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All revved up to raise awareness

Black Dog ride participants meet up in Cobram before they burn rubber to beat the blues.

ROBERT HENSON July 31, 2014 3:47am

Wheelie good cause: Motorcyclists from around Victoria, Tasmania joined with Cobram residents on their way to the Black Dog Ride's start.


 

A group of benevolent bikers have set off from Cobram and around Australia to raise awareness of depression and take ‘the black dog’ for a ride.

Motorcycle riders arrived from around Victoria and Tasmania to set off from Cobram at 8am on Thursday, with a fundraiser breakfast at La Niche Cafe raising $219.

They were on their way to Batueau Bay on Saturday where more than 60 riders began the 14500km round-Australia trip, hoping to add to a $15million fundraising tally collected over five years of the annual ride.

Each rider hosts ‘Winston’ a stuffed black dog. The plush toy refers to a Winston Churchill quote, which describes depression as a ‘‘constant companion’’.

Cobram’s Anwyn Roberts said, as a sufferer of depression for more than 20 years, he knew the depths of the illness only too well.

‘‘It’s a terrible place to be when you’re in the depths of depression, because you tend to withdraw and that’s when people need to be reaching out,’’ Mr Roberts said.

‘‘I have a long history of depression and I used to self medicate. I got myself into a lot of trouble with that.

‘‘The reason I’m committed is 23 years ago I looked into committing suicide, I knew it would be too painful for my family, so I signed up for the Gulf war intending not to come back.

‘‘Thankfully I did come back but the first time I called up a crisis line I got an answering machine.’’

Half the money raised from the ride goes to mental health service Lifeline and the other half goes to Mental Health First Aid, a program to help people recognise the symptoms and deal with a mental health illness sufferer.

After taking part last year, Mr Roberts said he was keen to enjoy the ‘‘camaraderie’’.

‘‘It’s a serious message we carry, but it’s fun,’’ he said.

‘‘The highlight last year was riding through Alice Springs, with everyone coming out and saying thank you as we rode through the town.’’

While most years the route heads to the red centre, this year’s extended route, to mark the five-year anniversary, heads anti-clockwise around Australia’s coast.

Alongside the main ride are smaller state rides, with the Victorian contingent scheduled to visit Cobram about lunchtime on Thursday, August 28.

With reports of mental health issues striking primary school-aged children, and statistics worse in rural areas, Mr Roberts said awareness of mental health problems could improve.

‘‘More people die of suicide than the road toll, I guess you could ask why don’t we have a campaign like the road toll does, to make people aware of it?’’

The ride started in 2009 when Steve Andrews in response to friends’ and their partners suicides, from Claremont rode 16000km and raised $34232.80. This year the ride has already added $212000 to the ride’s $1.5million tally.

‘‘It’s incredible, it’s proof that one person can make a difference,’’ Mr Roberts said.

Jane De Boer from Devonport, Tasmania, told the Courier the Black Dog Ride had made her confront her true self.

‘‘I did it a year ago. After the ride I realised I was with a group of people (other riders) that understand me, and I could talk about my anxiety and depression,’’ she said.

‘‘I never talked about it, then when I did a lot of people congratulated me.

‘‘I wasn’t advertising it before, since the ride I’ve talked about what it is and my experiences.

‘‘At fundraiser barbecues outside the local supermarket I have people say their friend, colleague or family member have encountered suicide or depression.’’

Ms De Boer said the ride had helped her to assist her son who witnessed a suicide and suffered a mental illness.

‘‘I’ve found that what we’ve put into and been able to achieve through this (ride) is some consolation to what I’ve been through.’’

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