21 October 2022

Yass Valley Men's Shed stalwart honoured for community service

| Sally Hopman
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Two men and a woman

Wayne Stuart, left, with his wife Claudia and the Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, after the investiture at Government House on Monday. Photo: Office of the Governor-General.

Wayne Stuart stood proudly at Government House this week as the Governor-General, David Hurley, pinned the Order of Australia medal on his jacket.

After the two shared a few quiet words at the official investiture on Monday, 17 October, the Governor-General was heard to say, “Yass has one of the best organised Men’s Sheds in Australia”.

For Wayne, a foundation member of the Yass Valley Men’s Shed, it was music to his ears. Especially as he was accompanied to Government House by the Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, who lobbied for the shed’s establishment in 2008.

When the Yass Shed opened its doors, it had about 20 men signed up. Today it boasts more than 100 on its books.

Wayne was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division for services to the community of Yass. Moving with his wife Claudia to the rural community in 2003 from Canberra to be closer to his family, Wayne has used his skills as a former public servant in areas ranging from finance to transport, logistics and management skills, to benefit the shed and its members.

“I’m one of the shiny bums,” he joked. “We have some blokes who know how engines work, others who do other things – we all work well together.”

Wayne said he was both humbled and surprised to be nominated for the award. “My first reaction was that I could not be here without the constant support and encouragement of my wife of 50 years,” he said. “Throughout my life I have tried always to be positive, enjoy life, do my best and help where I can.

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“Doesn’t everyone? To be recognised for doing that is just amazing and I am very grateful.”

Wayne said although he was honoured to receive the award, he was only part of the Men’s Shed team. Establishing such a group in Yass, he said, had always been Allan McGrath’s “baby”. “Back then”, he said, local blokes “were doing it tough”. There was no place to meet or talk except for a cafe or the pub, both of which could get too expensive – or “you’d be asked to leave if you stayed too long”.

After a public meeting where men from a nearby shed were invited to Yass to talk about what they did, the decision was made.

“There were about 40 people at that first meeting and I remember all the women saying, ‘yes please’ to starting a shed and all the blokes saying the same too,” Wayne said.

Yass Men’s Shed members became the proud custodians of a former service station site at the end of town, courtesy of the council.

Having a Men’s Shed in Yass, like in many country towns, meant so much more than just a place for blokes to go. Yes, it was a place to learn new skills, teach old ones and help the comunity when needed. But it could also be, according to long-term members like Wayne Stuart, a life-saver.

Order of Australia certificate

Foundation member of the Yass Valley Men’s Shed Wayne Stuart was awarded an OAM for services to his community. Photo: Supplied.

With mental health issues rampant in country towns where medical facilities are so much rarer than in the cities, having a place where men can go, just to talk, to realise that whatever their problem, they’re not alone, can and does save lives, Wayne said.

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He recalls one member who told him he would have taken his own life had it not been for the support he received at the shed. “In the country especially these days,” Wayne said, “there are a lot of blokes with issues – loneliness, anger, relevance issues. Some might have lost the will to live or feel they have little self value.

“Where the Men’s Shed is different to other groups which do a lot of outreach, we do more inreach. Blokes who come in and feel hard done by, we might talk, discuss things and they’ll hear about people who have really been really damaged … by bushfires or drought.”

New members are always welcome at the Yass Valley Men’s Shed. More information is available on the website.

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