Take a shed, add cluey old blokes, and watch boys thrive

By Michael Bradley
October 9, 2004


Nambucca Heads used to be a small town with big problems.

Unemployment rates of 20 per cent among the male population have not been uncommon in recent times, while many men left school before their 16th birthday.

Yet out of this environment has emerged a tool so effective in combating men's health issues and depression that it is soon to be replicated across the state.

For Nambucca Heads, salvation lay in the construction of a shed.

Staff at the Nambucca Valley Community Services Council first realised in 2000 that an influx of retired men into the area was producing serious problems. The transition to a North Coast retirement home and the leaving behind of a home and shed was causing many to become socially isolated and depressed.

The Nambucca Men's Shed was created that year, in an attempt to provide the men with a place to gather, talk and use the skills they had developed through their working lives. But in the following four years, it has evolved into much more.

Within a year it was being used as a place to assist boys identified as being at risk of not finishing school and in need of positive role models. The shed's older, original, attendees were being sent to TAFE to be trained as mentors.

These days, men ranging in age from their 30s to 50s are regular visitors. Many are participating in accredited work for the dole and community service projects. Producing everything from boutique sailing boats to boomerangs, the men have built display cabinets for the local museum and boat trailers for a Coffs Harbour-based group of disabled sailors. They take orders online and sell many of their products at local agricultural shows and markets.

Bill O'Hehir, a psychologist at Southern Cross University who specialises in men's health issues, has been appraising the Shed's impact for two years and describes it as the best project of its kind in the country.

"It's a very unorthodox way of fighting depression but it is brilliant, because it takes a ground-up approach," he said. "Whereas most programs dealing with men's health relate to prostate, heart, and blood pressure, this deals with the issues which lead to three men committing suicide each day in Australia."

Other communities are now taking notice, with representatives from 18 NSW towns trying to establish a men's shed of their own, gathering last month for an information session in Sydney.