A fight for male space: the Australian Men’s Shed movement

I’d like to introduce you to the Australian Men’s Shed movement, starting with some background.

It’s rumoured that Men’s Sheds started sometime during the 1990s, and officially started around the middle of the 1990s, with a steady growth as the years have rolled on.

However, this start date may not be strictly correct, but it’s very difficult to find any information proving otherwise. So I’m hoping that some of my Aussie brothers who read this may be able to give me some correction and assistance in establishing a better start date.

The idea of having a place for men to congregate, to communicate and to care for each other freely without judgement, was initiated first by Australian Vietnam Veterans. Again, I cannot find a date for this, no matter what I type into Google. So I’m hoping some Aussie Vietnam Vets might know the dates and facts around these gatherings and can enlighten us.

A lot of these men were treated like criminals and especially rejected by the Returned Soldiers League in Australia, upon their return. It has taken a long time for them to be treated with even a modicum of respect, and before I go any further with this article I would like to make a short personal statement regarding my Brothers who fought in Vietnam:

I would like to say here officially. Thank you to all those men who were forced to go fight a dirty war that we should have never been in, in the first place. It was not your fault, because you were under orders. I feel privileged to be in your company. Your sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Brothers you (and we) lost while in battle, is not lost on me. So I thank you!

Now back to the article!

The Vietnam Vets were going away on retreat camps to escape society, so they could just spend time freely among their own, without the pressures of a judgemental society hanging over their shoulders. This was happening in the 1980s, when I remember seeing reports on TV about it. When it was that they decided to ‘urbanise’ their meeting places, is another fact I cannot find.

Being proven such an efficacious program for our Vets and a huge help to lonely men, such fraternal gatherings soon took hold within the general population of men. Which brings us back to the mid-1990s and the emergence of Men’s Sheds.

This Wiki page gives a very basic overview of what happened in the mid-1990s with the formal establishment of the movement. I am loathe to use Wiki, but it does summarise some points I think are pertinent to this discussion.

The Wiki page also gives you a good idea of the negative impact on the Men’s Shed movement by other community organisations and the governments in each state, which is a direct negative effect of Gynocentrism. There was not necessarily any direct government ruling or use of laws per se, but funding grants and removal of red tape, usually came with strings attached. If the Men’s Sheds agreed to allow ‘Community’ involvement, which is PC speak for allowing women in to the Sheds, they would receive the funding.

Indeed this did happen to our Shed when we applied for a funding grant, but so far we have resisted having women. I know however that the clock is ticking!

I have to say here that very little would have happened without the funding, so we are all very grateful for this. It just would have been more beneficial to men if the Sheds could remain for men only and that the grants didn’t have strings attached.

There is no escaping the pressure to restrict men having any place of their own without any women as members or any female involvement within the organising or controlling Committees.

Many Sheds started off as men only, but were soon taken over by women. All you need is a few ‘White Knights’ on the Committee with enough numbers to take control, then they introduce women into the membership and the numbers of men dwindle quickly, with their vacancies taken up by women.
In my own region, recently there was an ad in the local newspaper for an expression of interest for any women who would like to start up a group similar to the Men’s Shed. I saw the ad as a foreboding and ominous cloud looming in the distance.

From what I know they have had little to no interest. What worries me is that one day when these women find out just how wonderful our facilities are, they will have jealous designs upon this prize and will seek to usurp control over it. We will, however, fight this for as long as we can!

At this point in the article, I would like to introduce you to the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA).

The Association was established in 2007, and “At the 2nd National Mens Shed Conference in Manly during September 2007, Professor Barry Golding, Men’s Shed researcher from the University of Ballarat, stated in his key note address that “Men don’t talk face to face they talk shoulder to shoulder”. This drew unanimous mutterings of approval from all 350 delegates and the quote became the Australian Men’s Shed Associations motto.”

If you visit the above website, I recommend you spend a fair amount of time looking around it because it’s very informative and has a lot of tools to aid in setting up a new Men’s Shed. I’m almost certain that they will assist men in other countries with starting up their own Sheds too.

At our Shed we are members of AMSA, because it gives us many opportunities and benefits, like cheap liability insurance. This is something all Sheds must have and if you have established an association with a fairly large membership of functioning viable Sheds, then you can hunt around for an insurance company that will give discounted insurance to the Association and its members. It is a community project, so insurance companies will often help out organisations such as these with cheap insurance policies.

From the AMSA website you can see all sorts of programs for men that you can put in place within your own Shed, or simply think of your own. The only requisite for membership to a Men’s Shed is that you are a man. Race, colour, creed, is never under consideration, because within the Shed we are all Brothers!

As for what happens within your Shed, it’s entirely up to the membership. Just like here at AVfM, if you want something to happen or change then stick your hand up and be a part of the solution. Otherwise, just shut up!

The Meeting Room

Finally, I would like to speak a little about the most integral part of a Men’s Shed. This is the Meeting Room.

The Meeting Room is by far the most important part of the facility. And that room, may very well start off being a backyard shed.

Yes men like to ‘do things together,’ where they can chat at the same time. This actually suits some men more because most men seem to be more comfortable opening up, if they have a problem, when they have something else to do at the same time which can be used as a circuit breaker if the troubled man is feeling a bit too vulnerable. He can stop the conversation at any time and go about the job without feeling embarrassed or judged in any way at all.

However, the greatest benefit to all men is gained in the time spent just being together talking about the week they just had, or about the idiots in government, or how the latest football match went, etc, etc and on goes the subject matter. There is absolutely none of this sitting around in a circle crying about your problems and taking your turn to say how bad your feelings are hurt. If ever a Shed did do that they would have very few members.

Men are not women!

And because men are not women we have different ways of dealing with problems.

One of those ways is we have experts come in to give us talks on subjects that, as a group, we have decided we would like to know a bit more about. And yes it can be of a psychological and emotional nature. If you have an expert there doing the talking and giving the information out in pamphlets, you can go home armed with some very good info and then decide for yourself whether you do anything about it. And believe me this does happen, because we have had guys close to the edge in our Shed, but now they are fully functioning and very healthy men. And it happened because they were given the right information and the support from other members.

As some of you know I get a bit emotional when talking about how good men are. I am easily aroused into anger when I see the innocence of men attacked and vilified, but I am always pleasantly surprised by just how charitable and caring most men are. The surprise is not there because it is out of the ordinary. It comes to me because I see these men openly caring for others even though they know they will be judged and criticised in the public arena.

In the Shed, when one of our elder members comes in the door, there are always men ready to assist him to his chair and a cuppa is provided for him.

I would like to add a quote here from the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed (South Australia), which sums up nicely why the Sheds should exist:

“Good health is based on many factors including feeling good about yourself, being productive and valuable to your community, connecting to friends and maintaining an active body and an active mind. Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed gives a man that safe and busy environment where he can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa if that is all they’re looking for.

Members of Men’s Sheds come from all walks of life – the bond that unites them is that they are men with time on their hands and they would like something meaningful to do with that time.

Because men don’t make a fuss about their problems, these problems have consistently been either ignored or swept under the mat by both our health system and our modern society.

It’s time for a change and the Men’s Shed movement is one of the most powerful tools we have in helping men to once again become valued and valuable members of our community.”

Women for too long have claimed the moral high ground on charity and caring when the fact is most of this has always been facilitated by men. It is men who have instituted and run most of the charities that exist, be they community organisations or religious. The Men’s Shed Movement is yet another area where the kindness and charity of men is so very evident, acting as a portal of community care and service.

For the sake of men’s health and wellbeing the Men’s Shed Movement must expand and fight for its independence from the interference of government, women and opposing community groups.

Thank you for reading this article. I do hope you consider starting up your own Sheds. I am very happy to answer any questions if I can. Most of what I know is what we have done in starting up our own Shed and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.

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