Cormach Evans: Paddling for Indigenous men’s health – The Feed

I was pretty much taking every drug but heroin, really. I just kept trying to stay on that high because it was the only good thing I had. At 27, Cormach Evans has a lot going on. He’s a competitive surfer. He’s a full-time health worker. And on top of that Cormach is attempting to paddle along the Wathaurong coastline of Victoria to raise money and awareness for indigenous men’s health. It’s almost 200 kilometres, much of it in open ocean. But the journey to get to the starting line has been much longer. I learnt to surf when I was 3 years old, on an esky lid. It was one of those really old-school esky lids. From that moment I think I sort of got hooked and you know, never stopped. I started competing when I was 15. For me, it’s about the sense of freedom but also all the different things that come together to make that wave break. That wave is never going to break the same again. My dad was Stolen Generation so still to this day we’ve got this loss of identity, and loss of culture and loss of a lot of things. You get bullied at school, you get called names: ‘Abbo’ or ‘coon’ or ‘petrol sniffer’. Growing up, we had it pretty rough but we’d always have food on the table. Mum was the rock. I owe her for everything that she’s done for us. At the age of 23, things took a turn for Cormach. I was quite depressed and had quite bad anxiety. As an aboriginal man we’re taught to be warriors and providers, and so I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I’d turn to drinking a lot and taking drugs to put a big cloud over it all, so everything didn’t seem as bad as what it was. It got to a point where the shit hit the fan and everything came out. I used to drive home down this road and it was just trees on either side and you know, you contemplated just swerving off and smacking into a tree. You’d sort of wake up and be like, ‘ah, what have I done?’ Because I always promised mum that I’d never go down that path. After a while I think Mum caught up on what was going on. I went down to sacred spot and I sat on that cliff for ages and just sort of contemplated what the hell I was doing. I had a bit of a light bulb moment of, ‘Shit. This isn’t you.’ Maybe it’s time to get other people the help they deserve because some people might not have that mum, or dad or nanna or pa to go to. I sort of made it my mission to, from then on, to help others and give back. Cormach started volunteering and eventually got a job for an indigenous heath service where he supports men battling similar problems. Cormach, classify him as a brother. He’s always there when you need him. I was heavily into drugs and he come along and got me into culture and got me back into playing the didge. Heaps better, you reckon? Yeah! Yeah. I think that’s what my generation is doing more of us are coming out now and talking about where we’re from. Growing up as a kid I wasn’t that proud of being aboriginal. But now I’m proud as punch. You know, I just want to make sure the kids growing up know who they are and where they come from. And are as proud as anyone else is, I guess. Cormach started organising events to promote indigenous health but was struggling to find funding to keep it going. I was pretty pissed off trying to figure out how I could make it happen. That’s when the idea was born for the Paddle for Men’s Indigenous Health. I thought, ‘Oh well surfing sort of saved me.’ I just come up with the idea of just paddling the Wathaurong coastline. Just under 200kms in total. If you get easterlies, it’s going to suck. I’ve never done long-distance paddling, ever. Everyone keeps talking about sharks and all that kind of stuff. The only thing that really does scare me is the heads. I’ve seen boats out there being sunk. The water’s moving so quickly that it just pretty much swallows the whole boat. He’s showing how much he’s dedicated to his people, to his culture and community that surrounds him. There’s no words for it. Mum’s stoked. I think she got a bit teary when I told her at one stage and that was just her being proud. The biggest thing for me is awareness and education. There’s still that big life gap of, 12 to 17 years of life expectancy difference between non-aboriginal and aboriginal people. That’s my old man. That’s not long for him to live.

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