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Rallying in the red dust to conquer depression

By David Chapman

DEPRESSION is a serious illness which isolates, then traps, a person in their own emotional anguish.

It prevents the person from interacting normally with work colleagues and loved ones, putting a strain on relationships.

The worst part is the sufferer doesn’t even know they have depression.

Rob Greiner knows that.

Now.

But only after he had been through his own personal hell in the immediate aftermath of the death of his son Warren.

May 4, 2014, was the day Rob’s life imploded – and the trigger was the phone call from Warren’s partner with the devastating news.

“It was Saturday night, about 12.30, and she said: ‘If you want to see your son alive, come to Melbourne now, because he won’t live through the night,’ he said.

Warren was only 40 but had suffered a massive cardiac arrest. He worked as a diesel mechanic and had been through a marriage break-up in Shepparton before becoming involved with a woman in Melbourne, a relationship Rob did not hesitate to label a “disaster”.

Warren had two daughters from his previous marriage and a son with his new partner.

‘‘Twelve months prior Warren brought his two girls up here aged 10 and 12 and told me he was going to finish up his job in Melbourne and move back home here,’’ Rob said.

After Rob had hung up the phone, he and his wife took Warren’s daughters with them to Melbourne to visit their gravely ill father.

Warren was alive but was in a coma for a week.

‘‘He was in and out of consciousness,’’ Rob recalls.

‘‘He couldn’t really talk. His heart was operating at 12 per cent capacity.

‘‘He’d had four massive heart-attacks in two days.

‘‘He was being kept alive by a heart pump. A thing underneath the bed, that was what was keeping him alive.

‘‘But he went too long without a heartbeat.

‘‘He woke up on Mother’s Day which was special because two of the kids’ birthdays were on Mother’s Day.’’

Warren was kept alive for a fortnight after that before Rob and his wife had to make the traumatic decision to turn off his life support.

‘‘He grew weaker and weaker until we agreed to turn it off,’’ Rob said.

‘‘It was the right decision but something you didn’t want to (have to go through).’’

After the life support was switched off, Warren stayed alive for another 12 hours and 10 minutes.

‘‘And then what do you do after that?’’ Rob mused. ‘‘You go downstairs, have a cup of tea and then drive home.’’

The worst part for Rob is he has no idea where his son is buried.

A rift between Warren’s partner and the Greiners meant Rob and his family were kept in the dark about the details of her funeral arrangements for their son.

Instead, a memorial was held on a 40-acre block near the Goulburn River on a sandhill where Warren used to have a shack.

‘‘Warren loved the bush, getting in his 4WD and going fishing, shooting and camping,’’ Rob said.

A huge gum tree nearby was hollowed out and mementos of Warren’s life were placed inside.

‘‘We used a plough disc to cover it and those connected with Warren drove six-inch bridge spikes into the tree to hold the disc in place,’’ Rob said.

‘‘It’s something that in 30 years time people can come along and remember him and say ‘I did that’.’’

The emotional trauma of his son’s sudden passing, the falling out with Warren’s partner, the responsibility of raising Warren’s two young daughters, as well as trying to fulfil duties as a livestock carrier and CFA member took a huge toll on Rob’s mental health.

‘‘I went down pretty low,’’ he recalls.

‘‘Trying to look after your family you tend to let yourself go.

‘‘I had a really good job but all the while it (depression) affects what you’re doing.’’

‘‘You can’t concentrate. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to work, it’s just that I couldn’t concentrate when I was there.’’

As president of the Rich River Rod and Custom Club, Rob loved tinkering with hot rods and being involved with club functions.

But his fellow motoring enthusiasts were worried and insisted Rob sought professional help.

‘‘Five club members came and saw me and said ‘if you don’t go and get something done, we’ll take you,’’ Rob said.

‘‘I knew I was in trouble then.’’

Rob went to a doctor who prescribed a three-month dosage of anti-depressants, despite Rob’s protestations.

‘‘I said I didn’t want to do this so instead of weaning myself off them I went ‘bang’ and just stopped cold turkey,’’ he said.

‘‘I then went silly in the head for a couple of weeks.’’

Acquiring a dog — a black kelpie called Roxy — was an aid in his therapy.

‘‘She’s a great companion. She watches me like a hawk.’’

But Rob’s mental anguish still weighed him down.

He had been a CFA member for more than 50 years, and it was something he enjoyed, but his duties there were suffering and it was becoming more evident with each passing day.

‘‘I had a drop off in confidence and I was missing meetings,’’ he said.

‘‘The brigade captain Daryl Phillips took me aside and we had a conversation.

‘‘The next day he rang me and said ‘I looked like shit the other day’ and I said ‘I felt liked shit’.

Through the CFA peer group network, a CFA ex-captain came up from Bendigo the next day and from that visit Rob was put in touch with a psychiatrist.

It was a life changing moment.

‘‘I’ve been seeing the psychiatrist on and off for the last two years,’’ Rob said.

‘‘He rings every two or three days to see how I’m going.

‘‘It’s nice to know there’s somebody looking over your shoulder, who will ring you up just to have a yarn.’’

As part of the therapy, Rob immersed himself in working on hot rods in his shed.

‘‘Just to keep my mind active, keep an interest,’’ he said.

‘‘I built dragster because I needed something to do.’’

The intervention also led to Rob starting up a ‘Happy Hour’ at his shed on a Thursday where Rod and Custom Club members drop in for a catch up.

‘‘I retired from work and I was in the shed by myself and I thought why not a happy hour?

‘‘No agenda, just turn up, have a yarn and a cuppa. If you turn up you turn up and if you don’t you don’t.

‘‘They’re a terrific bunch of blokes with a similar interest.’’

It was at one of these informal gatherings that a challenge was made.

‘‘One of the boys Jeff Connell issued the challenge to build a race car hot rod for the Red Dust Revival,’’ Rob said.

The Lake Perkolilli Red Dust Festival near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is an event for pre-1940 cars and motorbikes around a two-and-a-half mile claypan.

‘‘The challenge was accepted and within 24 hours we had the chassis and running gear for a car,’’ Rob said.

‘‘Jeff and John Blain did all the wheeling and dealing and in a week had all wanted for not too much money.

‘‘Twelve months later and it was on the road.’’

The Rich River Rod and Custom Club will send two cars over to the festival — one a 1937 Vauxhall Roadster convertible and the other being a handmade hot rod.

‘‘It has a Buick chassis, a T-Model Ford cowl and a 1928 A-Model Ford running gear,’’ Rob said of his homemade design.

‘‘It’s been a nice group effort. Everybody working together has been a part of lifting our spirits.’’

One of the club members also made a pertinent suggestion.

‘‘He said your club members do fundraising for cancer with the morning tea, why not do something for depression?’’

It hit Rob like a lightning bolt. The trip to the festival, initially just for a fun time away with mates, now has a serious message to deliver close to Rob’s heart.

On the trip, the motoring enthusiasts will be raising awareness about depression and encouraging people to come to talk them about the issue.

‘‘Our motto is ‘Come and say G’day’,’’ Rob said. ‘‘We’ve even got banners made up with the slogan on it.’’

‘‘There’s no real medicine for depression, well in my opinion there isn’t.

‘‘It’s up to you to get out and talk to people and say g’day.’’

‘‘If we can help one or two people along the way, it will all be worth it.

‘‘We want people to come up to us on this trip and saw g’day.

‘‘We hope to get a few phone numbers and follow up with a call in a couple of weeks, find out how they’re going and just hook into somebody to get them help.

‘‘We all think we’re bulletproof.

‘‘I thought I was alright but I was just bottling up all my grief.

‘‘Someone said ‘grief is love that you can’t give anymore’ and when I heard that, it all made sense.

‘‘Depression is something I suffered from and didn’t even know.

‘‘I’m a lot better than I was.’’

‘‘In the back of my head, that’s the reason why we’re doing this trip.’’

The group hopes to raise a few dollars to get to WA and back again and have a good time while raising awareness of depression.

‘‘We’ve linked into beyondblue which is Australia-wide and they have sent us a heap of stuff to give away on the trip,’’ Rob said.

The Red Dust festival runs from September 12-16.

About 15 Rich River Rod and Custom Club members and ‘‘hanger ons’’ will make the trip.

There will be four days of time trials with no prizes and about 60 cars and roughly the same number of motorbikes will take part.

‘‘The word is someone is bringing a car out from England worth $1 million just to take part in the festival,’’ Rob said.

‘‘We’re just going over to enjoy ourselves and if we can put a smile on someone’s face in the dirt, well, that’s worth $1 million for me.’’

The Rich River Rod and Custom Club will host a launch for the Red Dust Festival ‘‘Come and say G’day’’ trip on Sunday, August 4 at the Moama Soundshell.

It will feature a show ‘n’ shine of about 30 cars and act as a fundraiser to contribute to cause.