A Rural Educators contribution to the Mens Shed Movement.

By July 20, 2015Bush voices

The late Dick McGowan, as some people in Country Education Partnerships networks likely know, had a strong influence over the early days of the CEP, and more broadly rural education across Victoria.

Dick’s involvement in rural education dates back to the late 1970s where he was involved at a range of levels in the education world. Living and teaching within the Tongala community, he played a significant role in ensuring that children and young people were provided with a quality education within rural communities.

In addition, he played a lead role in the establishment of “The Cottage”, or the Tongala Community Education Centre, providing a range of education programs for the community in and around Tongala.

He also had a significant role at a state level, where he was the Director of the Country Education Project under the chairmanship of Dr. Don Edgar. Within this role he advocated for, and supported, the development of a range of education initiatives within rural and remote communities of Victoria that we often take for granted today.

Mens shed 1One of Dick’s other important influences, though less well known, is likely to come to greater public recognition with the imminent publication of The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men book. Invented in Australia the Men’s Shed Movement has spread from the backblocks of mainly rural Australia to reach a total of more than 1,400 Sheds in diverse countries on opposite sides of the world. The book provides the story of how it all unfolded, including 12 pages about the Dick McGowan Men’s Shed’ in Tongala, Victoria opened in July 1998 and likely the first Men’s Shed opened by that name in the world.

While the book by Professor Barry Golding of Federation University Australia tells the whole story, including the ‘back story’ of how a very small number of Sheds were created for men in community settings in rural South Australia from 1993 (several were simply called ‘The Shed’) it provides new evidence, unknown even by most shedders, that the Men’s Shed created in Tongala by Dick McGowan was the earliest ever. Part of the ‘spark’ that ignited the Movement was McGowan’s eloquent turn of phrase, his clarity of purpose and his exceptional ability to harness and enthuse rural communities and also the popular media. These were skills he also brought to the CEP and his similarly remarkable ‘School for Conductive Education’.

20163_windale3jpgMcGowan’s vision in relation to the Men’s Shed, put simply, was to create somewhere for men not in work to go to, to talk and do things together in a community setting.

Sadly Dick had a massive heart attack before “his Shed” was opened and died the year after it was opened – 1999.

A remarkable and subsequently very influential article is reproduced in the forthcoming book that originally appeared in a November 1998 National Australia Bank (NAB) publication Community Link called ‘There’s a place for us’. While several very early Australian Men’s Sheds between 1999 and 2001 from places as widespread as Port Augusta, Bendigo, Melbourne and Nambucca Heads had clearly read and been influenced by the article, even the NAB could not locate a copy, until a copy was finally obtained in the Victorian state library.

In recognition of Dick McGowan’s important contribution, Barry Golding has subtitled his book ‘’The Company of Men’, the name McGowan gave to the shedders (as they are now referred to) who McGowan stressed should be responsible for managing the shed at arms length from the Tongala Aged Care Centre that still auspices the Men’s Shed.

A local and very public Victorian launch of the book is planned in the Tongala Men’s Shed (as the same shed is now known) in Tongala on Monday 16 November at 1pm, appropriately called ‘Bringing it all back home’. All who are interested are very welcome.

Dr Sharman Stone MRH for the local seat of Murray has agreed to come back to officiate for the launch, as she did for the original opening in July 1998. The guest of honour is Ruth McGowan, who still participates in the Shed two days a week as an ‘honorary bloke’ making her hand-turned wooden pens. The event is being coordinated and promoted through the Australian and Victorian Men’s Sheds Associations and Federation University Australia through which Barry Golding works as an Adjunct Professor.

barryphotoThe book will be available for sale via Barry Golding b.golding@federation.edu.au by September 2015. More information about the history of Mens Sheds is available by clicking on: The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men

Barry anticipates undertaking a follow up project to the Men’s Shed book comprehensively documenting Dick McGowan’s other diverse contributions beyond his huge contribution to community education- including as an accomplished pianist, dance band musician and entertainer. If anyone has information or leads about Dick and his contributions they are willing to share, please email Barry directly.

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