CONTENT WARNING: This post deals with suicide and may be triggering for some readers. Please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 if you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness.
“He was sitting in the gutter, with his head in his hands. When he got into the back seat of the car, he started to sob uncontrollably.”
When Kathy and Ralph Kelly picked their son Stuart up mere hours after his first night at University of Sydney’s St Paul’s College in 2016, they immediately noticed something in him had changed.
The boy they picked up from the side of the road wasn’t the same excited teen they’d left at a “jovial” freshers dinner the night before. Nor was it the child whose first words at one and a half years old was, “What a beautiful day it is today, Mummy.”
It was as though a switch had been flicked inside him, one that couldn’t be reversed.
“He’d lost his way [after that night],” Ralph Kelly told Andrew Denton on Tuesday night’s episode of Interview.
He refused to go back to university and barely left his room for two months.
A few months later, that very same year, Stuart Kelly took his own life. He was 18 years old.
He had the world at his fingertips, but it was one that had been turned upside down four years earlier by a family trauma no sibling could possibly imagine.
His older brother Thomas – also aged 18 – had been killed in a random, one-punch attack by an intoxicated stranger in Kings Cross.
Stuart was 14, and like any younger sibling, looked up in awe at his older brother.
It was an incident that thrust the family into the headlines, not only because of the tragedy it was, but because of the cause they committed themselves to entirely after it happened – making Sydney a safer place for its inhabitants.
Ralph Kelly would work “18 hours a day, seven days a week” to achieve his goal, he told Andrew Denton.
He was completely and utterly immersed in his quest to ensure something like what happened to Thomas – a happy teen out with a girl he had a crush on – never tore another family apart again.