19 December 2023

How the Goulburn Men’s Shed puts a nail in despair

| John Thistleton
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man in workshop

Goulburn Men’s Shed president Charles McIntosh says other community groups rely on their repair services and more Men’s Sheds from across the region are networking with them. Photos: John Thistleton.

If it were not for a woman starting a men’s shed in Goulburn, several men would not be alive, the NSW Parliament was told in 2009. Then-Member for Goulburn Prue Goward made the observation speaking on behalf of Helen Benton, who had the foresight to convene a Men’s Shed group and later help it become incorporated to enable sustaining fundraising.

The Men’s Shed was founded as a response to widespread suicides among men, many of them farmers. A former executive officer of the Southern Region Community College, Helen teamed up with a benevolent patron, John Cordukes from Towrang, who helped her start a small group of men meeting regularly. From there they’ve never looked back.

We will never know how many men have been lifted from depression, but the Men’s Shed’s thriving enterprises are a powerful antidote to loneliness and despair.

The men are repairing and recycling bikes, making nesting boxes and raiding bee hives to pay the shed’s bills. They’re selling sausages at Bunnings, raffling loads of wood and undertaking people’s fiddly little jobs that tradies won’t touch because there’s not enough profit in them.

“It will never make us rich, but will make people’s lives richer,” president Charles McIntosh said.

And like the rest of his colleagues at the Men’s Shed, he does not accept the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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“You would be surprised,” Charles said. “If we can’t teach them, they can teach us. Apart from bringing in people with depression, there are a lot of people out there who have skills that they are itching to reuse.”

Thanks to these blokes, nurses in Rwanda have bikes. Goulburn kids whose parents can’t afford bikes have them. A group of Fijians who have arrived in Goulburn to work at Southern Meats and a poultry enterprise have their bikes as well.

Coming from Canberra, the bikes are sorted and shipped off to Sydney and then sent to African countries and Pacific Islands, or given a second life in Goulburn for people in need. The Men’s Shed’s Ray McDonald takes charge of this activity, helped by others.

The shed’s many enterprises are critical to paying bills such as insurances, purchasing and maintaining members’ tools, and outlays for leasing fees from Australian Rail Track Corporation, keeping the lights on and doors open.

An even better outcome from the fundraising are men who once thought they were past their use-by dates rediscovering their skills, and feeling wanted once more.

Charles recounts an accomplished craftsman discarding his tools, abandoning his workspace at home and changing his address after suffering several strokes. His future looked bleak.

three men in office

Secretary Ian Marsh (standing), Malcolm Townsend and Peter Shepherd are among 45 members of the Goulburn Men’s Shed.

“Now he comes in here, he can’t do a lot at the moment because he has other issues, but in amongst the tools he feels at home. He is going to start doing things,” Charles said.

He said people were not directed to do things, they were encouraged. Given a free hand, they inevitably found their way back into using their skills.

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People come calling for the Men’s Shed’s services for many reasons. A breeder of ringneck parrots needed eight breeding boxes to hang in his aviaries, with the bottoms made so eggs laid would roll into the middle.

For three or four years, wildlife group WIRES engaged the Men’s Shed to make boxes to rehome possums.

“That was good income for us as well,” said Ian Marsh, the Men’s Shed’s long-serving secretary.

A young man mentally impaired since a car jack gave way, causing him life-changing injuries, has over the years become fond of Ford Falcons. His sister came into the Men’s Shed asking if a jigsaw about the size of an A4 page with large pieces could be made with an image of a Ford Falcon and went away with the exact article.

Years later she returned, saying her brother wanted two more jigsaws made.

“It’s wonderful. It’s given the family a new lease of life,” the man’s sister said. “He is occupied and they are not as worried about him.”

man in vegetable garden

Malcolm Townsend overlooking raised garden beds and a hothouse in the background at the Men’s Shed. He and his colleagues are raising potatoes, zucchini, and many varieties of tomatoes. A small set of jewellery draws belonging to a woman’s grandfather was repaired and polished up at the Men’s Shed.

“Her children wanted to throw it away, it was ‘firewood’,’’ Charles said.

The men’s handiwork and restored goods are offered for sale in The Shed Shop, at 67 Blackshaw Road, which opens to the public monthly. If you would like to join the Men’s Shed, call 047 3871 622 or email: [email protected].

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