The unwavering efforts of two men in the South West Slopes in advocating for suicide prevention have been recognised in the 2024 Australia Day Honours.
Eris Gleeson of Young and John Harper of Stockinbingal have both been conferred medals of the Order of Australia for their service to the community.
For almost two decades Eris, a lawyer, and John, a farmer, have both, separately and tirelessly worked in the area of suicide prevention in a region often buckled by this tragic outcome.
As a founding member and chairman of the Hilltops Suicide Prevention Network, formed in 2007, Eris has noiselessly toiled, with others, to provide positive and lasting support to vulnerable and at-risk people in a community that takes in the small towns and villages of the vast 7140 sqkm local government area.
“We’re really like a little steering committee – we don’t provide services – but when we’re organising a function the people who come along to help us come out of the woodwork, many of them with the most challenging aspects of life to live with through relatives and friends but they just jump in and do an amazing amount and you’re uplifted,” he told Region.
Eris Gleeson, the lad from Coonamble who arrived in Young to work at the then law firm Gordon, Garling, Guigni (now Gordon, Garling, Moffitt) some 47 years ago says he feels it was possibly not because of his law degree, but because the local rugby team needed a good second rower.
“It was to our mutual benefit,” he said. But the man who employed him, Gordon Guigni, who would become a mentor to Eris, had a good eye.
The contribution Eris Gleeson has made to the town and its people is as unassuming as the man – except if you love theatre and music when his quiet disposition gives over to the spotlit stage in countless productions and performances.
Eris represents the here, there, everywhere of the scarlet pimpernel, heavily disguised in a beat up old red utility often seen beetling around town but his philanthropy is heroic beyond his public 36-year representation at Mercy Care as member, deputy chair and chair.
Equally considerable has been his support of the town’s Neighbourhood Centre, Margaret House, St Mary’s Catholic Church, St Mary’s Primary School, Hennessy Catholic College and countless committees and groups who lean on his knowledge and goodwill to help augment the community backbone.
The 2021 Young Citizen of the Year has also strengthened the fine offerings of the region as co-founder of Burrangong Ridge Winery, augmenting his support of the Hilltops wine growing region.
He said it was both exciting and humbling to be recognised with the OAM.
“There are an awful lot of people who do wonderful things in the community and don’t get recognised so it’s lovely to get that recognition, it’s very nice,” he said.
Eris said he’d be celebrating Australia Day in quiet fashion with his family – but would, as usual, attend the local celebrations in Young to support his fellow thespian Julie O’Connor to sing the national anthem.
John Harper and his wife Michelle will be in Colleambally and Darlington Point today (26 January) as those communities turn out to hear him deliver his message as an official Australia Day Ambassador.
He said that privately he felt the excitement of a small puppy being patted on the head at being conferred an OAM for his service to community health, but publicly he was chuffed an “ordinary Australian” like him would receive the honour.
“This may be awarded by the Governor, but I was nominated by my peers, by committee members, members of the community and I’m slightly overwhelmed at that thought but also very proud that they think I show the characteristics and traits of a person worthy of something like this,” he said.
John Harper’s own experience of depression gave rise to his own mobilisation in breaking the silence around mental health in rural and regional NSW and his candid approach and messaging now resonates around Australia.
Founder of the Mate Helping Mate network – a self-help program and podcast series which addresses mental health and wellbeing in rural communities – John is dedicated to talking to people about what works (and what doesn’t) for helping people struggling in remote and rural communities.
He was recipient of the 2008 Pride of Australia Medal for Community Spirit.
That award honours everyday Australians who have made extraordinary contributions to their communities through their selfless actions, courage, compassion and heroism.
Now deputy chair of Temora’s Local Health Advisory Committee and staunch supporter of the Rural Outreach Counselling service, his is a life devoted to encouraging mateship and community involvement.
“The reason I advocate is I want to make the world a better place. I have a very simple goal – I want my kids, and my kids’ kids, to be better people than me. And to do that I’ve got to give them an example. It’s not just saying it, it’s actually doing it, because actions speak louder than words. It’s that simple,” he said.
Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the digital mental health gateway, Head to Health. If you are concerned about suicide, living with someone considering suicide, or bereaved by suicide, the Suicide Call Back Service is available at 1300 659 467.
Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.