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Do-it-yourself for men's health
All across Victoria there are CFA members who are also active in their local Men’s Shed. And no wonder: both organisations are the ideal fit for know-how can-do men.
That connection is made of cement board and tin in Newstead … because the old fire station is now the Men’s Shed.
John Alexander is a member of both organisations and also has the old Guildford Fire Station as his backyard shed. He’s a tinkerer of the first order, while double member Alastair Jessop said, “I’ve never worked with timber so the guys as the Shed teach me”.
The emphasis at the Men’s Shed is not on high-level skills – although all their wooden toys are thoroughly tested by the kidlets at Newstead Kinder – but low key companionship. Tea cups and coffee mugs are essential equipment; just as important as the thicknessers, electric planers, grinders and belt sanders which jostle for space.
“We open all day on a Tuesday,” said Alastair, “and most of the morning we’ll sit around and have a chat. It’s a space that really opens up conversation. Men’s welfare and fellowship is paramount. It’s building up men if they’re down. Some senior citizens who enjoy that shed environment come and we’ll entertain them with a cuppa and a chat.
“The door’s open that day so locals can come and buy or drop off all kinds of things. We got a 150-year-old redgum stump post to work on, for example.”
Perhaps surprisingly, both men agree that the easy way women enjoy each other’s company is a model for Men’s Sheds. Women like being with other women; men like having space with other men: no further explanation needed.
While Newstead Men’s Shed members range in age from mid 50s to mid 80s, anyone who likes working in a team is welcome to join. If you can tell a dirty joke, that’s a bonus.
“We have a swearing tin, but you don’t have to be politically correct,” said John. “You can hear the laughter when you’re outside the shed.
“We’re luckier than most because we’re involved in the fire brigade as well. Sunday mornings down at the station, you keep up to date. You hear if someone’s been a bit down or a bit sick. In CFA you’re doing something for the community that’s pretty valuable but the Men’s Shed has that side to it too.”
The main volunteer force in Maldon is spread across CFA, the Men’s Shed and the Maldon Vintage Machinery Museum. There’s a buzz around town in mid-spring as members prepare for a range of local agricultural shows and festivals within easy driving distance of Ballarat, Bendigo and Melbourne.
Maldon 1st Lieutenant Peter Thompson is committed to all three organisations and enjoys the benefits of a connected life.
“Whatever you can bring is really valuable,” he said. “Your time and your effort are valuable. If you don’t want to get on the fire truck, brigades need people to be on the radio or do admin.
“At the Men’s Shed, everyone has a different ability and you’re not expected to do more than you can. There’s a good bond between the members. The support there makes it feel like an extended family, like CFA.
“We might have men come to the Shed who’ve lost a wife or partner and they’re retired. They’ve been isolated but you can see them come back to life and keep busy.”
Walmer Fire Brigade member and ex-captain Andrew Chapman is also a Maldon Men’s Shed and museum regular. As a former mechanic and District Mechanical Officer, Andrew is up to his elbows in engine grease. He had a display at the recent Mucklefest of an old hay baler and chaff cutter and also took part in the vintage tractor pull.
“It gives me something different to farming,” said Andrew. “I work 1850 acres by myself so it’s good to mix with CFA and the museum and lend a hand.”
Maldon Men’s Shed dwarfs the Newstead facility which means more tools but – perhaps more importantly – room for both a kitchen table and a pool table.
The Shed recently hosted a Beyond Blue depression information night for men and Peter believes it was the ideal location.
“Often men don’t talk about health issues but they do talk at the Shed,” he said. “It’s a healthy environment where men connect.
“It’s not just about looking after yourself but looking after your mates. In CFA, firefighting is the main thing but we need the good comradeship to support us through some dangerous situations. At the Men’s Shed, working on projects can be just a sideline to men watching out for each other and enjoying the company.”