12 May 2017

I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. But, like all things, sometimes the bush doesn’t fully love blokes back.

Men Love Bush
Not all men, obviously, but a lot of Aussie blokes can’t get enough of wild, untamed landscape – to put it simply, they love the bush.

We know what you’re thinking you dirty bugger, but we’re not talking about the type you glimpsed in 1970’s French films on SBS when you were a kid!

No, we’re talking about the harsh, but beautiful Australian countryside and the men who love her.

I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.
But like all things, sometimes the bush doesn’t fully love blokes back.

Just like their city mates, men in rural and regional Australia are struggling with mental health issues every day. The number of people affected is pretty similar in the country and the city, but there are some alarming statistics about mental health in the bush, like the fact farmers are twice as likely as city blokes to take their own life.

For a country built on the sheep’s back, this is bloody tragic.

One of the biggest problems blokes in the country face is an increased sense of isolation and loneliness. Someone who noticed this in his own community and decided to do something about it is John Harper, a wheat and sheep farmer from southern NSW. After battling depression himself Harper founded Mate Helping Mate (MHM), a program to address depression in rural communities.

Harper’s philosophy is that “mates care about you, and enjoy you in the good times. And mates care about you, and support you in the bad times.” Helping blokes in the bush identify when these bad times are, either for themselves or their mates, is at the heart of what MHM does.

The program uses creative and social self-help strategies to connect with people; but Harper is no Doctor Phil, he’s a tough as nails bushman and he speaks to blokes in a way they understand and respect. The only bullshit you’ll find anywhere near a MHM workshop is in the paddock outside!

Men in the bush face the same relationship and family pressures as city blokes, but they also have to deal with greater unemployment and, often, the devastating consequences of droughts, floods and bushfires. As communities become increasingly fractured as more people move away to the cities, it’s much easier for men to become isolated and suffer depression silently and alone.

Blokes are not good at talking about their problems at the best of times, but when your nearest neighbour is twenty K’s away and the local pub is fifty, men are even less likely to find a mate to chat to. The stoic bushman might occasionally talk to his cattle dog, but most of them don’t talk back.

Which is why Men’s Shed’s are so important to many rural communities across the country. The backyard shed is an Aussie icon – a slab of concrete, four tin walls, a leaky roof and a few Redbacks hiding in the shadows. For years they’ve been refuges for individual blokes to work on their projects, watch a game or just escape the household stress for a while. Now men can come together to do these same things at one of the more than 930 Men’s Sheds across Australia.

But Men’s Shed’s aren’t just about restoring cars and escaping the missus; they’re about building a sense of community among men and encouraging them to take care of their mental well being. Men’s Shed’s are a safe environment where blokes are encouraged to seek support if they’re suffering from mental health issues; but they’re also just a welcoming place you can go if you want a good cuppa and a yarn.

Country blokes are tough bastards who take droughts, floods and bushfires in their stride. But even the toughest bastard needs a hand if he’s battling the black dog. Now, with educators like John Harper and support groups like local Men’s Sheds across Australia, blokes who love the bush are starting to find out that the bush loves them back.

This article was first published on www.manup.org.au.