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