Men's shed movement continues to grow in Border and North East

More than furniture is made when men meet together. The growth of men's sheds in the Riverina and North East shows sharing projects, skills and experiences creates friendships built to last

PUT a group of older men together and get them to open up about their feelings.

Yeah, right.

But give them a shared goal, a place to go that’s theirs and the tools they need, physical or otherwise.

Now they’re talking.

Professor Barry Golding, of Federation University Ballarat, in 2007 observed “men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”.

In the 10 years since, men’s sheds continue to offer people an outlet beyond the workplace where interests like woodwork and metalwork can be pursued and friendships ignited.

About 25 men’s sheds operate within 100 kilometres of the Border, from Lockhart to Benalla and many communities in between.

Shoulder to Shoulder became the motto of the Australian Men’s Shed Association, which started in 2007 with 200 sheds and now represents more than 1000.

The association’s Melissa White said various men’s sheds had already been formed.

”But they didn’t know the other existed, so each shed was reinventing the wheel over and over in setting up,” she said. “We saw the need to share the information, thus making it easier for each successive shed to begin.”

The manual activities centre in Lavington began way back in 1978, serving as a men’s shed long before the term became common.

Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder

Professor Barry Golding

Ms White said sheds were all about mateship and making a contribution.

“The men just love to help others and in doing so are actually helping themselves,” she said.

“But don’t tell them it’s good for them.”

Good for them, but also good for others as shed members use their skills, old and new, to help their communities.

Through coffee tables, nest boxes, garden beds, outdoor benches and more, many a Border venture has been enhanced by objects built in different men’s sheds.

At the Lavington centre, two freshly painted gates lay drying, restored after being damaged at Albury’s Pioneer Cemetery. On display are certificates from pre-schoolers, water polo players and a historical society, all grateful for past assistance.

Men in sheds also share their skills, with Chiltern shed members recently teaching woodwork to students from Belvoir Special School.

This joint know-how brings internal benefits as well – member Ron Lutton noted the Lavington shed installed its own dust extraction system at a fraction of the possible commercial cost.

Mr Lutton, a retired town planner who lives in Wodonga, joined the manual activities centre about five years ago, wanting to learn wood turning.

Able to instruct was fellow member Kevin Scanlon, a former industrial arts teacher.

“He helped me do some wood turning and that and I stayed over,” Mr Lutton said.

“These blokes, camaraderie keeps you coming back.”

Mr Scanlon, now president, had been keen to continue woodwork after retirement and came to the shed in 2005.

“I enjoy the woodwork, enjoy the company,” he said. “I don’t like working by myself, much easier if you’re working with somebody, just talking, more fun.”

Chevington Tools’ Greg Cowie, who demonstrated metal craft tools at the Lavington centre this week, has visited men’s sheds across Victoria and NSW for 10 years.

“They’re all quite different, they’re all about the chaps that come here,” he said. 

“Some just want to come and have a coffee and a chat, some want to get in and build a front fence or a gate.”

Mr Cowie praised programs where children completed projects with men’s shed members.

“The kids maybe haven’t got a dad or maybe they won’t listen to Dad,” he said.

“Sometimes the kids will listen to someone else. These fellows sometimes have got a bit more time to put a bit of effort in, it’s a win-win for both of them.”

Often women can join sheds or form their own groups.

Margy Barwood floated the idea of a Beechworth Women's Shed in January and now members meet each week.

“The thing in common that everybody has is that they like to make things and they like to get together socially,” she said.

“The social aspect has been a huge bonus for all of us, we’ve bonded really well.”

Mrs Barwood said chatting probably did come more easily to women anyway but they also valued working together.

“It takes your mind off your worries because you’re thinking about something else,” she said.

As shed activities progress, conversations can take a more serious turn, with experiences being shared.

A member came into the Lavington manual activities centre having just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

People in the room could help because they’d been there too.

“Go and see him, he’s had radiotherapy, he’s had chemotherapy and he had the operation, so go and have a chat to them all,” was the advice.

Men and their health sometimes don’t know each other well but the group setting of a shed can serve as a collective prompt.

This week the Lavington centre hosted a two-day first aid course while Spanner in the Works, a health check-up held at Charles Sturt University in May, attracted dozens of members from 10 sheds. High school students prepared lunch for the crowd.

A letter from one participating group, Henty Men’s Shed, thanked organisers for their contribution “to the health and wellbeing of us all”.

“It was like dropping a brick in a calm pond, for the impact of what you have achieved will spread far and wide,” it said.