Imagine losing someone to suicide – your brother, your sister, a friend, even your grandmother. Matt Dee has been through the pain of it, but has come out stronger, flying his family flag for suicide awareness and prevention.
At the time Aspendale, the suburb Matt’s family lived in, was the crime capital of Australia and a natural gathering point for families who knew all too well the meaning of the term skid row.
“We didn’t have a lot of food, really,” Matt says, grimacing in memory of the shame poverty brings.
The stifling urban setting, coupled with the pressures of being a single mum raising three kids, weighed heavily on Matt’s mum. Her only way of finding release from the strain placed on her was to lie in bed at night and scream, “F— the world”. As much as the cursing made Matt despair, the three letters became a family mantra and have resonated through the years as his private motivational tool.
Surfing became the Dee kids primary source of escape from their troubles. Once old enough they joined the Eastern Boardriders Club, associated with the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula.
“If we wanted to get to the beach we’d ring every name in the club, in the hope of getting a ride out,” Matt says. When those options were exhausted they’d resort to hitchhiking. “By the time I was 12, I was on the highway with my thumb out.”
That thumb, coupled with fierce independence and a nomadic inclination, that sent Matt off on an adventure to find waves in remote locations. After many adventures – including being confronted by the Indonesian military, escaping a Mexican gaol and having to repay $20,000 dollars – Matt returned to Australia to become a life guard with Waverly Council.
Throughout, Matt lived by his mantra, “F— the world”. It was his way of saying “Sod it all, I’m still going to take it on and do my thing.” It made him feel he could overcome whatever challenge was thrown at him.
That resolve has been tested under the most difficult of circumstances.
The eldest of the three Dee children, Jon, overdosed and died at 30. Jon had created his own clothing, branded with the three letters FTW, and his coffin was draped in them as the family held a traditional Irish send off. “If the rest of the world had his principles the world would be a more beautiful place. Although maybe they’d need a bit more of a work ethic,” Matt says with a tear-choked grin.
Matt coped with the death, but his sister couldn’t. Already battling schizophrenia, she was pushed over the edge and also took her own life.
“There were a few dark days spent in a country house with a loaded shot-gun,” Matt says. “I was also doing my best to take myself out in ways that didn’t look like suicide, just so my Mum wouldn’t have to face that.”
As a tribute to his brother and sister, Matt began wearing clothes with the FTW acronym on them. Always.
“Even at weddings I’ve always got FTW on,” he says. Then, as part of dealing with what had happened, he started making FTW branded clothing for his friends. There was never a profit motive; he just wanted to get the message out there.
Suicide accounts for more than one in five deaths among Australians males aged 15 to 34, and females aged 15 to 24. Over the past five years, suicides in Australia have averaged 2000 a year.
So Matt has recruited the black sheep of sport to proudly represent FTW. Big-wave chargers, big-air chasers, skaters, bull riders, a blind skier and sundry maniacs and misfits. Podium finishers or not, they’re the fiercest and most fearless.
FTW is now affiliated to the government organisation Suicide Prevention Australia. As an ambassador for SPA Matt uses his position as a lifeguard on Bondi Rescue to reach the masses. “No matter how many politicians they have endorsing their charity they [SPA] can’t access the demographic that we appeal to,” Matt says. “So a dark, go-big movement appeals to them.”
“I just represent the fallen,” says Matt. “I’m starting a giant family for the underdog battlers so they feel like they have somewhere they belong… instead of doing something hectic.” – Kristy Coulcher
If you are feeling down and need help, please call Lifeline on 131114 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.