Aboriginal affairs

The men’s shed

JESS KEILY

A men’s shed is being incorporated into a community garden set up recently in Perth’s eastern suburbs with the aim of reconnecting local Aboriginal boys and men to their culture.

Langford Aboriginal Association has landscaped its backyard with bush tucker plants and a story-telling fire pit.

Between organic fruit and veggies and traditional shrubs and plants the local men have reserved a spot for their shed.

A men’s group, accommodating boys as young as 15 and men as old as 65, will use the male-only space to make traditional shields and didgeridoos.

Volunteer handyman, Henry Dia

LAA volunteer handyman Henry Dia is a self-confessed “oldie” of the men’s group.

Mr Dia says it is great to spend time with the younger boys.

“Once you start the young fellas coming through and they interact with us oldies, they can gain some knowledge from just working there and talking to us,” he says.

“It’s good for the young fellas to hear about our life experiences and hear our perspective, the fellow Aboriginal perspective.

The LAA men’s shed shares some similarities with men’s sheds set up as part of the Mibbinbah Indigenous Men’s Project at La Trobe University in Victoria.

The La Trobe project sought to identify, celebrate and discover the characteristics of existing Indigenous men’s sheds and spaces around Australia.

The Melbourne-based Lowitja Institute, that researches Indigenous health, has released a study showing Aboriginal people who engage in their culture are better-adjusted socially and emotionally.

The Langford men’s group is supported by David Hilton of Relationships Australia.

He says Aboriginal boys who have grown up in urban Perth are not always exposed to the Noongar culture traditionally passed down by their elders.

The Langford men’s group addresses issues such as mental health, depression, suicide and substance abuse.

Mr Hilton says many Aboriginal boys lack the role models that the men’s group at LAA provides.

“Often these blokes think it’s not acceptable to seek help, and this group is being used to break down those male dispositions,” he says.

Mr Dia says the group is a “big family” and all the generations support each other.

“I make it my business to physically stand out among the community to encourage young fellas to get out and have a go,” he says.

The men’s shed will be available to members of the men’s group whenever they need it, as well as at specific times for group sessions.

“The group is kind of like an informal counselling session,” Mr Hilton says.

“It’s just about having some space to talk about something on your mind.”

He says the shed is important as it links the physical work of building with the cultural work of passing down traditional knowledge.

“The men won’t use mainstream mental health services,” Mr Hilton says.

“So we need to be innovative with ideas that will make them feel comfortable and respected.”

The Men’s Shed is funded through Lotterywest.

Photograph: Jess Keily

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