Comraderie on and off the bike
Dr Graham Blom has been with Psychs on Bikes since the beginning and has embarked on the inaugural ride from Perth to Sydney in 2011. He has since seen its highs and lows while one thing has stayed the same: the community and shared passion the riders have for their work and riding motorcycles. Here is Dr Blom’s story.
How did you get involved with Psychs on Bikes? After undertaking training and receiving my college fellowship in 1978, I ended up establishing and working in Newcastle and Sydney and had the opportunity to establish the first private inpatient unit in the Blue Mountains.
With such a demanding work life, like that I suspect of most psychiatrists, the need for support from one's colleagues and an opportunity to unwind is immensely important. Motorcycle riding has always been a great joy for me. I began riding motorcycles when I was about 18 until an unfortunate incident with another motor vehicle. I didn’t ride again until around 2007 when I decided it was time to saddle up – a rural setting seemed safer and more enjoyable than the endless traffic of Sydney. I bought a beautiful triumph Bonneville and began exploring the local regions.
In 2011 my friend (and Psychs on Bikes founder) Joe Dunn offered the opportunity to ride from Perth to Sydney. Joe had arranged that we offer education in mental health to a variety of services that thought it would be useful, on our ride across. This was one of the most rewarding experiences I have undertaken. It showed me the vastness and terrible beauty of our country. I had already gotten to know the generosity, openness and friendliness of the rural population but this ride which allowed us to meet people in a wide variety of extremely isolated and remote areas opened my eyes further.
I am now coming to the end of my career having decided to retire sometime next year. However, my contact with Psychs on Bikes will most certainly continue as a retired Psych on Bike.
When and where was your first Psychs on Bikes ride?
My first ride was the magnificent adventure from Perth to Sydney in 2011 and took us a total of 10 days, to get there and back. This introduced me to the joys of long-distance riding and especially the sheer joy of riding with a group of like-minded motorcyclists. It demonstrated the possibilities for assisting mental health in rural and particularly remote Australia using the access gained when people feel that they can relate to a group. It is amazing how many people love big motorbikes.
Why did you decide to join Psychs on Bikes ride that very first time?
I joined mainly for the adventure but also for the opportunity to see parts of Australia I had never previously seen and more than likely might never see again. There is also a particular way of seeing the countryside which you only get on a motorcycle. On a motorcycle you are always alive to your surroundings. There is immense concentration required but this, rather than separating you from the countryside, in my experience brings you closer to it.
What does Psychs on Bikes offer mental health professionals who join a ride?
Psychs on Bikes provide a sense of belonging, collegiality, and the understanding that people who have the love of a shared passion.
What do you usually do when you arrive in an outback Community?
When we arrived in each country town we are usually met by previously arranged contacts of one of the informal mental health associations in the town or occasionally by members of the public community mental health team which would involve introductions and getting to know each other usually over a cup of tea and cakes – rural folk really do know how to bake!I was constantly amazed at the welcoming attitude of local groups. I was also surprised at the numbers of people who turned up at our talks and who actively engaged and were clearly interested.
It is a tragedy that we have such high suicide rates in rural and remote Australia. Unquestionably this is partly due to a solid lack of awareness of the manifestations of mental illness as well as the feeling of shame and fear that there is no-one who will feel comfortable sharing openly a member of their community’s distress. Curiously having a bunch of mental health professionals arriving on big bikes in a group tended to make people feel more comfortable and more able to talk about their distress.
Is there something about Psychs on Bikes that would surprise us?
The thing that might be surprising to those who don't ride motorbikes is the extraordinary pleasure that riding brings and the intensity of the bonds that are developed when one is engaged in riding over a long distance together. Despite the intense concentration required there's still time to feel part of nature and the country in which you ride.