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About the episode

Lachie Samuel is a former FIFO mining worker, flying in and out of some of the most remote, desolate places in Australia, places where male suicide and mental health issues are rife.
In his Holding on to hope podcast, Lachie explains how he also became one of its victims and how he went on to turn pain into purpose.

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Anncr: (00:00)
This podcast series will share personal moments of connection and deeply felt experiences. If anything you hear has a triggering effect, please reach out to someone who can help keep you safe. Or remember you can phone lifeline at any time on 13, 11, 14.

Lachie: (00:19)
I honestly thought that nothing could rock me. Yeah. And I quickly found myself in a place where I was like, oh damn, this is, this is why it was hard the first time, cuz it's just hard in general. And like being within a culture where people don't enjoy their job and they don't enjoy being away from their family. Um, and the badge of honor is how many beers can I drink after work, it's a hard place to be.

Beverley: (00:46)
That was Lachie Samuel. He's a former FIFO mining worker flying in and out of some of the most remote desolate places in Australia, places where male suicide and mental health issues are rife. Welcome to lifelines, holding on to hope, a podcast in which survivors of suicide attempts, explain what led them to that dark place and how they found meaning in life again. Here, Lachie explains how he also became a victim and how he went on to turn pain into purpose.

Lachie: (01:15)
Uh, I grew up in New Zealand. I was, uh, born in south Auckland, which is, you know, typically poor neighborhood had two awesome parents, uh, you know, growing up being the first, first child to both my, my parents. I had, you know, both of their undivided attention. And then when my little brother come along at about four, I found it really hard to, to deal with losing that. Um, obviously didn't understand that until way later in life, maybe about a, a year, a year and a half ago, there was this, this feeling of not being enough, which sort of influenced a lot of the things that I've done throughout my life, all the destructive and toxic things I've done throughout my life since then, um, at about, oh, the end of primary school, whatever age that is. I think that's like 10 or 11. I went for this, uh, indigenous scholarship at a place called King's college, which is like a prestigious place in, in Auckland to go., Learned about my culture, learned about like where I'm from and felt really proud of the progress that I was making.

Lachie: (02:18)
And for me, my whole identity was being the good boy and being good at school. So when I got, uh, rejected from that, I remember one of the interview questions while I was there at the school was like, who who's your inspiration? Or who do you look up to? And my, my inspiration, wasn't all black at the time who went to a competing college. So , so I don't think that went down too well, but receiving that rejection and not just understanding that, that I wasn't suitable for, for what they wanted. I made that about me. And the story that I created was that I wasn't, uh, Moari enough or indigenous enough, uh, that I didn't fit in with them, uh, that, you know, furthering or, or doubling down on, on the not good enoughness the unworthiness and that just fueling who I was to become.

Lachie: (03:04)
And so from there, I ended up becoming this really insecure person who always needed validation, um, with my friends. I, I remember my first partner, maybe about 15. My perception of love was based on my parents' relationship. And they were just always like holding hands and really respectful of one another. And so I remember when I first got my first girlfriend within six months, I wrote her this letter and said, look, I love you. We're gonna get married. We're gonna have babies. not, not understanding how like over the top that is for someone so young. And so understandably, she was like, whoa, that's way too much. Um, and left me for, for my best friend the next day. Um, and off the back of that, uh, I closed my heart off and it's been like a, really a process since then of understanding that love isn't the giving away of power that it's okay to love and understanding that the person I was then was just super naive and like overly expressive based off of innocence in that naivety.

Lachie: (04:10)
So since then I, I became like a, a cheating narcist cheated on her a lot, hurt a lot of people to keep my good boy mask on and not be caught out. And eventually, um, after going through like ecstasy addiction and alcoholism, I found myself, uh, caught out cheating on my partner with my best friend's partner and running away from south Auckland to Kalgoorlie, of all places, which is a mining town here in WA. I'd always believed that Perth was Penrith. So so I, I didn't really do any research at all. I didn't understand how far I was going away from everything, you know, so , I thought I was gonna be close enough to like the major cities to go and do that stuff in, in my free time. So when I got there, it was, it was a big shock. I remember flying in the plane, as they said, um, uh, secure the cabin for landing. I remember flying over red dirt and crying like yeah, hiding my tears, but crying in my window seat, looking at the red dirt going, what the heck have I done? Like, what am I doing here? So initially it was just shock at the place that I was going to

Beverley: (05:21)
Lachie's half brother Ryan was already working in the mining industry, the work and the money sounded good. So at 19 Lachie followed his brother out of Auckland to Kalgoorlie.

Ryan: (05:32)
Uh, he was really well. He fitted in with everyone. He made friends straight away. He actually made more friends straight away than I did, which is unusual.

Lachie: (05:41)
I was also with a bunch of people I hadn't met before. So like trying to find out how I fit in, but then as soon as we got there, it was at a place called Murrin Murrin, which is like notoriously dangerous, um, with like all the different gases that can knock you out and all the different parts of the acid plant. Um, so it was just trying to fit in. And then as soon as I realized that working hard was the way to be accepted, it was just like, cool. that's who I am now. That's, that's what I want do. And so I just worked hard and then we were all at the pub and we just repeated that for two weeks, for that first stint. And for every other stint we had there, which was like party every night buying cards, when you could, um, go in from like making four to 500 bucks a week as a plumbing apprentice to, I don't know, like 1500 to two grand within the space of two weeks of being in Kalgoorlie being a, a scaff bro. Um, and so everything, you know, everything from there is just the typical FIFO uh, struggle, really like disconnection, um, having more money than, you know, what to do with and not understanding how to make money work for you. And then, you know, having all that baggage running away from that and not really creating time or space to confront it and handle it and work through it.

Beverley: (07:05)
Lachie found it hard to adjust to his new FIFO culture.

Lachie: (07:09)
So FIFO it's different, than they're not all the same. It's dependent on the company who runs the mine and the company who runs the camp. You could be going away there's, there's a couple different things that you could do. You could have like, um, shut downs, which is, which is what I did a lot, which means, uh, every time they shut the mine down for maintenance or upgrades, they'll just randomly call your company and say, Hey, we need X amount of people. Can you send them out on this date or tomorrow or whenever? And so it's a, that's a really hard way to live because you're always living like from phone call to phone call, um, and especially where you have to fly from Perth or drive from Kalgoorlie out to somewhere like living that ways creates a lot of anxiety and overwhelm. Um, but it's also exciting at the same time when you're young, not knowing where the next call's gonna come.

Lachie: (08:01)
Um, otherwise you can be on a permanent roster. And that goes from like five days on two days off, uh, all the way up to four weeks on one week off. So you'd fly away from Perth or drive from Kalgoorlie. Uh, and they have these camps set up in the middle of nowhere. there's. But when you, you know, you open your bedroom door and it's just red dirt, as far as the eye can see, um, absolutely nothing around Barron. Um, but the camps will be equipped with, with gyms and a dining hall, um, recreation rooms, stuff like that to make it feel homely, but essentially, you know, when you are living there for four weeks at a time work and like general life just become intertwined and mixed, and there is no real escape. So it's, it's really hard in those places,

Beverley: (08:49)
Finding a new partner didn't make things any easier. In fact, Lachie was still in such a bad head space. It made them worse

Lachie: (08:57)
When I was in Kalgoorlie, I met someone there. I met her there and, and were just two people who were hurt, right. Who had run away from New Zealand because of our baggage. Uh, and then she went through a phase where she started threatening to take her her life unless I stopped working away. And me being that, um, self-absorbed narcissist at the time, I just couldn't understand that I didn't have any empathy or compassion for anyone besides myself. And so, uh, instead of take those seriously and just understand that she needed or wanted like love and time, um, from a man that she thought loved her, I took on the belief that she was trying to manipulate me into giving up something that I enjoyed and being part of that brotherhood. Um, and what I believe was like my purpose and my identity and what made me enough, which was being a hard working FIFO scaff bro. And so eventually that got to a point where, uh, she did attempt and I didn't go home. Uh, I didn't didn't even consider going home once. Instead, uh, switched my, my role from, or my swing from five days on. So five days away at site and two days at home, to four weeks on, one week off. Um, and when we parted, uh, when we parted, I realized how much of my validation I got from her, even though I treated her really poorly. So when I lost her, we, we split up, I, really went to a dark place and eventually got a tap on the shoulder during my four and one. Just because I was throwing stuff at my crew and just picking fights with everyone, um, and got, um, forced to resign, essentially not understanding that I was depressed at that time.

Lachie: (10:40)
I was on and off of steroids from 18 to probably two and a half years ago. Uh, so it probably played a role in that, like a lot of testosterone, those places, but just, I was just someone who had become really personal. Like if we had a disagreement, I'd get really personal and try to like really attack you and make you collapse internally. Um, that's the sort of person I was. So most of it sparked from there. Even like my brother used to work away. We used to work away together on that four and one. And I remember one day, uh, picking a fight with him and like asking him to go outside. And even when I reflect on that, now I'm like, he's such a lovely person. Like, why would you do that?

Ryan: (11:27)
There was a couple of fights, but, um, when you are around so much testosterone, that's, uh, that can't be helped to know something's up with someone just because, because they've got into a physical altercation, you, you have to pretty have to be on, on your game

Lachie: (11:42)
After realizing or after being forced to resign. I left that place with so much shame around being forced out, cuz all of my friends from Kalgoorlie were there. We got to handpick our whole crew. So we just had this really cool support network community, um, where we were just all friends and really looked after each other. And so moving out of that, I didn't understand how to create that for myself in Perth. Uh, my ex and myself had no family or friends in Perth. We just moved there on a whim cuz we wanted to be by the beach and drink good coffee, uh, instead of being stuck in Kalgoorlie. Um, so within that space, I just, all the money that I'd saved up, got back into the, the drugs, the alcohol, uh, womanizing, and just found myself back in a hole. Um, and within that time, time span, not like that needs more, it's a lot of chaos. Uh, but my ex called, uh, when I was actually trying to get the attention and validation of another woman, um, and told me that she was pregnant. And so my response at that time still sucks to think about cuz we have a six year old now, not together, but have a beautiful six year old. Um, I tried to force her into an abortion, uh, for about eight weeks and I'm very grateful that she had the, the courage, um, the strength and the resilience to say no, but fast forward, baby baby comes. Uh, now I'm still not FIFO cuz I don't, I'm too ashamed to go back. Essentially. I'm too afraid to go back. I don't really trust myself being so disconnected, which means I don't have money, don't have access to steroids, not in good shape anymore. Um, not womanizing anymore. Um, not using all the different drugs to cope.

Lachie: (13:28)
And so I really cling to the identity of being the dad, even though I I'm a pretty poor one at that point, pretty poor person in general. Uh, and at three months, uh, her mum decides that they need to go away and start fresh without me turning up to their place all the time, which is understandable, right. The way that I treated her and treated baby. So yeah, eventually they move over east and, and losing that like last bit of identity, which, you know, felt there was some element of purpose in, I fell into a hole and yeah, eventually attempted

Anncr: (14:01)
Through connecting with others. We can hold onto hope to speak to a crisis supporter, please call 13, 11, 14, 24 hours, seven days a week.

Lachie: (14:14)
I remember the moments after I remember crying, thinking about like, wow, I nearly just took her dad. Um, and just thinking of her feeling hopeless. Um, and so I'm very lucky at that point, that being the selfish person that I was, I chose to, to find something in like being a better person for her. Like my dad is someone who's had amazing morals as someone who I, I wanted to model myself off of. And so in realizing what I nearly did to, to my daughter, it was like, whoa, like I've, I've really gotta do something to, to work on myself in order to be a good person for her when she gets back. Like if she comes back and I just really cuz at that time it was disconnected communication. There was a lot of uncertainty around when would I get to see baby? Am I going to again?

Lachie: (15:13)
And so I just really wanted to make sure that when she did come back or if she did come back, I was someone that she could be proud of. Um, not understanding that if I did that, I would be end up being proud of myself as well. which is not, not any, not anything I could ever conceptualize at that point. You know, cuz I'd been someone who'd lived with the shame of being a cheater and destroying relationships to not get caught using drugs and alcohol to cope and just, you know, treating people so poorly. So from there I picked up this book, I remember it's called, uh, self power or something like that, but I think it's Deepak Chopra. And I remember trying to, in that book, it's like teaching you how to meditate. And I remember trying to meditate and being so frustrated with meditation, but trying it anyway because I believed it would make me rich at some point

Lachie: (16:02)
So, so, so I tried, it was like mixed with visualization. So I tried that and eventually picked up a camera and decided to do, uh, photography and go catch a sunset or a sunrise every day. And I did that for, for like a year, um, and not understanding the impact of like being on the beach or being in nature and grounding and um, how good that is for the soul, the mind, you know, just the person in general. Um, and so I really got to connect with nature and then so doing like connect with myself and through photography, I really found this appreciation for life. Like man been somewhere like New Zealand and uh, just taking that beauty in terms of landscape for granted, it was really cool to get out and be so enthusiastic and joyful and grateful for something as simple as a sunset, you know? And yeah really gave me that gratitude for life and nature and, and myself in general. So it's, it was just a, a building process from there, like mixed in with, with therapy and, and different stuff like that

Beverley: (17:09)
In need of money Lachie decided he had no choice, but to return to his FIFO lifestyle, but the culture hadn't improved.

Lachie: (17:16)
I had to go, go back and pay some debt off my debt and my former partner's debt, um, for baby. And so it really wasn't a place where I was choosing me and saying, yes, I'm choosing brotherhood and I'm choosing this lifestyle is more a case of, um, running away or, or trying to pay off that debt. Like as an example, that culture up there. When we turn up, cause it's 28 days, you do 13 days of, uh, 10 to 12 hour shifts depending on the site in a row 10 to 12 hour days, plus not including the travel to and from site, which would be like 20 minutes each way. So 13 days in a row, one day off and then 13 days again, um, or 14 days again until you fly out, uh, and the first day you get in site, if you are on the swing, that's new, you fly in, you get on the bus and the boys will be like, rubbing your head saying 28 days to go boys and they'd count down every day for you.

Lachie: (18:17)
So you remembered how far away like home was. Um, but within that, within that culture, you know, one of the boys, uh, took his life that, that didn't like, as a closet attemptee, I didn't take that too well initially from the outset. Um, not too many people under really understood suicide or depression or mental health at that time. It wasn't really spoken about in mining, apart from mates in construction. Um, and I remember saying to one of the old boys who was, uh, leading our crew, that I was sad about what had happened and uh, that I didn't know what to do or know how to feel. And it just looked me in the eyes and said, mate,

Worker: (18:58)
Mate, if he wanted to do that, he deserves to die.

Lachie: (19:02)
I took that pretty hard and eventually I'm not too sure how long after that. I think it was like a week or two weeks after that I got evacuated myself for being suicidal. And um, yeah, I, I never heard from, from that company again, like they, the superintendent, although he was awesome, really amazing. Like let me cry in his office. Um, looked after me, got me on the first bus and flight out of there. After the call to make sure that I was on the flight. I never heard from that company again,

Beverley: (19:33)
Realizing the value of lived experience, Lachie started a podcast series: Open up with Lachie Samuel. He spoke to men and women about deep personal experiences from unworthiness to body shame and forgiveness to grief.

Lachie: (19:46)
What is our beautiful people? I am Lachlin Samuel, and this is the open up podcast. The show that is making mental health mainstream the way we, my, I think my saving grace was really starting the podcast. Cause I started recording my first episode was just, which was just around my story, while I was at camp. Because at that point I was still like into photography and videography and thought I was gonna become the next YouTube superstar and, um, which didn't work out and, um, doing the podcast after I got evacuated, I started interviewing people around their story of adversity, like mental health challenges, starting with friends first and then finding the courage to reach out to people and ask for connections. And through that, it was unintentionally number one, building my network. But number two, me collecting these tools for this toolbox, from these people who had overcome adversity and testing all of those tools out. And eventually I found ones that really, really worked for me and gave me like allowed me to create time and space for, for myself to, to sit with my thoughts and my emotions and to understand, um, why I was behaving the way that I was

Ryan: (21:05)
All. All I can tell you about why he changed is, is what you've you, what you have heard through the open up podcast. I can tell you how much of a different person he is now to when I work with him, then he was like I said, he was arrogant. He was, uh, hard to get along with lovely person, but very selfish didn't really care about anyone else had no sympathy or empathy for anyone around us. Like I say that like our friends, yeah. He cared about and that, but no one else. And then to see this change and to see him go from not having any empathy for anyone outside his circle to opening up to the world without holding anything back, uh, was quite amazing. Honestly, I didn't believe it at the start, but as his journeys continued, uh, I realized that he is a completely different person to the guy I worked with in Sono and Karratha.

Beverley: (22:02)
After launching his podcasts, Lachie was invited to speak to other FIFO workers about mental health. Initially not everyone welcomed that.

Lachie: (22:11)
I didn't see myself doing this at all. I didn't see myself speaking cuz speaking was like my worst fear above spiders and ghosts , But I thought it'd help me get into a place where at least I could start helping people, you know? And um, eventually over time as, as my story got out and you know, got onto to news channels and um, I found myself coming up against, um, a lot of people who were attacking around the fact that I was speaking about mental health and mining. The first story that come out, I think was on seven news, they posted it on Facebook. And I remember getting told to like kill myself, um, because of that, you know, and that was speaking about my lived experience, um, and being called a snowflake. Yeah, that was, it was quite surprising, but that's, you know, that's why I do what I do. That's, that's why I'm really passionate because I know that if there aren't champions or ambassadors within the space pushing hard, then a lot of this stuff's gonna get swept under the rug.

Ryan: (23:15)
I, I think that, uh, the mines should do more to, instead of doing, uh, being able to do press-ups before you go into the mines as a requirement, um, for your medical, you should sit down and talk to someone, um, before you do FIFO, before you do those long swings, you should be able to sit down and talk to someone about your relationship and your mental stability rather than just, oh yeah, you can do press-ups you can bend over. Yeah. Yeah. You can hear things. Uh, I think if they do that, then it'll go a long way to sustaining better work workers and more, I guess, family acceptable environment

Beverley: (23:56)
Today, Lachie is a leading FIFO mental health ambassador with some of the biggest mines in Australia, providing site based workshops to address mental health. He's able to identify those who struggled as he once did and provide a range of stress management tools.

Lachie: (24:11)
I love it. I, I love going back to site, um, cuz it feels so familiar. I really enjoy my own time. So I get a, like a lot of time and space by myself to work, but also going back to site and having these, these conversations, like watching people in the, in the room when I speak like a really good example is we, we did a tour of WA in 2020, um, with, uh, the, a business that I had with happiness co called FIFO happiness. We did a tour within like the first, oh, I don't know, 30 seconds to two minutes. This dude like just straight out called me a c-bomb. There's a bunch of heavy diesel mechanics and I made light of it, but he just really wasn't happy about having to be a part of this session and closing his eyes to do one of the exercises um, and you know, so there, there are those moments, but what I love is how people soften, like allow those walls to fall and eventually allow themselves or give themselves permission to speak. You know, cuz that dude, I would've just written him off. If I wasn't with Robbie, from happiness co at that point, who could say, bro, don't take it personally. It's not about you. It's just, you know, whatever you are saying is bringing up something for him, which I didn't have that, that capacity at that point. And so I remember going for a walk around that site, after those sessions, they were like three back to back and he was standing by his road train and he waved me over with his finger and I was like, oh no, here we go. It's about to kick off. And so I went over and he, and he just said like, man, I was in the, the armed forces, I'm a military vet. Um, like I really love this job. I really love this crew, but I'm, this is my last swing because it's so unsafe here and he just ended up crying next to his road train, you know, this is this big burly dude, like the typical bandana goatee . And so, you know, to have those moments where people, um, are initially defensive and combative and can allow themselves to soften and that's um, that's, that's what I find really like humbling. And that's what fuels what I do on site.

Ryan: (26:28)
I think it's amazing. Like honestly, um, I tell everyone what he's doing because mental health is it's come a long way here as well. Not as, not as much as, as what he has done there, but there's quite a few groups in New Zealand that are using his template to open up things here.

Lachie: (26:47)
My tools at the moment are, are breathing for state change. Like that's, that's the biggest one for me is if I'm in a place where I'm overwhelmed, um, even if I like go to speak or through flight anxiety, it's seven 11, which is like seven seconds in 11 seconds out and through the nose, out through the mouth where filling the, the belly and the diaphragm up, like it's this big red balloon. And as you breathe out, you sigh a little bit people yawn, but you do that three times and all of a sudden you you've changed physiological state. You've gone from that fight or flight to rest and digest and you just make more, more rational decisions. And um, if you have the, the emotional, um, awareness or the awareness of the sensations of in your body and you can determine the emotion, you can reframe whatever it is that you're feeling.

Lachie: (27:37)
So, uh, the other one for me, that's probably the one that I use second most and has had the most impact on me and the way that I, uh, interact or respond to my emotions. This is what I do on site. And every time I do this with, with a dude they'll cry, like, because they, most people haven't made time to sit with your emotion. So we'll take six deep breaths into the belly. And then from there, it's just checking in with the body, like check in with your body. And I'll say to someone, um, with their eyes closed, uh, maybe it's as an example, it might be a thumping on the back left side of your head. Maybe when you feel into your throat, your throat feels like it's closed up. Like, do you feel sick in your stomach? Are your hands sweaty? And so we'll go through those sensations after the six breaths and then do six breaths again, can you feel those sensations and allow them to be there without like number one, judging them, number two, resisting them once they've felt those sensations, we label all of those with one emotion.

Lachie: (28:35)
I mean, if, if the initial emotion is anger or frustration, we feel that. And then we ask what is anger and frustration protecting us from like sadness or grief or some of those emotions that we aren't yet willing to feel. Uh, and then we'll do six breaths and feel into that, give it a color. And for most people like that'll create safety in the fact that they know they can feel this emotion now. Um, and if they're willing to go back further then after feeling that and allowing that to be there, um, without resistance or judgment, I'll just say, Hey, look, um, imagine there's a carousel in front of you. It's got all these different Polaroid pictures, all these different Polaroid pictures are moments of your life. I want you to pick out the moment of your life and the Polaroid picturer that creates that same sensation and emotion within your body. That's most visceral. I want you to pick that out and tell me what that is. And so we'll go back through that and have them like re-watch from a third person perspective that moment playing out. Um, and then they'll step in front of themselves and like talk to themselves out loud, like what that person in that moment who felt unsafe, needed to hear. Um, and for most people, once we do that and, and they come back, I ask them to say like, what's the sensation and what's the emotion. And for most of them they say hope or calm or relief. And so for a lot of people, why I do that with them is to reframe the emotion that they're avoiding, which is creating a lot of the, the beliefs and destructive behaviors within their life. And for a lot of them, it's like really, really empowering and really uplifting, um, to reframe something like grief or sadness or feeling alone into relief. And so for, you know, for most people, it's like, okay, cool. Now, you know, every time that you give yourself full permission to feel what it's like to feel sad on the other side of that is relief hope or, um, whatever else comes with it. You know, so that's been the most impactful. That's helped me peel back all of the different layers of the person who I wasn't proud of. And there's still a few steps to go, um, in terms of like self trust and honoring my commitments that I make to myself and not breaking them. But I'm, I'm fairly proud of who I am as a whole at the moment.

Ryan: (30:53)
I do tell him how proud I am of him. I, I think more so than me being proud of him. I think his family's proud of his, his partner and, and himself more than any anyone else. And just the fact that he's been able to help so many people, even the people that he doesn't know or never met or never will meet those people that he's helped just by doing this. I think that's, um, that's the biggest thing to be proud of for me.

Beverley: (31:32)
Thank you for listening to holding onto hope. Lifeline Australia is grateful to all our interviewees who share their stories in the hope of inspiring others. We also acknowledge all of you who provide support to people in crisis and those on their journey to recovery. If you found this podcast helpful or inspiring, please share it, rate it, write a review or subscribe wherever you download your favorite podcasts. If the story has affected you and you require crisis support, please contact lifeline. You can call on thirteen, eleven, fourteen, text on 0477 13, 11 14, or visit lifeline.org.au to access web chat. You can access all these services at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If it's inspired you to be a lifeline volunteer or to donate, please visit lifeline.org au. With thanks to Wahoo Creative for interviews, editing, and production, and the voice of lived experience, which is essential in the development of our work.