Living in a housing commission flat in Melbourne's Preston with his older brother and their mum, Tracey, the future for young Telv Williams seemed bleak.
'It was this concrete jungle flat and coming home from school as you walked up the stairs you’ve got a junkie with a needle hanging out, an alcoholic in the hallway spewing everywhere, that’s the surroundings you had to put up with,' Telv, 33, tells WHO.
Tracey, who was just 15 when she had her first son and 17 when Telv arrived, was struggling with severe alcoholism as well as a series of abusive relationships with the men who came into their lives. Telv wouldn’t meet his own dad until he was 22. It was the only time the two have come face to face.
'She was a confused young kid who obviously found alcohol as an outlet,' says Telv. 'And she had some pretty bad choices when it came to boyfriends'—one of whom beat her so badly that a then-6-year-old Telv was injured trying to intervene. 'I jumped on his back to try and stop him—he just grabbed me and threw me through the window,' the FIFO worker recalls. 'It was pretty hard growing up, and we didn’t have a lot of money either. But we always had love.'
As 'a ratbag of a kid,' Telv says he could easily have entered a similar cycle of abuse and addiction. But as he turned 12, salvation came in the shape of some much-needed positive male role models. First, Tracey met his stepdad Russell, 'the father figure I always needed.' She found religion, gave up drinking and the family moved to Portland in country Victoria. At high school he met teachers who 'really took the time to help me out,' introducing him to sports as a way of getting out his aggression: 'It helps with discipline, which was something I lacked as a kid.'
Now, as a father-of-two and 'proud Aboriginal man,' family remains his No. 1 priority, and should things work out with TV wife Sarah Roza (left), 'I’d have more kids, I definitely would have more,' he says.
This article originally appeared on WHO.