The dusty smell of old paper, the feeling of wrinkled paperback covers, and the stories of personal struggle weave their way through a sea of books. Among these tainted pages deep with loss and guilt, sits a bookmark for hope. The Lifeline Big Book Fair rallies a community to stand as a beacon of change, with the ability to help the lives of people who need it most.
Eloise Young stands ready in the Berkely hall entrance, clipboard in hand and a black ballpoint pen firmly grasped between her fingers. She proudly wears a blue Lifeline shirt with a name badge securely pinned to her right side.
Eloise takes a seat at a small round table, next to an elderly couple to whom she smiles, before laying her clipboard and water bottle on the table; Eloise’s voice never falters, but her bright eyes tell a story of personal heartache, and unwavering hope.
“I have lost friends and family members to suicide. I am also a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, who of course are very overrepresented in the statistics when it comes to suicide,” says Eloise.
Eloise’s connection with Lifeline was prompted by wanting to make a positive difference within her community. After reaching out, she became a volunteer and ambassador for the charity. “We lose too many people to suicide, and it’s heartbreaking. Lifeline does such good work, and I want to make sure people are aware of it,” she says.
Narelle Smith, 76, has lived in the same three-bedroom home with red brick and faded blue roof tiles for the last 55 years. “Don’t let me forget to flip the steak in 10 minutes, otherwise I’ll forget! Ok, off you go, darl,” Narelle says.
Her two daughters, who now have a family of their own, both grew up within the lemon-coloured walls, homely smell, and self-painted Australian birds that decorate the walls. The church ‘out the back’ was where her youngest was once christened and married; pictures sit on the antique side table; her grandkids played in the street and competed in annual cricket matches every boxing day along the cracked uneven pavement outside her home.
Narelle’s closest friend, from across the street, moved out four years ago to take residence in a local retirement village once her husband had passed. At 76, the days all morph into one, and waiting for dinner at six o’clock slowly starts to creep forward to 3pm. “My husband’s still with me, but as you get older, it becomes harder and harder to fill in your day,” says Narelle.
The kitchen table where she sits is marked with the scraping of dinner plates. Her hands, home to valleys and creases, easily slide across in glossed exterior. “You know, I never thought I needed to reach out for help,” Narelle says, smiling, “but the resources available are fantastic, and I’ve used Lifeline to help develop new techniques and strategies to help cope with the lonelier days.”
Narelle, like many other locals, flocked to the Lifeline Big Book Fair to show her support and thankfulness to Lifeline volunteers. “The event was so great and all the volunteers, both young and old, were an honour to talk to. I have so much appreciation for them,” says Narelle.
The event also meant that she was able to stock up on some new crime drama fiction. “Look, only three dollars – I couldn’t believe it, hardcover and all,” she says.
For locals like Eloise and Narelle, the Lifeline charity hits that little bit closer to home. Away from the bargains and ‘feel good experience’, Lifeline has provided a needed voice on the end of the telephone line, non-judgmental, and listening. It has become a pivotal resource for suicide prevention for 1 million Australians each year. With a network of 41 centres and 10,000 volunteers, the national charity aims to “empower Australians to be suicide-safe through connection, compassion, and hope.”
Video sourced from “The Illawarra Flame.”
In 2022, data supplied by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed that “over 3,000 deaths by suicide occur in Australia each year, with an average of nine deaths per day.” It was also shown that the COVID-19 pandemic did not show an increase in suicide deaths, however, did strongly impact the mental health of many Australians. The AIHW also found that males are three times more likely than females to attempt to take their lives.
The AIHW has also been a part of the The National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring Project , which was establish in 2019-20 to assist in the research of suicide rates in Australia. The resource has also been implemented into the community to better assist with crisis support and resources.
Eloise stands, pushing stray blonde hair behind her ears before grabbing her water bottle. “Come on I’ll show you up the stairs you can get better photos up there,” she says.
The aroma of used books rises into the air, overpowering the usual sporting musk. “Money raised is vitally important. It’s our biggest fundraiser event – Lifeline exists so that people don’t have to face their darkest moments alone – the more funds we raise, the more lives we can impact and potentially save,” she says.
She walks back down the stairs and takes camp back to the entrance door with her clipboard in hand. The elderly couple still sit at the round table, books in their lap, oblivious to the whirlwind around them. “If you need anything else, please reach out,” Eloise says.
Kids, adults, and seniors return to the stadium’s car park, reading blurbs and stuffing tote bags into their SUVs. The line to donate under the blue pop-up tent is jammed with cars overflowing with boots filled with used books, as a young boy proudly wears ‘volunteer’ across his back. The gravel car park without a single empty spot has spilled into the neighbouring field, providing prime real estate for eager book lovers.
Over the crowd, Narelle shouts, “Graham, dinners ready! Are you sure you don’t want to stay for dinner?”
If you need crisis support call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.