Justin Gatto’s fi­nal days

Justin Gatto was buried yes­ter­day. Be­fore he died, the son of one of Aus­tralia’s most no­to­ri­ous un­der­world fig­ures spoke to Britt Mann about his fight to stay alive, as well as ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness.

The Southland Times - - News Feature -

Two months be­fore he died, Justin Gatto said he felt alive again. In Au­gust, Gatto spoke openly with Stuff about his ex­pe­ri­ence of men­tal ill­ness while re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for metham­phetamine ad­dic­tion on the In­done­sian is­land of Bali.

On Fri­day, Gatto was buried. His fa­ther is Mick Gatto, one of the few sur­vivors of Mel­bourne’s gang­land killings. Mick Gatto was fa­mously por­trayed in the Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion se­ries Un­der­belly.

Shortly af­ter mid­night on Oc­to­ber 30 – three days af­ter his 34th birth­day – Justin Gatto was found ly­ing dead on a foot­path near an apart­ment build­ing in the city’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict. He ap­par­ently fell from a bal­cony.

Po­lice had deemed his death ‘‘not sus­pi­cious’’ and were pre­par­ing a re­port for the coro­ner. No other cir­cum­stances of his death have been re­ported.

Gatto had been a client at Si­vana Bali, a 14-bed ad­dic­tion treat­ment cen­tre founded in 2014 by New Zealan­der Nev Doidge, ear­lier this year.

He agreed to share his story, be pho­tographed and iden­ti­fied, as part of a re­port­ing project on drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion treat­ment providers in south­east Asia, to be pub­lished by Stuff later this month.

Gatto said he had been strug­gling with ad­dic­tion since the age of 21, say­ing he had ‘‘a highly ad­dic­tive per­son­al­ity’’. He had been us­ing metham­phetamine for a decade.

‘‘All my mates were with me do­ing it, then they stopped, had fam­i­lies, had kids, and I kept on go­ing.’’

It was Gatto’s sec­ond time re­ceiv­ing treat­ment at Si­vana in a year. He had pre­vi­ously at­tended three re­habs in Aus­tralia.

He said while friends who were re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts had found the Aus­tralian pro­grammes ef­fec­tive, he felt he had to leave the coun­try be­cause he wouldn’t know any­one who sold drugs.

A friend who had com­pleted three months of treat­ment at Si­vana had rec­om­mended the cen­tre to him, hav­ing re­turned to Aus­tralia ‘‘a changed man’’.

‘‘He was a com­pletely trans­formed per­son. I con­grat­u­lated him and I wanted what he had,’’ Gatto said.

How­ever, Gatto dis­charged him­self from Si­vana a month early to join his fam­ily who were hol­i­day­ing on the is­land.

‘‘I got my pri­or­i­ties mixed up,’’ he said. ‘‘And that’s a big wrong in re­cov­ery: you need to keep it No 1 all the time. If you don’t . . . ev­ery­thing else be­comes more im­por­tant, and your dis­ease kicks in and gets the bet­ter of you.’’

Gatto said he re­sumed us­ing drugs – though in­fre­quently – af­ter that first stint at Si­vana. He did not ‘‘run a pro­gramme’’ – at­tend Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ings, or con­tinue work­ing through the 12 Steps.

He de­cided to re­turn to Si­vana al­most a year later, telling Stuff: ‘‘This time, the penny’s dropped.’’

Gatto was ve­he­ment in his op­po­si­tion to metham­phetamine – known in Aus­tralia as ‘‘ice’’ – call­ing the drug and its ef­fects ‘‘dis­gust­ing’’.

‘‘I’m a big bloke, but I felt like mouse for years,’’ he said.

‘‘It just de­stroys your ego, your pride, your courage, your goals.’’

He was also em­phatic about its ad­dic­tive na­ture, reel­ing off a list of per­sonal qual­i­ties he said it robbed him of.

‘‘It ru­ins your soul, and you still go back and do it.’’

Gatto said his ad­dic­tion had re­sulted in drug-in­duced schizophre­nia. ‘‘Ev­ery time I use a drug, I’ve got mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties man­i­fest . . . ba­si­cally, I’m not my­self when I’m on drugs.

‘‘Nor­mally, I’m a lovely per­son, good bloke – a stand-up bloke – but when I’m on drugs, I’m not the best to be around . . .’’

Justin re­counted an ex­pe­ri­ence when he ‘‘went berserk’’ in a psy­chi­atric ward in front of his par­ents, hos­pi­tal staff, bounc­ers and po­lice.

‘‘I’m not a vi­o­lent per­son . . . but I re­ally scared my­self, and I don’t want to go back there.’’

He said Si­vana’s con­tracted physi­cian had re­duced the dose of his psy­chi­atric med­i­ca­tion, ‘‘enough for me to find my­self’’. He said this was the ‘‘big­gest bat­tle’’ he had to over­come.

‘‘I feel alive again.’’

Gatto en­thused about Si­vana’s holis­tic treat­ment pro­gramme, at­trac­tive set­ting, and ded­i­cated staff.

‘‘They love and care about ev­ery client,’’ he said. ‘‘They put their heart into it fully.’’

He was ‘‘not a fan’’ of the pro­gramme’s yoga ses­sions. ‘‘But it’s all good.’’

‘‘They re­ally give us a good go at find­ing our­selves and get­ting our lives on track.’’

Gatto spoke to Stuff the day be­fore he was dis­charged from 60 days of treat­ment at Si­vana. At the time he was in­ter­viewed, he said he hadn’t had ‘‘drugs in his sys­tem’’ in al­most three months. Af­ter dis­charge, Gatto said he planned to at­tend a per­sonal devel­op­ment course in Ubud, known as Bali’s ‘‘cul­tural heart’’.

‘‘I’m com­fort­able in my own skin – I can hon­estly say that..’’

Gatto said he was look­ing for­ward to the ‘‘ser­vice’’ as­pect of the 12 Step pro­gramme, and wanted to help other ad­dicts.

‘‘You can only keep what you have by giv­ing it away.’’

He said his friends – the ones who had been able to stop us­ing drugs – would ‘‘for­give’’ him.

‘‘They know that I’m a trier and that I don’t give up. I’ve got to do the hard work... I can’t just do a half-ar­sed job – I’ve got to do 100 per cent. I guess I’ll get ev­ery­thing back that I lost, but I need to fight for it, you know? It is a hard bat­tle.’’

Justin Gatto, de­scribed as a box­ing en­thu­si­ast who worked as a rig­ger for his fa­ther’s crane com­pany, is sur­vived by his older sib­lings Damien, Sarah, Michael, Ebony and Jesse; his mother Ch­eryle and his fa­ther Mick, a for­mer heavy­weight boxer and busi­ness­man. The fam­ily asked for do­na­tions to the char­ity Headspace.

Mick was ac­quit­ted of the 2005 mur­der of hit­man An­drew ‘‘Benji’’ Ve­ni­amin in the back room of an Ital­ian restau­rant in Carl­ton, on the grounds of self-de­fence.

In his best­selling mem­oir, I, Mick Gatto, re­leased in 2010, he ex­pressed his grat­i­tude to the Royal Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal af­ter his son was born two months pre­ma­ture in 1985.

He wrote Justin was ‘‘a tiny lit­tle thing’’.

‘‘They didn’t give him much chance of sur­viv­ing, but he pulled through.’’

The Her­ald Sun, who ini­tially named Justin as the de­ceased per­son, re­ported he had re­cently ‘‘strug­gled with per­sonal is­sues’’ and spent ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant time’’ in Bali. The news­pa­per also re­ported Justin was the sec­ond son Mick had lost.

Justin, a res­i­dent of the in­ner west­ern sub­urb of Dock­lands, was at an apart­ment in Spencer St be­lieved to be owned by the Gat­tos be­fore his death, the Her­ald Sun re­ported, adding it was be­lieved the Gat­tos had been at the apart­ment also.

Paramedics who ar­rived at the scene made des­per­ate at­tempts to save Justin’s life, the news­pa­per con­tin­ued, but he suc­cumbed to his in­juries be­fore he could be taken to hos­pi­tal.

In 2007, Justin al­most died in a head-on car crash when he lost con­trol of his BMW and col­lided with an on­com­ing four-wheel-drive af­ter fall­ing asleep at the wheel in heavy traf­fic. The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald re­ported Justin suf­fered a punc­tured lung, frac­tured el­bow and dis­lo­cated hip. He spent a month in hos­pi­tal, in­clud­ing time in in­ten­sive care, and al­most died from a blood clot.

He was fined AU$1500 and his drivers li­cence was sus­pended for six months. The judge in Mel­bourne’s Mag­is­trate Courts noted he had no crim­i­nal his­tory.

Justin’s fam­ily and friends have posted trib­utes on so­cial me­dia and in the news­pa­per, fol­low­ing his death.

Mick Gatto de­scribed his son as the ‘‘most kind, gen­tle, beau­ti­ful boy’’ in the Her­ald Sun last week.

‘‘As your fa­ther I am so grate­ful for all the time we spent to­gether – in­sep­a­ra­ble at times and this gives me so much com­fort and is some­thing I will never for­get.’’

On Face­book, Justin’s friend An­thony Charles Swords wrote: ‘‘He was one of the kind­est blokes the world has ever seen, he’d do any­thing he could to help a mate and was al­ways there when times were tough no mat­ter what he was go­ing through him­self.’’

* Britt Mann and Ja­son Dor­day’s travel to In­done­sia was funded by the Asia New Zea­land Foun­da­tion.

JA­SON DOR­DAY/ STUFF

Justin Gatto was dis­charged from re­hab the day af­ter this pho­to­graph was taken, fol­low­ing a two-month stay.

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