Forrestdale Men’s Shed — Adjournment Debate
Date:Thursday, September 24, 2009
HON ALISON XAMON (East Metropolitan) [5.25 pm]: I will unashamedly use this time to spread some joy and talk about a positive story from my electorate. One of the best parts about being a member of Parliament is that we have the opportunity to meet interesting people and look at the positive things that are happening in our electorates. Last month I had the honour of being invited to the opening of the Forrestdale Men's Shed. This shed represents an enormous amount of work by Terry Thompson in particular, and also a lot of other men from Armadale. It was a very interesting experience to go to a men's shed because I had not been to one before, although I had heard some very positive things about the Mensheds movement and the things it is doing for men, particularly for those with mental health issues. The shed is on a very large property. It is quite a big and very simple shed. A lot of tools have been donated and a lot of work has been done on it. The men are building gardens and creating community plots in which people can grow their own vegetables. They had a big lamb on a spit, which they generously offered to share with me, but this vegetarian politely declined. It was really lovely. It was a terrific opportunity to talk to a lot of the men about why they are attracted to the Mensheds movement and what they hoped to get out of it.
I acknowledge their hard work and take the opportunity to share with members information about the Mensheds movement in general. The Mensheds movement has been referred to as the fastest growing phenomenon in Australia. The Forrestdale shed is one of approximately 300 men's sheds across Australia. There is nothing new about the idea of men's sheds or Aussie males swapping yarns in their sheds. The shed holds a very important place in the Australian psyche, particularly the Australian male psyche, and it plays a significant role in Australian male culture. In some ways, the demise of the backyard shed, as we build on ever smaller blocks and as people's recreational activities become more insular and they buy bigger televisions and change the way they recreate, mirrors a loss of support for many men, not all men, across a wide range of areas. The Mensheds movement has arisen in the past 15 years or so to fill this gap. Men's sheds provide a communal space for men in which to socialise, enjoy comradeship and engage in constructive activity. Importantly, it is a space where men can belong.
Mensheds is a grassroots movement. I will talk about that in particular because it is one of the movement's major strengths. Importantly, it has emerged in the absence of any policy framework and largely with no interference or support from either state or federal governments. As a result, the sheds are quite diverse. They range from informal garages to quite large industrial complexes, and they are located all over the place in both rural and metropolitan areas. Each shed has been crafted according to whatever the local community needs and wants. There is a really important lesson for government in that. I am not saying that we should not support the Mensheds movement, many of the sheds are supported in various ways by different levels of overnment across the country, but we must acknowledge that it is being run extremely well without being told what to do by policymakers.
Menshed's members include all sorts of men, particularly a lot of older and retired men, as well as young men, unemployed men, men with mental health problems and Aboriginal men. One particularly valuable aspect of the Mensheds movement is the ability to reach older and isolated men, many of whom are facing issues associated with significant change, including ageing, health, retirement, isolation, unemployment, disability and also separation. A national vocational education and training research and evaluation program report that was published in 2006 found that half of the men involved in men's sheds are not members of any other community organisation and men's sheds was their only opportunity to be with other people. This finding demonstrates how effective men's sheds is at reaching those otherwise hard to reach and quite vulnerable members of our society.
Among the benefits experienced by the men involved is a positive effect on men's physical and mental health. It is the importance of mental health that is particularly attractive to me. A report was commissioned by Mensheds Australia last year that found that men's sheds achieved positive health, happiness and wellbeing outcomes for men who participate, as well as for their partners, families and communities. I am going to refer to an article that appeared in Consult magazine about men's sheds delivering real health benefits. The article refers to research that is starting to look at the issue of perhaps providing men's sheds in aged-care facilities. I note that there are members here who would be very interested in this as well, and perhaps looking at this as a solution to deal with men who find themselves in aged-care facilities who are particularly feeling the isolation. Those of us who have something do with aged-care facilities would know that a lot of the activities that are usually offered in these environments are fairly sedentary, which is good for some people but not for everybody.
I refer members to the report into suicide prevention, which has been tabled, and note that the sort of men who are attracted to the Mensheds movement are in the category of high risk, which had been identified before - older men. It serves an important purpose in that regard as well.
It was interesting for me to be invited along. I did not quite know what to expect. As a feminist I did not know whether it would be some sort of woman-bashing exercise with men coming up to me and asking, "What are you doing here, Sheila?" and this sort of thing. It was not anything like that. I cannot tell members how welcome I was made to feel. It was just wonderful to be with these people, to hear their stories, and to talk about their motivation for wanting to do things. I walked away feeling inspired and moved by what these men are trying to do.
Again, I want to congratulate the members of the Forrestdale Men's Shed in particular, although I note that the Fremantle Men's Shed people were there as well. If members can get down to take a look at what they are doing, I highly recommend it. I acknowledge Terry Thomson and all of his work, and the wonderful contribution that is being made by this movement and the way they are building on a new wave of Australian tradition. I urge all members to seek out men's sheds in their own electorates and to go along and look at what they are doing because it is a very positive thing.