On a winter's night in July 2012, Kathy and Ralph Kelly received a phone call no parent should ever have to answer. It was the Emergency department of a Sydney hospital, telling them that their eldest son Thomas had been in an altercation and that they were to come at once. Thomas had been coward punched by a total stranger within two minutes of getting out of a taxi in Kings Cross, on his way to a private 18th birthday party of a friend. Two days after that first phone call Kathy and Ralph were told that their son had suffered catastrophic head injuries resulting in brain death. They were advised that there was no other option but to switch off his life support. He was 18 years old.
In the aftermath of their son's death, Kathy and Ralph became the public face of the campaign to end the drunken violence that plagued Sydney's major nightspots. Along with Premiers Barry O'Farrell and Mike Baird they helped institute the lock out laws that have been a major factor in the reduction of alcohol related deaths and injuries in Darling Harbour, Kings Cross and Sydney's CBD. They were also instrumental in creating Take Kare Safe Spaces ('Kare' with a 'K' after Thomas's initials) for young people in key nightspots, which has now registered over 52,000 interventions since December 2014, what the Kellys call 'sliding door moments', the difference between a young person's life continuing on as normal or degenerating into something terrible. And they were one of the driving forces behind the introduction of tougher sentencing for 'coward-punch' deaths.
But their campaigning created a huge toll on their family. Online intimidation, death threats and false news about the mishandling of donations came from those with a stake in the clubs and businesses who were the lock out laws financial losers. When Stuart Kelly, Thomas's younger brother, went for his first night at University of Sydney's St Paul's College, Ralph and Kathy believe the bullying he experienced because of the family's profile was so traumatising he left university for good the next day, and wouldn't tell his parents exactly what he'd been made to endure. Five months later, on July 25th 2016, Stuart took his own life.
This book is the Kellys' story. How they coped with one unimaginable tragedy, only to find that it had sowed the seed for another. How in the face of these terrible losses they have found the spirit and the drive to campaign first for a safer environment for all our children, and for a greater understanding of young people's self-harm and its drivers.