and boy. How are you for water? Will you run out? Have you found agistment on your trips about, and what about you? Mate are you okay? If you are down? It's alright to say. For you are not alone. There's many that care and who will listen. There's no need to scare for nothing is wrong and you are not weak. If you do choose to stand up and speak, his voice rang true full of concern real. He is most prepared to help me deal with the demons and more, no obligation at all. I'm here old timer, just make the call. With coffee mugs drained, and smoko almost enjoyed, a solid handshake, see you later old boy. And now mixing feed the mind thinks hey. How lucky are you, that he made my day. That small, simple chat is him saying, mate, I am always here please don't tempt fate.
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