Tucked away on the northeast boundary of the Inverell Showground lies the Inverell Community Men’s Shed, a mantuary for male bonding over woodwork.
Surrounded by the smell of sawdust and fresh paint, the men break out their toolkits. And then they fix, design and create projects that will generate income to assist in defraying operational costs to allow them to, well, continue fixing, designing and creating more projects.
Any profit made goes towards buying saw blades, grills and more tools. The goal, however, is not to make money or compete with local businesses. In fact, they avoid creating anything that can be found in the area’s stores.
These men are in it for the sheer joy of productivity. It’s not uncommon for members to gather around and watch other members at work, providing the occasional commentary or just lending a helping hand.
“Each one of us brings a bit of skill and knowledge,” says Eric Bailey, a former business lecturer at Charles Darwin University who now takes care of the marketing side of things. “Over the wood chips, we chat and solve the problems of the world.”
Along the way, they learn from each other.
The men come from all walks of life – ranging from engineers to unskilled workers. They each bring their own insight and experience that is valuable to the group.
With each completed project comes a sense of accomplishment. “Did you know that this is the only place where you can get possum traps?” asks Mr Bailey, pointing to the works of Bob Dawson.
A tree surround bench is currently being created for a customer who showed the men a picture. Alf Newman, Keith Dillan and Greg Brabant came up with a design and implemented it.
Nothing seems too impossible or bizarre a request for these men. If it doesn’t exist, they are ready to rise to the challenge of any commission – as men do.
Nearby, safety equipment sits unused. Greg Brabant, the shop foreman, does all he can to get the men to use it but stubbornness prevails. “We are planning to get yellow lines drawn up for safety,” he says.
Everything reeks of masculinity in this last bastion of true mateship – except for one thing. I ask if their wives clean up after them as everything is spic, span and tidy. “We all clean up after ourselves. It’s one of our rules” says Vic Finney, one of the earliest members who has seen the group flourish shortly after its creation in 2007.
“When I first started here, I was on chemo and the shed gave me something else to think about,” he says. “I made pretty solid friends. There are some blokes here that I’d risk my life for.”
The reason for the creation of the shed was to help men deal with feelings of loneliness and depression at a time when the statistics for this are high. However, the shed has grown into so much more. It is a place for men’s creative expression, for true camaraderie.
Sister Coral Hedley from the order of the Sisters of Mercy, is one of the few women allowed into the sanctuary. And rightly so, as she helped create it. “I’ve been with them during the long haul. They’ve just worked so hard and I like to support them,” she said.
The Inverell Community Men’s Shed (48 Eucalypt Drive, Inverell) is open from 8.30 am to noon) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Participation for all men is free, and everyone is welcome.
How it all began
March 2007 Carol and Rhonda from the Inverell Mental Health Team attended a “Men’s Shed” presentation in Armidale and saw the need for one in Inverell to help improve the physical and mental well-being of men in the region.
April 2007 Inverell TAFE Campus Manager, Deb McMahon, organized a community focus group to discuss the idea of a shed for Inverell. The Mental Health team and Inverell TAFE formed a partnership in favour of the creation of the shed.
July 2007 Roy Powell from the Armidale Men’s Shed was invited to the Inverell TAFE Campus to deliver a presentation and provide additional information to the Inverell Community Men’s Shed focus group.
August 2007 Fortnightly meetings were held at Inverell TAFE Campus where community members were informed about the Inverell Community Men’s Shed program and progress.
September 2007 A “Steering Committee” was formed to look at different Men’s Shed models in order to ascertain how the one at Inverell would respond to the local community’s needs. The challenge was to find a suitable location.
October 2007 Dudley Gooda offered a shed in Ring Street that could be used at a nominal rent.
November 2007 The Inverell Community Men’s Shed initial aims and objectives were developed.