A History of the Men's Shed

Initial Connections: The "Shedless Men"

Note: All shed members have been made anonymous for the purposes of this project. Their words are sourced from recorded group discussion.

Given the move to different forms of power sources - notably electricity -  the Australian Gaslight Light Company began to sell its property to Rosecorp Pty Ltd, beginning the transition process in 1998. Conferring land ownership to Rosecorp developers block by block, it wasn’t long until the first residents started moving into Breakfast Point. The entire suburb was planned around a vision of low-density apartment homes. Bordering the parramatta river, Breakfast Point would offer scenic views, green space and a market area - its very own community.

Rose Group’s Master Plan of Breakfast Point, Feb 22 2013. The North-East corner has been built since 2013 into medium density dwellings. 

Amongst such early development, the need for social interaction was pivotal. One of the shed members recalls how people initially began to form connections within the community. 

 

                     “2002 was when people first moved in …  the originals who moved in went on right at the  perimeter of Breakfast Point. So down near the edge of Breakfast Point they used to have a big Christmas tree up and have a big Christmas celebration, and that’s how people first started to get to know each other … ”

 

Local events such as the Christmas celebrations gave new residents an opportunity to interact with one another. As a place just coming into existence, these first arrivers set the culture and tone of the new suburb. One that deeply valued collaboration, support and community. This was especially significant seeing as Breakfast Point developed as a strata community. The residents and their collective association were and remain responsible for its day to day upkeep. To that end, the concerns of the public space have been tended to by those that live within, not the City of Canada Bay Council. 

 

The growing number of retirees in the area increasingly found themselves either bored or alienated from their newly found residency. The move from familiar home to fresh apartment stripped retirees out of their old social circles. Many retired women had formed knitting clubs, book clubs and weekly meets.

 

 

                      “The women obviously had lots of things their things that they get involved in, but a lot of guys who came out of homes suddenly found themselves in apartments and things like that, they didn’t have that network of male company.”

 

Upon talking to the Shed Members, there seemed to be a consensus that male socialisation was lacking.  One recalled how the formation of the Shed really begun, through the creation of the “Shedless Men.”

                     “Well there were one or two individuals that y’know, decided that there were quite a few people that were retired, they thought it would be a good idea for men to meet up once a week to just have a cup of coffee.”

 

These first few men, including Breakfast Point Men’s Shed founder John Clarke, met for coffee once a week to simply chat. From there, news of these weekly meets rapidly grew across the suburb, gathering the attention of some 50 to 60 men. The coffee group, now too large for a single cafe, migrated to the empty conference rooms within Breakfast Point’s Community Association. It only took a single suggestion from this group of “Shedless Men” to begin the process of creating a Men’s Shed. A dedicated place where socialisation could occur over the creation of different woodwork projects.

 

                        “it was out of that larger group that the suggestion came ‘we could have a men’s shed here’. So then we started to look around at what the options were. That’s when negotiations were made”

The Shed Forms

On August 8th 2012, after deliberation and with the Breakfast Point Community Association - the governing body of public affairs at Breakfast Point - founder John Clarke along with a handful of men secured the old gas works gatehouse as the site of the Shed. They were given 12 months to create and prove the benefits a Shed could have to community members. If this happened, an extendable 5 year tenure was permitted. Today, the site of the old gatehouse, turned shed, is located on Magnolia Drive.

 

Once given access to the gatehouse, the men began to clean it. Ever since AGL had vacated the area, the gatehouse fell into disrepair. It was no longer being used as the weigh-bridge. Where once trucks transported materials in and out of the area, there was now nothing to weigh. The Community Association had used the spare space as a junk site since, throwing all sorts of materials - wood, cloth and other rubbish into the area. 

 

‘We (The Members) got in and did all the work to make it a liveable space’

The final product of all the cleaning that occurred in 2012.  The men were beginning to carve out their own space.

Having cleared the Shed, the place quickly became an area to socialise in, but was still running off donations from the community. Limited funds had yet to be raised in the first few years of the organisation. A member mentioned that in the early days, ‘We had no furniture, it was all just donated stuff, all secondhand stuff.

Some initial shed members enjoying a meal. Note the Shed as yet to be filled with important machines for sanding, drilling and cutting. Crucial building supplies are yet to be acquired.

The Shed: A Constant Project

Over its short life, the gatehouse has been transformed from its original, disrepaired state. Thanks to the work put in by the group, the working Shed has received substantial upgrades, both for the site and for construction processes. Since its inception, the Shed has sold many of its creations to purchase new equipment. 

 

We fundraise by things we make in the shed, like the pens, we’ve done serving boards and things like that. We have a christmas stall outside IGA where we sell them’

 

The men also have a stall on Breakfast Point oval each year at the spring fair. In addition to this, due to their extensive community work (see here for their achievement and contributions) they have developed a strong relationship with Bunnings. Quarterly, the men run a sausage sizzle at Ashfield’s Bunnings to raise funds for the Shed and engage with the public.

BBQ Fundraiser at Ashfield Bunnings, 2016

Importantly, these actions have transformed the state of the Shed into a welcoming environment, where members can work on home or community projects. The most recent addition to the site occurred in November 2019, where pavers were placed at the entranceway to the building. These primarily allowed for ease of access, but also gave the men a great platform to enjoy a beer in the afternoon sun.

 

Community grants have also helped to improve the building:

 

‘We had a community grant to implement our storage system, and a secondary community grant to redo all our floors. ‘

 

The improvements were significant and added to the ‘homeliness’ of the place, as expressed by a number of the men. The new flooring in particular removed the carpet and old floorboards that held onto sawdust.

Newly bought equipment. In this case, a saw. 2018.

Pre (Top) and Post (Bottom) installation photos of the new storage units courtesy of the Stronger Communities Grant in 2019. This greatly improved organisation of hand-held tools, nails, paints and the like, decluttering the environment

(Top) Preparing for the new flooring to be put down in the "Cave"

(Bottom) Completed flooring

As of the 1st of January, 2019 the Men’s Shed has secured their spot in the gatehouse for another 10 years. Whereas before, the Shed had taken the space casually and according to temporary arrangement, now the Shed has entered a formal lease with the Community Association. The Shed’s drastic improvement over only a handful of years is a testament to the men that have spent their free time running and fundraising it. They have created a space that is hospitable to regular and visitor alike.

© 2019 by William Blanks, University of Sydney. Proudly created with Wix.com

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