Multi-talented artist Kyle Shilling is breaking the silence
It took a song penned by his younger brother for 25-year-old Kyle Shilling to question his path in life. Growing up in the Manning Valley’s Wallabi Point as the eldest of five (he also has a twin brother) Kyle spent his teenage years indulging in the kind of behaviour he believed was expected of him.
“I was a really naughty teenager and an angry person,” Kyle reflects. “We’d drink and take cars for joyrides. Every weekend I was brought home by the police, and gangs of people would show up to my parents’ house looking for me. It got really bad.”
When he turned 17, Kyle realised that he was on a dead-end road that would eventually lead to jail – or worse.
The turning point
“One of my little brothers showed me a verse of a song he’d written about how he felt watching the way my life was unfolding,” he says. “I realised the pain I’d put my family through and knew I was ready to make different choices.”
A talented dancer and songwriter, Kyle was encouraged by his family to enrol in NAISDA, a performing arts college for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. Whilst studying at NAISDA, Kyle began the journey of channelling his experiences into art and researching his cultural background.
“My twin brother and I are the only Aboriginal people in my family,” he says. “My father was Aboriginal but he left when I was little, and my mum is white. It’s a confusing family! We’d always been encouraged to research our culture, and traced our bloodline to the Widjubal clan inside the Bundjalung nation around Lismore. We also found out that we’re part South Sea Islander and that our great-grandmother was a sugar cane slave brought over from the islands.”
Kyle has worked hard to change the direction of his life
Kyle’s reason why
Since discovering his roots, Kyle’s drive to perform and create has been infused with a why that goes beyond making a name for himself exemplified by his recent lead role in the award-winning play, Man With The Iron Neck, a production that explores the pervasive issue of suicide in Indigenous communities.
“Being part of the production really opened my eyes,” Kyle explains. “While I knew about the problem before, I’d never paid a lot of attention to it. When I learned the statistics around suicide in Aboriginal families, and that Aboriginal people have the highest suicide rate in the world, I felt like I had to do everything I could to bring attention to the issue and the inter-generational trauma that is embedded into our people.”
Devastatingly, one of his close friends took his own life while Kyle was touring with the production. “I couldn’t make it to his funeral because we were performing that day,” Kyle says, sadly. “His death gave me a sense of urgency about spreading the message that Man With The Iron Neck is about, both personally and publicly. It’s just so important to reach out and talk to each other about this stuff.”
“I had another friend who had a serious motorbike accident and was in hospital for months. I messaged him every night during that time. A couple of months later when he was out of hospital, he told me how low he had been feeling and how much he looked forward to my messages every night. Sometimes the small things make a big difference.”
After time on the road, Kyle loves being back home on the coast to reconnect, rejuvenate and rest
Encouraging young people
On top of his work as a musician, actor and dancer, Kyle teaches at the Stacey Lee School of Dance in Taree. He also works with Indigenous communities in Alice Springs, encouraging young people to use creative practices as a vehicle for sharing stories and managing their mental health. Often, it takes Kyle sharing his own stories to break the ice and gain a rapport with kids who are struggling.
“Part of my work is to remind Aboriginal kids that they come from a performing culture. I encourage them to take advantage of the creativity that is in their blood, to build stories, dance and spread the word.”
Kyle encourages Aboriginal kids to tap into their creative talents
Speaking out about mental health
Kyle’s willingness to break the silence on mental health issues has also created significant change in his personal life, leading him to give up alcohol and use music and creative expression to deal with feelings of anxiety and depression.
“I’ve now realised that alcohol was really impacting my mental health the world is so much clearer now,” he says. “I don’t look down on anyone who still drinks but I see the effect it has on communities. It’s devastating.”
Performances with heart
Since finishing Man With The Iron Neck, Kyle has been focusing on music – he performed at the Gold Coast’s Pig Day Out Festival in September. Proceeds from the event went to Livin, an Australian charity that supports the issues closest to Kyle’s heart: mental health and suicide prevention. He’s also working with new management to secure some on-screen roles and plans to take his talent, message and culture all the way to Hollywood.
When asked what wisdom he’d share with his younger self, Kyle pauses for a moment. “I like what my younger self went through, he smiles. People think that if they grow up in a bad situation that they have no choice, but I’m proof that we’re all born with a choice.”
Watch this space.
Dance is one way Kyle connects to his heritage