Mates, building and art brings happiness back to life
GOOD mates and art he never knew existed drew Allan Palmer out of the black hole that nearly swallowed him.
A volunteer at the Grafton Regional Gallery for the past 10 years, Allan spends his working days surrounded by paintings, drawings and sculpture.
He mans the reception desk, chats to visitors and artists, helps hang exhibitions and mails out invitations.
After work he enjoys the bushland setting of his country home.
It is a far cry from being too depressed to open the door of his old caravan.
Fourteen years ago, Allan barely knew that art galleries existed.
He was also ill, broke, depressed, unable to work and dependant on prescription medications.
The hard-working mechanic had spent 34 years immersed in the motoring business, spending long hours in and under engines and ultimately running his own business in Coffs Harbour for 12 years.
But his world came crashing down after the failure of two successive relationships.
Three things saved him - mates, building and art.
His mates talked to him, worried at him, visited him and worked with him.
With their help, he built his own house and eventually built two houses and a shed with amenities on three different sites as an owner-builder.
And he turned up at the Grafton Regional Gallery and volunteered after his case manager suggested he should try something he had never done before.
Allan said he turned the first corner on the road to recovery when a mate he was staying with said he was worried that Alan was sleeping in all morning and even then was hard to wake up.
"I was so tired all the time and I was so miserable I was just dragging myself around," Allan said.
"I had no energy and no interest in anything."
Against his psychiatrist's advice, rather than changing his medication, Allan threw away the antidepressants and moved onto a vacant bush block he had bought, despite having little money to build with.
His mental health adviser was scandalised, telling him he was in no fit mental state to make such important decisions.
But Allan is still glad he did, although he said it might not be the right thing for others.
At Grafton's gallery he discovered a new world, a completely new group of people and another reason to get out of bed in the morning.
His own favourite painters are pioneering landscape painters like Hans Heysen and Tom Roberts, but he also appreciates the skill of the contemporary artists whose work he has helped to hang in Grafton's signature Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award (JADA) and other exhibitions.
He has also enjoyed meeting artists and showing them the sights of the city.
But he says after years of wielding a paint brush on walls while tradie mates hammered, sawed, plumbed, Gyprocked and ran electrical cords on his building sites, he has now given up construction.
Allan said he was just going to enjoy owning his own home and having no debts.