A big shed where men make a real difference
It’s a cool winter’s morning and a small brick hall nestled amongst the eucalypts in the still of Glen Waverley’s Bogong Reserve is surprisingly busy.
The Monash Men’s Shed is nothing like the backyard tin structure my dad inhabited all those years ago.
Rows of benches, amply stocked with tools of every description and a dozen or so projects in various stages of completion, tightly occupy every vacant centimetre of floor space. Smaller rooms to the side of the main workshop boast a collection of paint tins Da Vinci and Michelangelo would struggle to use in a lifetime; shelves of electrical equipment awaiting repair and second chance at life; and a massive electric train set and model rail system that would have turned me green with envy as a small child.
Don is working the wood lathe furiously in the corner, the machinery in the metalwork wing is alive and singing while the aroma of the lasagne and green salad lunch – a bargain at $5 a serve – drifts in from the neighbouring hall.
Les, Jim and Terry take a coffee break in the corner of the workshop, their good-natured banter bouncing back and forth like a Nadal v Djokovic baseline rally at the French Open.
Jim, a member pretty much since the Monash Shed opened its doors, is quick to assure me that it’s always friendly and always respectful.
“Surprisingly, there’s very few swear words,” he smiles.
These days the trio reckon they spend as much time in the Shed as they would in a full-time job. But the opportunity to stay active and remain connected with their peers and their community is invaluable.
“It’s a great place to be, especially in winter. I’d rather be here using someone else’s heating,” Les laughs. “I’ve been here since I retired, it’s a way to keep my brain active. A neighbour was throwing out a power saw and I thought maybe someone could use it. I looked up the men’s shed, and I delivered it here.”
“Yes, we invite someone in and don’t let them out again,” Jim interjected. “But everyone looks out for each other, we’re all very different.”
Les noted that “too many completely healthy men reach retirement age and then pass away within six months” through lack of activity and connectivity. Being involved in Men’s Shed has given the trio a bond they’d lost elsewhere since finishing their working days.
“You build up a lot of friends,” Jim said. “And you really miss someone if they pass away and aren’t there anymore.”
The main purpose of the Men’s Shed movement is to improve the health and well-being of Australian men in their local neighbourhoods by providing a communal space where they can demonstrate their skills or learn new ones, contribute to their communities, make new friends and get information about health issues and other community programs that could benefit them.
It has long been noted that Australian men have a reluctance to discuss problems or seek help. The Men’s Shed provides a supportive environment where men can come together, share their mutual interests and gradually break down such barriers to conversation.
To that end, the motto of the Australian Men’s Shed Association is: “Men don’t talk face-to-face, they talk shoulder-to-shoulder”.
First opened in December 2010, the Monash Men’s Shed is one of the largest and best-equipped in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, boasting more than 100 active members who take part in a wide range of activities including woodwork, metalwork, painting, model trains, billiards and more.
The workshop has equipment that can be used by members, including metalworking and woodworking lathes, a planer/thicknesser and power saws, while the metalworking room also has welding and milling machinery.
The second hall at Bogong Reserve is an ideal venue for quieter pursuits and activities, like card games, art, creative writing, a maths club, computer skills, snooker and pool, while the gardening section oversees work in the community garden outside the hall.
There is little doubting the significance of the men’s shed movement in Australia.
“There’s more men’s sheds in Australia than McDonalds,” Aden Green, shed co-ordinator at Monash Men’s Shed, said. “There’s about 1000 McDonalds in Australia and we have about 1200 men’s sheds.”
He said the Monash venue was always busy, particularly for the weekly Wednesday lunches and the monthly Friday brunches.
“It gets the guys out of isolation and gives them a decent feed, particularly some of those who might be living alone,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun on those occasions and a lot of laughter going on.”
The abundance of equipment and experienced shed members able to impart their knowledge, makes it a great place to learn new skills.
“We do education by stealth,” Aden said. “We get a lot of people who come in with something like a broken coffee table and they say, ‘I have this table, is there anyone who can fix it?’. And we say, ‘Yes, you!’. From there we say, ‘what can we do to help you reach your goal?’.”
But beyond the carpentry and metalwork, the Shed plays a vital role in the health and wellbeing of participants.
“When I do a guided tour of the place, I always stop and point to the dining table and say, ‘that’s where we do our most important work’,” Aden said. “And they say, ‘what, like committees?’.
“No, it’s where we sit down, we talk and we take the Micky out of each other. That’s where we get our connectivity.”
Not only the connectivity between members – particularly discussing and sharing important health and wellbeing issues – but connectivity with the community. Aden said there was always a large roll-up of participants whenever there was the opportunity to build something that was then given back to the community.
The Monash Men’s Shed also prides itself on its efforts to be inclusive, with a number of members with disabilities who’ve joined through NDIS.
“Usually when a support worker contacts us to see what we can do, we usually say ‘the answer is Yes, now what’s the question?’,” Aden said.
NEED TO KNOW MORE?
What: Monash Men’s Shed
Where: Bogong Hall 1/49-77 Bogong Avenue, Bogong Reserve, Glen Waverley
When: Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 1.30pm
Who do I talk to: Greg Male (shed president)
How do I get in touch: