Making a “shed life” for men

Rick Plummer showing off the cardboard cut-outs to be used at Australia Day celebrations on the Dromana foreshore. Photo by Mitchell Gardner.
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“Stick a bench and some tools between two guys, and they’ll yak for hours.” Mitchell Gardner speaks to the president of the Safety Beach/Dromana Men’s Shed about his experiences with the group.

Sitting down with Rick Plummer in the barely a week-old Safety Beach/Dromana Men’s Shed, his blue eyes glisten as he recounts his association with the club, much deeper than the concrete foundations of the building.

“I was 58 years old, and was working in administration with Australia Post at the time after being in the army for 26 years, and they offered me a package,” he says.

Since I had my history with the defence force, and Australia Post being a Government organisation, I was offered a payout for almost 42 years of work.

“About a week later, I was down at the local chemist with my wife and we saw a poster, advertising expressions of interest for people to launch a Men’s Shed in Safety Beach.”

Plummer was one of the founding members of the peninsula Men’s Shed, elected as treasurer at the inaugural annual general meeting in 2012 (and its president since 2014), largely due to his admin background, and knack for a sales pitch.

“We (men) are our own worst enemies. We don’t usually talk about personal problems or anything in everyday life,” he says.

But stick a bench and some tools between two guys, and they’ll yak for hours.”

After being told in 2014 that they were required to leave their Don Bosco Camp quarters, Plummer largely took it upon himself to attend countless council meetings and appointments in the hope to gain some vital funding.

“We spent a lot of our time fundraising by delivering phonebooks,” he says, “some of these guys are 80 years old or older, and they were wandering through Arthur’s Seat and McCrae delivering hundreds of the things.

“However, I still started to apply for grants to raise the funds for a new shed. There was one opportunity through the State Government where, for every dollar we raised they would double it, up to $60,000. The plan was to get a $40,000 grant from the Council, as well as the $60,000 from the Government.

“It was risky. We were either going to end up with $100,000, and a great foundation for a new shed, or nothing.

“We got nothing.”

The disdain is strong in Plummer’s face; it is clear that these countless meetings, opportunities and failed attempts for help were difficult times.

However, the fight for justice for the Men’s Shed was not over just yet.

“We weren’t going to give in, and that was just the start of a long process of me speaking with the council,” Plummer says.

“I kept on telling them that, even though we were no longer eligible for the $60,000, we still needed the $40,000.”

It ended up taking Plummer over three attempts to secure the funding for the Men’s Shed, following debts within council that were taking priority over volunteer funding.

However, all that mattered was that they got there in the end, and were able to, alongside countless hours of sausage sizzles, more phonebook deliveries and numerous other fundraisers, establish a home for themselves.

“There were so many sausages cooked, in fact, they could almost be laid end-to-end from Rosebud to Mornington and back,” Plummer says.

There’s something phenomenal about seeing a group of generally older men, from all walks of life, with a plethora of different opinions, thoughts and histories, come together and chat as if they were the best of mates from a lifetime ago.

The Safety Beach/Dromana Men’s Shed members gathered for a celebratory morning tea of party pies, sausage rolls and other snacks. Photo by Mitchell Gardner.

Phil OcCall, one oOne of the members of the Men’s Shed put it rather succinctly;

“This shed is the best way to get a break from it all, women included.

You can just talk s*** without worrying about getting in trouble.”

He attributed Plummer’s leadership skills largely to his time in the military.

“Because of his time (in the army), he knows there’s a process to follow to get things done.

A few of the other guys have the mindset of ‘if it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t’, but Rick knows how to put the processes in place, and it helps the group progress.”

When 15 or so men recently gathered around the shed dining tables to tuck into a morning tea of party pies, sausage rolls and other savory snacks, it seemed as though the same situation had occurred hundreds of times – when this was in fact their first official meal at location.

It was all coordinated seamlessly by Plummer. He directed those closest to the ovens to get the hot food prepared, those nearest to the other snacks to open and prepare them. Everyone had a job to do.

Graham Morris, another founding member, agrees.

“He’s put in a lot for the shed, and he does it all very well. Like many people in high positions, some people do ‘can him’ at times, but no-one is prepared to step up. He does a great job.”

Being in the Men’s Shed, and working with tools has been a longtime interest for Plummer, even though his brother was perhaps pegged to be the more “hands-on” son in their youth.

“Dad always used to give my brother the toolkits and woodworking gear, and me the sport and the cricket sets,” he says, “it was quite funny really, it should have been reversed!”

“I started out not wanting to work in a factory or anything, I wanted to work both indoors and outdoors – and that’s why I joined the army when I was younger.”

However, in his time in the military, Plummer discovered his talent in administrative and managerial skills, finding that he had more of a flair for these areas than the hands-on work.

“From the middle to the end of my paid career, I ended up working almost solely in administration.

I like computers, and I like technology, so I could combine my passions. When I got out of the army, it just seems natural to come here and help out with the admin work.”

Outside of “shed life”, Plummer is a father to two daughters and a son, and has four grandchildren.

“Just this morning I was at my youngest grandson’s school to watch him receive his spelling award for the prep year level!”

Plummer and the other men have been working together to create wooden cut-outs of animals and surfboards for Australia Day celebrations at Dromana.

“Every year, the kids love to decorate the cut-outs in their own styles,” he says. “I’s very rewarding, not only because of the children enjoying themselves, but also because we can take a step back and proudly say, ‘We made that’.”