Country singer Gemma Kirby opens up about how her sister spiralled into a P addiction at just 15

By Vanessa Brown

Gemma, left, with her sister Tayla who suffers from an ice addiction. Photo / Gemma Kirby Instagram
Gemma, left, with her sister Tayla who suffers from an ice addiction. Photo / Gemma Kirby Instagram

It was just before her sister's 16th birthday when Gemma first saw the cracks in her younger sister appear.

Having recently moved to Mackay, Queensland from their home in Bunbury, Western Australia - Gemma and her mining family were after a change - but not the kind that would see their youngest girl, Tayla, taken away from them.

"Our home life was totally normal," singer/songwriter Gemma Kirby told news.com.au.

"The biggest abnormality was that we moved around a bit for dad to chase the mining boom.

"We'd been in Bunbury for 10 years, so we moved to Mackay for a change. But it wasn't until my sister started high school soon after the move that things went into a spiralling mess."

From the age of 13, Tayla faced what her family thought were "typical challenges" of starting a new school. What started off with comments on social media about her appearance or how she acted, soon lead the young teen into "an older, dodgy crowd" that ripped her away from her family.

At 15, Tayla, who is the youngest girl in the Kirby family, turned her back on her sisters, brother and loving parents for a life on the streets fuelled by a P addiction.

"It happened very quickly," Gemma, who is now 25, said of her younger sister.

"She started wagging school at first, then getting home after curfew or not coming home at all.

"It was a rebellious battle for six months, escalating just before she started Year 10.

"Soon, mum and dad lost all control of her".

Tayla Kirby ran away just before her 16th birthday. Photo / Tayla Kirby Facebook
Tayla Kirby ran away just before her 16th birthday. Photo / Tayla Kirby Facebook

Gemma's parents tried everything they could to stop their youngest daughter from leaving the house, terrified they wouldn't see her again.

Her mother attempted to lock Tayla in a bedroom to stop her from leaving, but that was only a bandaid solution for the escalating situation.

"Tayla got advice from people in a similar scenario to her about how to deal with parents," Gemma said.

"Tayla worked out that no one could physically stop her from leaving our home and living on the street. Even though she was only 15.

"I think she thought she didn't fit in. When she left just before her 16th birthday, it was hell.

"My dad turned grey overnight."

Notifying the police, social workers and hospitals of their missing daughter, Gemma said it was when Christmas rolled around that hit her family the hardest.

"The first Christmas Tayla was gone, she slept on the streets," Gemma said.

"We'd heard she might've been on a bench in the library in Mackay, but we weren't sure.

"We couldn't fathom or comprehend the whole scenario. Why would she want to be on a street hungry, in such a dangerous situation over being at home with her loving family, food and presents. It was heartbreaking for us."

The heartbreak of not knowing where she was, or if she was alive was almost enough to destroy the tight knit family, until one day - nine months after she walked out the front door - the hospital called with news about Tayla.

"My parents got a call from the hospital saying they had her, but she wasn't in a good state," Gemma said.

"She had an altercation with another girl. She was so thin, dropped an easy 40 kilos since leaving nine months earlier.

"They brought her home and she promised us she wanted a change, but it took just two weeks for her to fall victim [to drugs] again."

Because Gemma's parents had rules in place, Tayla didn't want to abide. So she left, and has been dropping in and out of the family home in Mackay ever since.

"Tayla would come back home for a few days, have some food and go again, but she would only do it when my mum was there," Gemma said.

"We tip toed around the signs for so long, but when this all started we didn't have the skills or knowledge to identify what was happening.

"Depression and paranoia were the real warning signs, but we just assumed she had social anxiety.

Gemma Kirby has written a song about her family's experience. Photo / News Corp Australia
Gemma Kirby has written a song about her family's experience. Photo / News Corp Australia

"She became quite aggressive at the end, but there's no excuse for her addiction."

Hardworking and committed, no-one would have expected for one of the Kirby kids to get caught up in the wrong crowd.

But this assumption, Gemma believes, only contributes to the damage and stigma that surrounds people with a P addiction.

Four years have passed since Tayla ran away from her home life for her addiction.

"It's not just the drug they rely on, it's the lifestyle," Gemma said.

"The late nights and dodgy people. I think it's the lifestyle that surrounds meth that is quite appealing.

"My parents feel responsible, and I think they will for the rest of their lives. When we noticed differences with her, we all should've done something."

Gemma said the last time she saw her sister, who she believes is on the mend, was Boxing Day 2015.

"We know where she is, but she bounces around a lot," Gemma said.

"She changes her number every week, but she says she's not taking meth anymore."

In an attempt to share her story, Gemma, who is a country singer/songwriter released a new music video, Deceiving Eyes, about her sister's hellish battle with P, and how it impacted the family.

"Writing this song and doing the video has been a real emotional journey," Gemma said.

"I wrote it when she was going through it, but I didn't release it because I didn't know how.

"I didn't know how to explain to my brother what the cuts on his sister's legs were from, which are scenes in the video.

"When my mum heard the song, she broke down, because she witnessed all the things in the clip with my sister. It's exactly when she went through."

Gemma wanted the film clip to be a warning, and an insight into how P impacts a whole family - so it will present two possible endings.

The commercial version tells the story of a girl who is offered P, but refuses. But a version on Kirby's website will show the fate of the same girl, who accepts.

While Gemma isn't mad at her sister, and knows that she is on the mend with her first fulltime job, she knows she will never fully get Tayla back in their lives.

"I don't think we have lost her, but I don't think we will ever get her back fully in our lives," Gemma said.

"The only thing now I wish for is her safety and happiness. I just want her happy."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
The Word
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- news.com.au

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