The role of Mens Sheds in Remote Indigenous Communities
We usually think of Men’s Sheds as
places where older men in the suburbs catch up with their mates, perhaps fix some
furniture or learn about how to send emails.
The Men’s Shed movement has been a great
success in Australia, mainly because it gives men a place where they can talk
and share experiences with other men in a safe and supportive environment. The
health benefits of Men’s Sheds are widely recognized.
We have also found they can play an important role in remote Indigenous communities as part of CatholicCare NT’s Community Development Program (CDP).
There are a few differences, however, between our sheds and those you might find in a city.
Nearly all the men have grown up within
a strong Indigenous culture. Many have little formal education and the station
jobs their fathers and grandfathers were so proud of have largely disappeared.
We established our Men’s Sheds in Santa Teresa, Titjikala and Finke in response to this loss of employment, and, in many cases, the subsequent loss of personal dignity and identity that comes with satisfying work.
So how do we help? We provide a supportive ‘work-like’ environment where men come on workdays to make things for the community. This might include fixing furniture or repairing a car, making traditional crafts or fire-pots during the winter, or taking tools out into the community to do odd jobs.
Our focus is always local, and many of
our materials are recycled from the local tip.
We also have regular training courses
and bush trips for participant. We build literacy and numeracy into all our CDP
programs where possible.
Another key part of our work is
encouraging the men to value their labour, so where practicable they receive
payment for their work.
Like all Men’s Sheds, probably the most
important function is regular social interaction with mates away from the home
environment. This gives the whole family breathing space.
Men’s Sheds do not appeal to everyone, which is why we have other CDP activities like a media space or community garden for participants. However, for those who enjoy working with their hands and ‘making stuff’, a Men’s Shed can be a good place to spend some time.