Geraldton father and son put mental health on the table

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian
Kealan Nightingale, 15, and his dad, Damien, at the community bench they made.
Camera IconKealan Nightingale, 15, and his dad, Damien, at the community bench they made. Credit: Francesca Mann, The Geraldton Guardian

For Damien Nightingale and his son Kealan, choosing what music to listen to as they built a giant tree-shaped bench was one of the easiest parts of the project.

“We love our Acca Dacca and Queen, and a bit of rock, bit of pop,” Mr Nightingale said.

“We cranked the tunes and had portable speakers down (at the shed).”

Last year the pair spent 10 months working on the 10m-long, 7m-wide jarrah and treated pine bench — a tonne-and-a-half creation that had to be transported and installed in segments.

The bench, located on the Geraldton Foreshore, was spearheaded by the Geraldton Suicide Prevention Action Group in the hopes it could help connect the community and spark conversations about suicide and mental health.

Mr Nightingale and 15-year-old Kealan’s impressive efforts constructing the bench did not go unnoticed — both were nominated for the City of Geraldton’s 2019 Australia Day Awards.

To Kealan’s surprise he was named the Youth Citizen of the Year.

“I’m a bit honoured,” the Champion Bay Senior High School student said.

“This was my first time volunteering.”

Jumping on board the project was a no-brainer for Mr Nightingale, a FIFO worker and father-of-three who lives with anxiety and depression.

“Us guys are the worst for not wanting to sit down and talk about (mental health), but it’s so important,” he said.

“I’ve started to take a bit more of a notice about it and go ‘hey, it is an issue out here’.

“The biggest thing is society admitting it’s a problem; if we don’t we can’t fix it.”

Although Kealan needed a “nudge here and there to get off the computer” and lend a helping hand, once the pair got stuck in there was no stopping them.

“When it was the school holidays we’d go down (to the shed) every day,” Kealan said.

“I love woodworking and working with tools, it was just another hobby and I got to put my skills to good use.

“I think it’s really important to get people connected in the community and also to help prevent suicide; that was the main idea for building this bench.”

While Kealan may not have expected to win the award, his dad was not surprised.

“He worked his butt off,” Mr Nightingale said.

“I reckon the whole family could have got a thank you — they all put in help here and there.

“My parents came over from Queensland and helped out, my oldest son helped move it and my daughter did coffee runs.

“It’s good to see the bench getting used — it’s a great spot.”

The tree bench is a permanent fixture between Sail Inn Snack Bar and Revolutions Geraldton.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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