Episode #30: Joe Williams Speaks On Culture, Connectedness & First Nation Practices

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My guest today is a man who has forged a path for himself between two worlds.  A proud First Nations Aboriginal man raised in Wagga, NSW, Joe Williams is a former NRL player, professional boxer turned mental health advocate.  After many years of suicidal ideation and a widely publicised suicide attempt in 2012, Joe now spreads the message of hope to those struggling with mental illness, addiction and adversity through his suicide prevention and wellbeing education program, The Enemy Within.

In this episode, Joe opens up about his journey as an indigenous Australian walking in two worlds and how crucial it is for first nations people to be grounded in the land.  In his honest and open manner, Joe reflects on his struggles as a young man, his regrets as a father and why it took him 30 years to find who he was culturally, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

As we discuss the importance of raising awareness on mental health and suicide prevention within the indigenous community, Joe shares about an elder who once told him that he wasn’t mentally unwell, but spirtually unwell and all he needed was to remember what he learned while on country.  With passion and great conviction, Joe shares about the deep need for indigenous people to be healed of generational trauma caused by colonialism by coming back to their cultural roots.

We dig deeper into the reasons behind the divide of black and white in modern Australia and how undertones of white supremacy still remain in our society.  Joe sheds light on the fact that in over 2,500 native dialects in Australia, there is not a single word to describe suicide.  Prior to colonisation, people were spiritually well and now there is a desperate need for help within the indigenous community.  

At the end of the episode, Joe talks about his upcoming 3 month trauma recovery program which will help young people find identity and connection, overcome trauma and provide keys to assist them moving forward.  Prepare to be challenged, educated, inspired and uplifted by this episode.  It’s one not to be missed.


[2:30]: How although lockdown has been super challenging for a lot of people, Joe has adapted well to being at home and enjoying spending more time with his family.

[3:20]: Adapt, innovate and grow.  

[4:30]: How Joe has been a dad for 16 years but has only just started being a father.  Joe talks about how staying home with the kids now and how he used to be scared of not knowing how to father his children.

[6:30]: How his own parenting has been impacted by his own dad and that he has learned not to be critical because he did the best he could

[7:20]: How Joe is a better person, a better partner and a better dad because of doing inner work but his older children sadly missed out on that part of him 

[8:15]: It’s easy to be negative but he invites people now to look at what the good things are.  For him, this time has been good to be present with his kids.  

[10:20]:  How Joe is a different person to who he was because of the work he’s done internally.  He is able to help his children navigate decisions because of his past experiences.

[12:00]: You can’t expect others to live through you.  All you can do is share your experience and give your kids tools to help them not go down the same path.

[13:40]: How indigenous and non-indigenous Australians are learning to walk together and that there is change occuring, even if it’s small and slow.  

[14:15]: Don’t look at what, look at why.  Stereotypical behaviours are often coming from a place of genetic trauma.  The effects that colonisation has had on first nation people.

[16:40]: The horrific bushfires could have been negated by learning to live with aboriginal practise.  

[18:20]: Education is available to everyone but white supremacy is still the root of the problem due to what was passed down through the generations.

[20:00]: The mentality of superiority still affects people’s perspective of indigenous culture. Joe has had to get educated from the “white world” and it’s still not a level playing field

[20:30]: People have an ideology of who someone is based on their race

[21:20]: Native American people are leading the way in terms of education on the impact of trauma on native communities. We are the creators of our own healing.  Modern treatment for mental health isn’t necessarily what is required.

[23:50]: A lot of the elders of the aboriginal community were taken from the homes and conditioned to live a way of life contradicting their culture.  

[25:16]: The powerful evening that took place at the first Corroboree held in Wagga in 150 years and how many people were brought to tears 

[27:00]: Change is happening slowly.  The term reconciliation isn’t relevant because there was never a relationship to begin with.  We need a relationship that goes both ways with equal learning and understanding.

[29:20]: When an Elder challenged Jo saying that he wasn’t mentally ill, but spiritually ill.  He was encouraged to stick with what he learned out on country and that his spirit would be healed.

[31:20]: Getting away from technology and camping on country helps to heal the spirit.  Mindfulness, meditation and earthing are all practises that first nation people have been doing for thousands of years.  They were spiritually well before colonisation.

[32:00]: In over 2,500 dialects in Australia, there is no word for suicide.  It wasn’t a problem because being at one with the land was working.  

[33:45]: The most important thing for Joe to maintain mental health is to get on country.  Find out what makes you well and do more of it.

[36:30]: It was only post football and boxing career that Joe found himself culturally and as a man

[38:30]: We think celebrating culture is just dancing or artwork, but those things are just the end product of culture.  The storytelling within the journey is what it’s all about.

[40:15]: The 3 month trauma recovery program that Joe is looking to start soon.  It will help young people find identity and connection, overcome trauma and give tips to move forward


Website: https://www.joewilliams.com.au/

Facebook: @TheEnemyWithinJoeWilliams

Instagram: @joewilliams_tew

Thanks for listening to another episode of It Ain’t Weak to Speak with Sam Webb. Please rate the show and leave a review if you enjoyed it. 

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If after listening to this episode and you don't quite feel right or you want to reach out to someone to speak to, we have provided some useful resources below. 

For immediate support please call one of the following 24/7 hotlines. Someone will be ready to take your call. Remember, ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’

If you are in Australia:

Emergency: 000

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

If you are in the United States:

Emergency: 911

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text LIVIN to 741741 in the United States

If you would prefer to speak with someone face-to-face, we recommend visiting your local GP (doctor) who will be able to have a chat with you about what is going on in your life and refer you to a mental health professional if required.

For some tools to help you with things like stress, low mood, general worries, please check out our LIVIN tips and tricks here.

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