Working in a profession that one is passionate about can be both a blessing and a curse. A fervent belief in the worth of one’s contribution while immensely satisfying, has the potential to become all consuming leaving little room for other activities such as hobbies and sports that may help fill the days when retirement finally arrives. The term ‘workaholic’ comes to mind. Such was my experience and I was ill prepared for the transition with few interests outside of work. At an age when I felt I still had much to give, I was confronted by the seemingly impenetrable barrier prevalent among many employers who believe those of retirement age have little to offer. Such rejection is a bitter pill that can lead to well documented health issues. I was already on that path.
‘Why don’t you try the Mudgee Men’s Shed’* my wife suggested in response to my quest to find a meaningful and enjoyable way to allay post retirement blues. I was immediately dismissive, conjuring the image of a bunch of old farts getting together to while away the hours by telling endless war stories, jokes and tales of fiction dressed as fact and all under the guise of doing something useful?
With no better alternative, the least I could do was see if my imagined scenario matched reality. Traipsing through the superbly equipped metal and woodworking workshops the following Monday I was surprised to find not a soul at work. Moments later I came across the reason why. It was the morning tea break, an event that can last an hour and around the table twenty or so members were engaged in animated discussion about world and local events and issues affecting one another. Humour and laughter punctuated the discussion and the enjoyment was plain to see.
By chance I had discovered the heart of the Shed; a supportive network of like-minded men who were determined to get the most out of life by sharing every day experiences and by helping one another with practical projects out in the workshops. Certainly, there was no shortage of rollicking tales and recollections of humorous life experiences, but digging a little deeper it quickly became apparent why the Shed has proved to be a life changing influence for many of the members.
As a newcomer I was surprised by the egalitarian nature of the membership. Members come from all walks of life including fitters and turners, tradesmen, self employed businessmen, consultants, mechanics, lawyers, teachers, merchant seamen, farmers and more. Collectively they bring to the Shed an immense range of skills and life experiences that are shared by the members; a rich resource that is capable of creating or fixing almost anything and providing support to weather the many mental and physical ailments common amongst retirees. And despite the broad spectrum of skills, experience and levels of education, members regard one another as equals. There is no hierarchy, just a common desire to share and enjoy what each has to offer. While most members are of a mature age, what counts above all is a willingness to engage with others, regardless of age or background.
Members cite a number of reasons for participating in Shed activities. Many of those who have retired have in common a need to feel useful or have a purpose in life and to continue making a contribution to society whether it be through creative Shed activities or the reciprocal process of supporting the mental and physical well being of fellow members. The routine of attending the Shed twice per week (Mondays and Wednesdays) restores a sense of order reminiscent of working days and allows members to plan ahead with a positive attitude of achievement and anticipation. And the camararderie and mateship resulting from regular attendance builds a fraternity of respect and understanding which is so apparent in the way personal and general issues are discussed with refreshing candour, often laced with self deprecating humour.
Some members have joined to address issues of loneliness and isolation; a very common situation amongst farmers and one that can lead to depression, sadness and other health issues. Many have found willing listeners and understanding among the Shed fraternity that has helped to restore balance, hope and happiness.
And so it is time to eat some humble pie. The Mudgee Men’s Shed is not simply a bunch of old farts reminiscing glory days. It is a haven for those who seek friendship or a desire to build their sense of self worth through sharing experiences with like minded individuals. And yes there are a number of old farts present, myself amongst them.
* Mudgee is a small country town 260 kilometres NW of Sydney, NSW, Australia.