Mitchell Magpies rugby league team unite to overcome grief over suicide


When Robyn Dodd watched her beloved rugby league team Mitchell Magpies emerge through a long tunnel of supporters in the Grand Final, she had mixed emotions.

Between the pride of his 31-year-old son, Sheldon, who played in his first Grand Final, there was lingering grief for his eldest son, Daniel, who should have been there too.

“I find it quite difficult, even just at a steady pace [round] game to go and not see it there,” Ms. Dodd said.

Daniel Dodd was 23 when he took his own life in 2011 in the small town in the Maranoa region of inland Queensland.

Daniel is one of four young members of Mitchell’s rugby league club who have taken their own lives in just over a decade.

Mrs. Dodd’s house is filled with magpie pictures in Daniel’s memory.(Southern Queensland ABCs: Anthea Moodie)

The sudden death of former Magpie and Queensland Cup player Michael Purcell in Brisbane last month was the latest to shake the tight-knit city of less than 1,000 people.

The 28-year-old’s funeral took place in Charleville last Friday, just two days before the side play their first Grand Final in 15 years.

For Ms. Dodd and others bereaved by the loss of loved ones and friends, the club is more than sport.

“The Maggies have been very, very important in the healing and grieving process,” Ms Dodd said.

“Going to Mitchell last weekend for the grand finale and seeing my boys as happy as they are [meant a lot].

“I think the footy club should take a lot of credit for getting my boys back to their lives.”

A grave with black and white balloons and a sign for maggies.
Daniel’s grave has been decorated to celebrate the Magpies’ appearance in the local rugby league grand final.(Provided: Robyn Dodd)

Alarming statistics

The data tells a grim picture.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Australians aged 15 to 44, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Men are also more likely to commit suicide.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that 75% of people who died by suicide in Australia in 2020 were men.

The risk also becomes higher for people the farther they live from a capital.

In very remote areas, such as Mitchell, the risk of suicide is 2.2 times higher than in large cities.

A lady standing in an office holding a piece of paper.
Professor Andrea Lamont-Mills says sports clubs are well placed to be proactive about mental health.(Provided: University of Southern Queensland)

The associate dean for research at the University of Southern Queensland, Professor Andrea Lamont-Mills, says developing a relationship with a psychologist is difficult in rural towns.

“Without having a regular supply of services, small rural towns are somewhat at a disadvantage,” Professor Lamont-Mills said.

“The upside is that there has been a big push towards telehealth services and especially mental health services.”

She said sports clubs were well placed to be proactive about mental health.

“Sports clubs have the opportunity to go beyond just raising awareness, but to do something,” she said.

“Clubs can really do a lot of work in this space, making sure community members are able to recognize people in distress and then know what to do next.”

The National Rugby League (NRL) has its own State of Mind Grassroots programme, which aims to reduce stigma and increase understanding of mental health in regional communities across Australia.

Help from above

When the siren sounded during last week’s grand final, Magpies club chairman John Birkett said he was not just thinking of the players on the pitch when the team lost to Roma Cities 38- 10.

A crowd of people cheering in black and white.
A sea of ​​fans came out to see the Mitchell Magpies play in the grand final.(Southern Queensland ABCs: Anthea Moodie)

As a stalwart of the club for decades, Mr Birkett has felt the grief of every player lost.

Daniel was his assistant coach at the time of his death.

“We really know they look down on us and it’s just a shame we have all these gory legends sitting above us and not in the paddock with us,” Mr Birkett said.

“It’s close to our hearts, and you know a lot of times, we hope those guys looked up and tried to get a little bit of them [that day].”

Mental health in your inbox

Get a selection of the best mental health content from across the ABC by subscribing to our monthly newsletter


Comments are closed.