Taking Time to Listen

Tom Norris, Garema

When I’d go to bed of a night-time, I’d fall asleep easily but then wake up in a mad panic that the house was on fire. It was a panic attack. I was panicking. 

I can remember my first day at school clearly. It was a horrifying day; I never went to preschool beforehand and my parents never had time to read me books.  

I was sat next to Colin, who never stopped talking. That’s who I listened to instead of any teacher. I really struggle with reading and writing. I’ve never been diagnosed but I believe I am dyslexic. 

They made me repeat year two. All my mates moved across to primary school. I had to start again.  When I left school at 14, I couldn’t read at all. It was very embarrassing, and it’s been one of my biggest challenges throughout my life.


When I was about 16 I got my big break in life, from shearing contractor. I worked as a roustabout for the first week for nothing, to prove I was up to it. Could you imagine doing that to a young fella today? You’d nearly get hung for it I reckon. 

By 18, I was a fully-fledged shearer, shearing 200 sheep a day. It was great. It’s not very often you have to read and write when you’re a shearer.   

It wasn’t long after that I met a girl who I would marry. She encouraged me to learn to read and write so I took adult literacy lessons at Tafe.  

I was shearing in a shed one day and one of the guys was selling his farms.  

Glen Eden” he said,  

“You could almost buy this.  

Land was pretty cheap in those times and I’d really fallen in love with the land and sheep, so I sort of thought I wanted to be a farmer. We moved into Glen Eden on Christmas Eve 1995.  

We started our family, and watching Harrison and Georgie being born and the look on their mother’s face, was priceless. I’ll never forget that. The two biggest days of my life. 


Things were going really well, it seemed. Georgie was just two and Harrison was four when I became a single Dad. 

It was really hard. A real feeling of grief. I’never lost anybody like that in my life.  

My sister, Janet, was my biggest support person. She was greatreally good.  

My main problem was, because I’d become a single dad, I couldn’t be a shearer anymore. Shearing, to me, was the best job I’ve ever had. I never had any mental health problems while I was doing it, the physical exercise helped. 


I had the two little children and it was impossible to run the farm without help. I had to drive the tractor through the night to put the crop input a rubber band around the two-way mic in my house, so I could hear the children if they stirred. At worst, it would take me 10 minutes to get back to the house. My sister though, she freaked out about me leaving them. She said,  

“What if the house catches on fire?  

That put an idea in my head. I seemed to have the idea that the house was going to burn down. When I’d go to bed of a night-time, I’d fall asleep easily but then wake up in a mad panic that the house was on fire. It was a panic attack. I was panicking. For me it was all about claustrophobia and fire.  

Janet got me to the doctor and the doctor gave me some medication. I didn’t take it for long, weaned myself off them and the problem seemed to be fixed.  


I was going along okay. Harrison got to five when he went to school for the first time. This was an emotional time, as I knew how horrific my first day was. On Harrison’s first day of school, and because we live out of town, I said  

“Look mate, I’m going to put you on the school bus and I’m going to follow the school bus into town. I’m just going to watch you get off the bus and make sure that you get into school okay.” 

His first day of school, he took himself to school. I sat there and watched him get off the bus.  

was so proud of him. It was just amazing, I was so happy. 


Georgie went to preschool and the Millennium drought was really starting to kick-up here.  

I was sliding into depression.  

I was in financial strife. Things like that were really grinding me down. I couldn’t get out of bed and I’d stay there all day. My sister knew I was really struggling. 


My sister took me to an event at Condo where Sam Bailey, a man with quadriplegia, spoke about his troubles. My troubles were nothing like his, and the outlook he and his wife had on life was incredible.  

I went to the GP and it took a few goes to get the right antidepressantI got going pretty good after that. 

Last year when the drought was really bad, there was a meeting down at Garema Hall to talk about what we could do. I thought,  

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could replicate that event from down at Condo? 

I got in touch with Sam Bailey and we had a really successful event called ‘Get -up and Go Garema Gathering’.  


I think the skills I’ve learnt in knowing what my feelings are and why I’m feeling that way helps a lot. I didn’t have any of those skills to start with. I’m a lot more comfortable now in helping people who are coming across the same problems I have.  

It’s important to tell people you’re listening, and really listen.