'My life's work': The family tragedy driving Connor Watson

By Connor Watson

Two years ago my 16-year-old cousin Parker took his own life in Dubbo, where I came from originally.

I remember when my mum rang to tell me. I felt numb. I couldn’t process it. It didn’t actually feel real until we went back for the funeral.

We still don’t know why he did it. I guess we never will. Parker had been out that night at a party. One of his friends had gotten into a fight. The circumstances around that may have upset him, or there may have been something else that had been bothering him for a while.

It’s just not clear. We believe there were no obvious signs that he was troubled. But something triggered it.

There are often so many unanswered questions when people take their own lives. I’d last seen him several months before at Christmas and he seemed fine.

At the funeral, no one seemed able to shed much light on why this had happened.

I went back to Dubbo again recently for my Nan’s funeral and Parker not being there still felt weird.

I’d been trying to figure out my purpose in life. I’m a proud Indigenous person. I’ve embraced my culture from day one. I knew I wanted to do something in that space, but I wasn’t sure what. Parker’s passing narrowed my focus.

Connor Watson shows off his hand-painted Indigenous boots. Pic: PlayersVoice

I spoke to Mum and Dad and they were already supporting Indigenous charities through their business and had always dreamt of doing something themselves.

We began to work on what is now the Cultural Choice Association link, a non-profit organisation with the aim of raising awareness about and supporting the prevention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth suicide.

It takes a while to get something like this up and running, but we’re into gear now and we’ve started raising funds we plan to use to help educate Indigenous communities by running programs at schools locally, then out in the country and more remote areas of NSW.

Places like Walgett, where my dad came from originally. We’d like to go national eventually, but that’s a way off.

The rate of youth suicide in these communities is particularly high and I hate to think of other mothers having to go through what my aunty did with Parker.

If we can give just one kid the tools to deal with difficult situations and not take that awful option, that will be a win for us.

We’ve got some incredible individuals on our board. Experts in business and professionals in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. People with real influence who know how to garner support and get things done. The people at my club, the Newcastle Knights, have become great supporters as well.

I’m 22 years old and I love playing footy, but that can’t last forever. I want to try to make positive change in an area of need.

Working with disadvantaged Indigenous kids and those who are at risk of suicide is it. That’s going to be my life’s work.

Getting the Knights involved

I spoke to some of the boys about getting their boots painted for the Indigenous round and then auctioning them after the game.

I spend some of my time at Kirinari Hostel and thought it would be a great community initiative if some of the kids there could be involved in painting them.

I always got my boots painted for the Indigenous round while I was at the Roosters. My dad did mine. Guys like Latrell Mitchell and Blake Ferguson had theirs painted as well.

Aiden Guerra was very passionate about it. He saw the painted boots I wore in last year’s Indigenous Round – the first year for both of us at Newcastle – and loved them. Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce were keen as well.

We ended up getting 22 of the boys involved and that made sure we had whoever was going to be in the 17-man squad covered. We had such a good response with so many pairs we approached The Glen and Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre to get involved also.

We’re all going to sign the boots and auction them after the game, to raise funds for the Cultural Choice Association and other participating organisations.

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Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14