After several tough years of heartbreak, it’s finally a brighter day for Aussie country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley.
A giant poster in New York’s legendary Times Square – featuring his talented singer-songwriter daughter Jem, who has been slowly but surely rising through the ranks of the local country music scene – has put the familiar smile back on Troy’s dial.
“Super proud father moment right here,” he told Instagram fans, revealing Jem’s latest gig as a Spotify ambassador supporting women’s music.
“After walking there [Times Square] with her years ago as a very small child at Christmas time, this is quite surreal for us… Well done to our baby.”
Years of hardship
It’s a welcome turnaround for the First Nations favourite, a famed Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man, who was shattered by the death of his adored single mother Irene – alone at home – in July last year.
But that was just the latest in a series of family tragedies that sent the multi-award-winning star to the brink of disaster.
In 2019, his Maltese father Tony, who had been living with depression after suffering a stroke, took his own life. A close friend sadly did the same within months.
Then came the COVID pandemic, which crippled the live music industry for two years, and prevented Troy from doing one of his true loves – touring. Instead, like many others, it forced the star to isolate himself even further at home.
It was here that the 54-year-old sank into a dark spiral of depression.
By his own admission, he started to withdraw, endangering even his long and loving marriage to popular Brisbane broadcaster and singer Laurel Edwards, 57, with whom he shares two grown-up children, 25-year-old son Clay and Jem, 22.
“After losing my dad, I fell into a place where I didn’t really get any help,” explained Troy, who across his 30-year career has won a plethora of awards, including 40 Golden Guitar Awards – more than any other artist.
“When I was a kid, I used to hide in music quite a bit. My mum and dad broke up when I was quite young, so I used to hide in songs, and I found myself doing that again.”
“An old uncle of mine used to say, ‘It’s not all beer and skittles,’ and that saying is so true. Over the last couple of years, the family life and work-life balance that I’d always had shifted.”
“It became a monumental struggle. The thing that suffered most out of all this was my marriage to Laurel and our kids having to witness their parents’ relationship slowly falling apart. And I didn’t know how to fix it.”
Seeing the lights
The turning point came when he looked in the mirror one day, realising he no longer liked what he saw – and it wasn’t just the beard he’d been growing.
“I thought, stop it, just stop. You are destroying everything that you love,” Troy recalled thinking at the time.
Slowly, however, he started to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Recording a searingly honest album at his home studio helped, as did a visit to family in his old stomping ground of Grafton, in northern NSW.
It was there that his battler mum made ends meet by working as a railway cook.
While she was away, Troy stayed with his grandparents or visited his father in Sydney.
Somewhere between the two, he taught himself to play guitar and became a busker.
It was the start of a lifelong passion that helped him endure his darkest moments over the past four years, rekindling the flame with “harder” songs about Indigenous incarceration and suicide.
“I fell back in love with being a musician again,” explained Troy, who also salvaged his rocky marriage to the funny, feisty woman he first met backstage at the Gympie Muster 30 years ago.
Since then, Laurel “has been the thing in my life”, says the Long Way Home troubadour. “Where the road took us after that meeting was truly beautiful.”
In a recent heartfelt Instagram message marking “the Bride’s” birthday, Troy wrote, “Hope you enjoy your day, my love. Looking forward to however many we have left on this spinning ball.”
Now, at last, the true believer is back where he belongs – on top of the world – thanks, at least in part, to the international success of his talented daughter.