A former NRL player and world champion boxer who survived a suicide attempt in 2011, has been named Australia Day Citizen of the Year in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Joe Williams is a proud Wiradjuri Aboriginal man who was born in Cowra and raised in Wagga. He speaks openly about his own lived experience of male suicide and supports his local Wagga Wagga & Region Suicide Prevention Network.
Last year, Joe told news.com.au:
“People’s lifestyles aren’t everything that they appear to be. People see me in a small community like Wagga, being a successful sports person, and always leading a positive lifestyle, but they don’t see that I battle a fairly dark demon behind closed doors. I attempted suicide. I did everything I possibly could to not be here. Thankfully I’m still here, and thankfully I can use that experience to share with others and help them live a positive lifestyle.”
It isn’t the first award has won on Australia Day, this time last year a short documentary about his battles with depression and suicide won the Wagga Waggest film competition. In the film Joe said:
“My biggest battles have always been with my own mind and a true warrior knows, he’s never really at war with the world. I know my true enemy is within. But I do know what it’s like to be defeated, what it’s like to lose everything and in that moment I nearly took my own life. I’m only here because something greater kept me here and I’m not taking that for granted. I won’t let negative thoughts destroy me and once you conquer that hatred within, the world changes too and it’s a better, kinder place.”
In accepting his latest award, Joe acknowledge he had been reluctant to attend the ceremony at first, not out of disrespect, but because he wanted to honour his indigenous heritage, his family and his ancestors. “To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, January 26th marks the beginning of a time of great heartache for our people,” he explained.
Joe recalled his grandmother telling stories about of his Dad “having to run to the river and hide from government cars in Brungle when he was growing up”. Joe says that if his Dad had been caught then he wouldn’t have met his and Mum wouldn’t have met his Mum and Joe wouldn’t have been born and had the chance to make to impact on people’s lives with the Suicide Prevention and healthy living programs he runs.
Joe paid a particular tribute to his partner saying: “I’m nominated for the charity work I do around mental health and suicide prevention—I wouldn’t be here without my fiancé Courtney, thank you for keeping me alive, and encouraged day in day out.”
Finally, Joe had a message of reconciliation for Australia Day saying:
“228 years ago, the English weren’t sent her to invade, conquer and wipe out Aboriginal & Torres Island life – it’s take a while to realise, but I believe they were sent here to learn form us, our ways and respect for Mother Earth, our caring, sharing and love for direct and extended and our acknowledgment and respect of spirit. I think many of us, including myself, have just been a little lost finding out our part.”