IT'S a fact that Indigenous Australians represent the oldest living culture on earth. It's an extraordinary resilience that stretches back 60,000 years.
It's something proud indigenous man Rod Broad goes to great lengths to lean upon in the face of another, much sadder, fact. Indigenous people between the ages of 15-24 are almost four times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous people.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in indigenous children between the ages of five and 17. It's almost impossible to fathom, startling for people who haven't heard such shocking statistics before.
It prompted community youth worker and mentor Broad to put together Battle of the Countries, an annual rugby league carnival held in January each year to promote awareness around mental health and suicide prevention in indigenous communities.
Sadly, organisers received a poignant reminder of the importance of such initiatives on the eve of the inaugural event three years ago.
"I'll never forget the first year we ran this, there were five children that committed suicide, all young girls, between the age of eight and 15, in WA and South Australia," Broad recalls.
"You just think 'how do these young people even know what, one, suicide is, and two, go further and do it'."
It prompted mental healthcare workers to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare youth suicide a national emergency and, for Broad, highlighted the need to start the conversation earlier.
"As a youth worker and a mentor myself I think it's really important these conversations, age-appropriate conversations, start at a young age," Broad said.
"I think if we can get the message out earlier and teach our younger people the safety in looking after each other, and themselves in particular, we might cut these rates down in the future of Aboriginal people representing the highest [suicide] statistics in the world.
"Aboriginal men, in particular, are the biggest statistical group when it comes to global suicide figures. We need to protect these people and that only comes though awareness and education and letting, in particular our men, know that we're a resilient people.
"At one point in history our men were strong warriors. I think it's very important that men know how important they are, not just in their own indigenous communities, but the broader community as well.
"Aboriginal culture was built on respect for each other and looking after one another. Getting that back is something I crave, and I'm working with many people on how we can continue those things that have kept our culture so strong for 60-plus thousand years."
Battle of the Countries is one such effort, with the three-day carnival from January 22-24 to see more than 80 games of football played from under 7s to open mens at Croome Road Sporting Complex. It's another example of rugby league as arguably the greatest driver of positive change for indigenous people.
"Suicide prevention is something very personal to me with my own father having committed suicide a number of years ago," Broad said.
"The message around mental health and suicide prevention is important. We created Battle of the Countries statewide to raise that awareness and use rugby league as a vehicle to deliver the message.
"If we're talking about Aboriginal people throughout NSW and Queensland, rugby league is our number one sport, so it's a no-brainer when people come to me and say 'we need to get to an Aboriginal audience, how do we do it'?
"We also run the Kids in Care Cup which is an event for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care. If you want to reach the community, nine times out of 10 rugby league can do it. It's the perfect way for us to run these campaigns and deliver these messages.
"We're now in our third year and it's got a lot bigger. Bigger attendance means our message is getting to a wider audience across the state."
As the event grows, more time and resources are needed to deliver it and Broad said organisers are always seeking health and financial partners to get on board, with the likes of the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, Illawarra Aboriginal Health Service, Link Up NSW, Life Without Barriers and Relationships Australia.
"We've got a lot of great sponsors that are a part of it, which is essential for us. These events are not cheap or easy to out together," Broad said.
"We'd love to get more people to the table. I think it's easy to scare people off when you talk about sponsorship but it's not always about money, there's a number of ways people can get out and support this event.
"It doesn't need to be financial support. If there are health providers that have specialised service around mental health and suicide prevention, we'd love to get them to the table to promote what they do."
Beyond the event itself, Broad has a simple plea.
"It's just important that we're always checking in on one another," Broad said.
"No matter what's going on in life, we don't know other people's thoughts. It's not hard to ask people how they're doing. I think it's our responsibility as human beings to look after each other."