Dale Buggins was the first person I ever heard of who killed themselves on purpose.
Australia's pioneer motorcycle daredevil, he could've met his maker by accident 100 different ways as he arced across the sky on a Yamaha dirt bike while crowds watched through the cracks in their fingers.
But, as daredevils are wont to do, Dale always "cheated death": testament to the talent and nerve necessary to set world records and see him stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his childhood hero Evel Knievel.
Except that legendary US stuntman died from disease in 2007 just shy of 70. Decades earlier, the quietly spoken boy from the NSW Central Coast lay on a bed in a suburban motel and blasted himself in the chest with a brand new shotgun. He was just 20.
"Wasn't that awful about Dale Buggins?" my older cousin Debbie asked me at a family picnic a day or two later.
A naive, unworldly 12-year-old, I had no idea what she was on about.
"He killed himself Craig. He committed suicide. Shot himself."
My first response was horror at the realisation human beings have the capacity to kill themselves. It had never occurred to me. After all, who would want to kill themselves?
My mortified confusion was followed by immense sorrow because, back then, I considered the Dale Buggins story part of my own family's unfolding tale.
A FEW YEARS EARLIER, Dale had jumped his trusty Yammy into the record books and landed in the middle of the Henderson family photo album in the process.
I was 10 when my dad, a press photographer, took me and my 12-year-old brother Greg to work with him on Sunday, October 29, 1978.
Silly with excitement, we arrived at Castlereagh international dragway in Sydney to watch a 17-year-old boy named Dale something-or-other attempt to jump a motorbike over a world record of 10 trucks.
Back then Greg was keen to follow in Dad's footsteps and that day Dad had given him a 35mm Nikon and a roll of film to muck around and shoot with.
Young Dale revved his bike as I sat with Dad and Greg, cameras raised, in the perfect spot to capture the jump. Dale rocketed up the ramp, sailed high and long through the spring air and as he was about to land, father and son hit their shutters.
Back in the darkroom later on it turned out Greg's photo was pin-sharp and perfectly framed. Better than Dad's!
So good was the shot that the next day it was published around the country on page 1 of The Australian.
Daredevil Dale Buggins, 17, jumped a row of 10 trucks yesterday to land a world record.
Twelve-year-old Greg Henderson, son of The Australian's photographer Geoff Henderson, took this picture a split second before touchdown at Sydney's Castlereagh international dragway yesterday.
Dale ... has plans for even greater things. During stuntman Evel Knievel's visit to Australia in February he plans to jump 16 buses.
He indeed jumped over buses, and a whole bunch of motorised obstacles, as his caravan rolled on and his star rose ever higher.
Dale toured Australia and made it pretty big in the US, too. He even performed in the Evel Knievel Travelling Thrill Show. From the outside it looked like the polite, focused young man was on top of the world. In reality he wanted to get off it.
In September 1981, Dale checked into the Marco Polo Motel in North Melbourne. He was due to appear at the Royal Melbourne Show. But he had with him a Winchester shotgun bought the day before.
In a note he'd tried to explain: "Can’t stand the pressure. I’m so confused with life and the people in it, it’s got to the stage where I can’t think straight, too many ups and downs …"
Although the terrible news made headlines around Australia, it seems suicide was in the too hard basket and Dale quickly faded from the national consciousness.
After learning of the unspeakable capabilities of a disturbed mind from Cousin Deb, I soon became distracted by the chaos of puberty. Before long I, too, ceased to give Dale further thought.
I can honestly say that throughout my life I never once had a single conversation about him. No friend or colleague has said to me, "Hey, remember Dale Buggins?" He's never mentioned on TV sports specials, top 10 lists or at trivia nights.
Evel Kneivel? Sure, but not Dale. It's like he was deleted.
Then a month ago a mate gave me a CD by the Sydney singer- songwriter Perry Keyes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fiRrKqQfHo). I'd never heard it before and played it on a long drive. When Track 9 began I found myself weeping:
Last night Dale Buggins came to me in a dream / Said he'd jumped a lake of fire.
The sad, beautiful song Dale Buggins Dream about a "sweet, flying boy" kick-started long-dormant memories. Unexpected emotions flooded in; melancholy snippets from childhood; regret about the cousins I never speak to; wistfulness for the city I left behind; longing for the brother I hardly get to see and, of course, heartbreak for the doomed kid in the song.
Last week I phoned my mum, the family archivist, to see if she had the copy of The Australian with Greg's picture.
Of course she did. Dale had been in our photo album for more than three decades, pressed up against snaps of our family holidays, Christmases and of and me and Greg riding our first bikes back in the '70s.
Next Monday marks 35 years to the day since Dale took his life. I don't imagine that any other media will note the tragic anniversary so I've taken the liberty of doing so here.
In the ’70s and ’80s it was unthinkable for men to talk about their feelings or put a hand up if they were struggling to cope with life. There sure wasn't an RUOK Day. I can't help think that if he were starting out now Dale might've been OK.
But he's not. Australia's first motorcycle daredevil is gone a long time now but, for me, no longer forgotten.
If you or anyone you know needs help or information: call Lifeline on 13 11 14.