In the past decade, there has been a movement in small towns across Australia borne out of greater recognition of improving men’s wellbeing — Men’s Sheds.
The sheds are a space where men from all walks of life can gather in an open and inclusive environment and share their feelings and thoughts without judgement, while having the opportunity to contribute to practical, hands-on projects to help their communities.
Robe resident John Davidson had observed this movement with great interest and saw the need for it in the small seaside community in South Australia.
“I settled in Robe 10 years ago but I have been coming back and forth on holidays with my wife for 50 years,” John said.
“Although Robe is a community, it is quite disparate. There are established landholders and visiting holidaymakers.
“Fishing and farming are both strong industries as well as real estate and trades, but there are people who fall out of those genres who needed a space to sit and tell their stories without any conditional requirements.
“I went to a few community meetings when I first arrived here and the notion of a Men’s Shed had been knocked around for a few years.”
In 2016, that notion became a reality when the Robe Men’s Shed was built. This was made possible by $10,000 in funding through the OneFortyOne Community Capacity Building Grant, administered by the Stand Like Stone Foundation, as well as other local charitable organisations.
“That grant was really quite ground-breaking for the Men’s Shed,” John said.
“The fact that OneFortyOne and Stand Like Stone saw fit to give us that grant is really the reason for the Robe Men’s Shed existing.”
John – who is President of the Robe Men’s Shed Association – says the overarching mission of the organisation is to improve men’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
“We occasionally have guest speakers at the Men’s Shed, but it’s more a case that people don’t have a specific need other than to sit around and be with people,” he said.
“The shed is an alcohol-free zone and a place for people to come and be accepted in a warm, receiving environment.”
The Robe Men’s Shed currently has about 20 members, with meetings having anywhere between five and 10 attendees.
Members can work on practical projects, with a significant recent project including the restoration of a fishing boat given to them by a local Robe family.
The boat, named Hunter, used to be the Robe Hotel’s fishing boat. It took hotel clients fishing out in Guichen Bay before the catch was then served for lunch at the hotel.
“That project was a great opportunity for our group,” John said.
“Our members put a lot of time and effort into restoring it and stabilising it. Hunter now resides on a pedestal out the front of the Men’s Shed.
“We have also done small projects such as basic home maintenance and we recently refurbished the outdoor tables and chairs for the Robe Primary School.”
While important, John says these projects are not the group’s primary priority.
“The most important part is the meetings which are held, with the only condition being respect and adherence to the constitutional rules of the Men’s Shed,” he said.
“There is no expectation for people to come and no expectation for people to stay. If they do come to meetings, there is no expectation for them to join in; they can sit by the fire and read a book.
“It’s a place away from home where they can be without judgement. That’s been a huge benefit for a number of people because they keep coming back, and those that don’t still keep in touch.
“What I have observed is there is a comfort in knowing there is a place where men can go where they are not going to be judged. Anything else that comes after that is a bonus.”