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Black Dog saved a shattered Peter

Peter Johnson, of Iluka, with his Black Dog tattoo and a memorial to his son, Jason.
Peter Johnson, of Iluka, with his Black Dog tattoo and a memorial to his son, Jason.

WHEN he heard his 28-year-old daughter Nicole had been run over and killed by two semi-trailers on Harwood Bridge, Peter Johnson prayed to God to make his next breath his last.

That was June 28, 2007 and it marked just the beginning of a tumultuous four years for Mr Johnson and his Iluka-based family.

His daughter Sara, who was in Year 11 at the time, was expelled from her school some time later; the details cannot be published because of legal restrictions.

A little over three and a half years later, Mr Johnson led the search party that discovered the body of his 40-year-old son Jason hanging from a tree in bushland east of New Italy.

Though Nicole's death was never proven as suicide, Mr Johnson said the family, especially Jason, were plagued by the stigma that she had taken her own life.

Aside from the truck drivers, there were no witnesses to the incident, Mr Johnson said, and very little information was uncovered in the investigation.

Mr Johnson said Nicole was lying in the middle of the southbound lane when she was hit by a semi-trailer, closely followed by another, about 7pm.

Even though Nicole had drug and alcohol problems and had recently had her twin baby boys removed by the Department of Community Services, Mr Johnson said the family could not accept that she had opted to take her own life, even though he said it was a possibility.

"Sometimes Nicole would just go off and we wouldn't hear from her for a day or two - the last time we saw her was when we dropped her off on the highway almost at Yamba Rd about 5.30 that night," he said.

"A couple of witnesses said they saw her trying to hitch- hike.

"Her death impacted everybody severely."

Life went on for Mr Johnson, his wife Brenda and their six surviving children, albeit with some significant challenges, but Jason was never quite the same.

Before his death early last year, Jason was very depressed.

"He took his Bible everywhere and when his girlfriend said he hadn't taken it and wasn't drawing money, we knew something was wrong."

In February 2011, a shooter found Jason's abandoned car on a bush track east of New Italy.

On February 10, Mr Johnson led the search party that found his son's body - his remains indicating he may have been hanging for up to 20 days.

"I don't think he wanted to be found ... I don't swear very often but I swore my guts out and my biggest worry was 'how am I going to tell my wife'," he said.

The psychological toll of these traumas has left deep scars for Mr Johnson but he said his faith, the support of his children and friends, along with insights from the Black Dog Institute had helped him through.

"There are many times I've felt like giving up... when you are severely depressed you lose all perspective.

"I like Black Dog because it's not so much to do with medication but exercise, diet and counselling.

"On the website you can diagnose how you're travelling with a checklist and a tally."

A recent spate of public bullying had prompted him to speak out and remind people their words could be far more damaging than they ever realised.

Topics:  black dog institute, peter johnson


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