Ernie finds solace in past
Former TV personality Ernie Dingo fought back from depression to start a new life as an artist. Picture:Michael Wilson.

Lonely and depressed to the brink of suicide, Ernie Dingo has turned to the artistic style of his Yamaji people in WA's Mid West to try to rebuild meaning into his roller-coaster life.

Dingo, once considered one of Australian television's hottest properties, opened up to _The Weekend West _ about the mental torture he has endured since facing charges, which were ultimately dropped, of slapping a young boy in Carnarvon in 2010.

The 58-year-old said the fallout from the incident triggered a deep depression and saw people he regarded as good friends abandon him in droves.

Today marks the start of a two-day art exhibition in Broome of Dingo's watercolour paintings that depict the memories he holds dear from his Mid West upbringing. Titled Yamaji Horizons, he completed the pieces in virtual solitude on the balcony of the Gold Coast home he fled to in October to get away from his emotional pain in Perth.

"It got really bad . . . you think stupid things," Dingo said. "Everyone knows I'm always driving in my truck and everyone knows if I die, it will be with my truck somewhere - out there somewhere.

"I'm from the bush so four hours is like a quick dip down to the corner shop. I had an incident a couple of years ago and all my so-called friends backed off.

"When I needed them the most, no one stepped forward to say, 'Mate, you all right?' Not many rang to say they needed to talk to me and when that happens you think, 'Yeah, it is pretty lonely'.

"You understand when people commit suicide and when people hurt themselves. Depression is not coming to terms with the past and anxiety is not coming to terms with the future. But it's the present that we're looking at."

The father of four adult women, who works in security for a Queensland mining company, said depression sufferers rarely got to discuss their deepest issues because conversations were too often diverted by people who lacked the skill to listen.

"Who is qualified to talk to me," he mused. "How can somebody pick up a book like War and Peace, turn to page 300, look on the left-hand side to the fourth paragraph and know the 12th word.

"You wouldn't have a bloody clue - you might know of the book, but you haven't read it."

Dingo said he was thankful that his Darwin-based sister Audrey helped him maintain life perspective when he lost hope.

"I just like the sound of her voice," he said. "When Audrey rings me, you know the woman is smiling at the other end and she's got something going on.

"I've leant on that a bit, just stealing that little bit of energy and keeping that frame of mind."

Dingo said the death this week of American actor Robin Williams was a perfect example of the double lives public figures endured.

"A lot of performers, in that sense, have to try and maintain a certain image," he said. "I've been going through that for quite a few years. People want you to excel for them because that's the image you portray.

"I just want to enjoy who I am and what I am, but half the time I can't because I've got to be who they expect me to be."

A sign-writer by trade, Dingo started painting for his exhibition in mid-January and drove with his work from the Gold Coast through Darwin and then to Broome. "I come from station country around the Murchison and I just think about the bush and all those beautiful horizons," he said, proudly wearing a shirt bearing the logo of his hometown's Mullewa Football Club.

"You fly across the top of Australia and you see those beach-like sand bars and when you get down there, there are all those beautiful colours. "You get time now to reflect and a lot of the stories from home, you want to tell them. I want to show the Mid West to the world. I see home in a lot of my paintings and I wish I was there."

Acutely aware of research showing Aboriginal men had a life expectancy of about a decade less than non-indigenous Australian males, he wanted to return to places that truly felt like home.

"I just miss the bush," he said.

"Every time I go bush, my family knows that if you jump in for the ride, there is no music and basically very little talking because what is in that windshield is amazing. It will change every week, every month, every season, every year. So learn it and listen to the stories you've been told about the colours of the soil, the shapes of the rocks, the tree-line and whether you're in a sand plane, salt bush or crossing the dry lake.

"I'm seeing a lot of all that lately. I've been thinking a lot about my mum and my aunty and my uncles from the bush and the work ethic and survival skills that they had through a lot of torment.

"My future is internal, I don't really want to get out too much to do too much. I spend a lot of time listening to the wind and the birds and just observing the colours and the changes.

"My life has come full circle. I've gone back to the bush, mate."

The West Australian

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