If you head down to the Narrabri railway station, there is a block of smart-looking sheds off to the left, where you’ll find a workshop, furniture, and some good, honest stories from real men.
What started over at the showgrounds in 2010 has turned into a 33-member camaraderie of characters, from vampires, clock men, teachers, travellers, seasoned servicemen, cowboys, truck drivers, and plenty more, though some may be a little shy to divulge.
They may not be as chatty until you get a good number of biscuits into them at morning tea on Friday, but they love a good game of cards.
Morning tea is $3 for Men’s Shed members, and the stack of biscuits is impressive.
There’s mention of Ian Schweitzer’s scones, or the lack of them at the day’s meeting.
Members of Probus, Old Gaol Museum, the Narrabri Show Society, Meals on Wheels, and plenty more, all gather.
There’s mention of founding member Ron Wood’s brother Cecil who has now passed away; a brilliant horseman who rode his pony into the Tourist Hotel for a drink.
And Elvis, who used to ride a horse backward into town and kept ten pounds in his hat.
There’s mention of gravediggers and Pilliga Princess sightings, but these are all tidbits of stories you pick up from the numerous conversations unfolding around you because your ears won’t know where to insert themselves.
“You’ll find a fair few farmers here but most of them are up on that board now,” someone jokes.
You might laugh along heartily with everyone until they point at the wall, and you realise that the board is a memorial, commemorating past Men’s Shed members.
Mr Schweitzer calls for a bit of decorum so he can go over the day’s notices, then puts out the call for “honest but good stories.”
The silence is a little discouraging.
To warm up the cold feet in the room, he bravely puts himself in the firing line, introduces himself, and instructs his comrades to stop laughing immediately.
“I am a hospital scientist and a good vampire,” said Mr Schweitzer.
“I have seen about 500,000 veins in 55 years, and technology has increased so much in that time.
“Some tests would take 1.5 hours to get a result; now instruments take five minutes and produce 20 results.
“There was no blood bank, so if someone wanted a blood transfusion, you would ring up a donor in the middle of the night and the ambulance would bring them up, we’d stick the needle in their arm, give them some tea and a biscuit and then send them home and go and do our tests.”
“Anyway, that’s my story, and thank you for listening.”
Most members of the Men’s Shed were either born in the area or lived here awhile, and there’s one ten-pound pom.
There is one thing these men all have in common, no matter what walks of life, their age, or occupation; they come to the Men’s Shed for good old-fashioned mateship, to contribute to the community, to stay active, and as a band of brothers, confront those hard conversations about emotions, isolation, and mental and physical wellbeing.
And, importantly, there is no pressure.
Except for Peter Hammond, who lets us all know quickly that we’ve embarrassed him.
Peter – the clock repairer – Jones Joseph Hammond, a founding member, former president, and current vice president of the Men’s Shed reluctantly takes the floor.
From the tenor of his lovely voice, you’d not be surprised to learn that he’s spent 15 years as a radio announcer at 2MaxFM.
Born in Ballina, at the beginning of World War II, his parents moved to Sydney when he was seven – which he never forgave them for.
After finishing school, Mr Hammond started his apprenticeship in the dockyards on Cockatoo Island (fun fact: where Captain Thunderbolt apparently escaped, with the help of his wife Mary Ann Bugg).
Next, he became a commercial traveller all over Australia, moving to Narrabri 33 years ago and into the agricultural business until he retired.
It was then that he developed a very keen interest in antique clocks.
“One of the most interesting clocks I’ve ever done was the Narrabri Station Platform clock which is in the museum now,” said Mr Hammond.
“It is one of only three left that has all its original componentry, the others have all been mixed and matched over the years from other railway clocks.
“The other one I did which was extremely interesting was the platform clock at the railway museum over in Werris Creek.
“Oh, then there’s my military career where I became a fully qualified military scuba diver, and a member of the Avalon Surf Lifesaving Club where crashing into so many waves probably took its toll.
Yep, plenty, but we’ll save them for another time.
As the current president of the Men’s Shed, Gordon Cain says he should give this “storytelling” a go.
“I’ve been a farmer all my life, and my family have been here since the 1800s,” said Mr Cain.
“My grandfather took up a farmhouse which my family still has from 112 years ago.
“I was the instigator of this Men’s Shed 13 years ago when we formed the committee, and I’ve never regretted doing it, it’s a great organisation.
“Many members have come to me and said they wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the Men’s Shed.
“They were thinking of suicide, and that’s why I’ll work for it until such days that I can’t do it.”
Now they’re all warming up, and someone calls for Dave Galvin to speak.
Dave Galvin from Bingara got his degree in teaching, then spent 38 years at Narrabri High School teaching business studies and geography and coaching rugby league.
“With retirement and COVID, I was one of those blokes badly affected from being at home alone, I didn’t have anything to keep me going,” said Mr Galvin.
“Someone suggested the Men’s Shed so one Monday at 9 am I came down here.
“Three blokes were sitting at a table and Lloyd asked if I played cards.
“I said yeah, so I sat down and played cards, and from that day I’ve now gotten to know all these blokes here.
“This place has given me a new lease on life being involved with the shed, and I have eight grandkids who keep me going.”
“This Men’s Shed has really saved me.”
As a footballer and teacher, one outstanding coaching moment for Mr Galvin was watching the development of Scott Gourley.
“I remember in adversity more than anything – at the Buckley Shield under 14-year-old league competition, a team from the north coast was bigger, faster, stronger than we were, and that day Scott showed me that he was going to be a top Australian rugby league and union player.
“Just by the way he kept going and tackled his heart out all day when some of the others went missing, showed me that he was something special.”
Gerald McInnes has driven trucks all over, from local to Brisbane and Sydney, carting stock, and something tells me there’s more to this story, but he’s new to the shed, so I make a note to come back to him.
It’s at about this point that the current president of the Narrabri Historical Society, Garry Burr saunters in.
Normally he’s camera-shy and full of cheek, but it seems like he’ll only be in the photo today because “there are no stories” about him – surely his wife Di could set the record straight, but we’ll let him off the hook.
Then there’s Lionel Palmer who has been listening intently but reckons he’s no good at talking – I reckon he’ll do just fine.
Born in Narrabri, Mr Palmer’s grandfather is Irish, and his grandmother is Scottish.
He lived on Pine View on Kaputar Road, on 300 plus acres which they bought at 10 shillings an acre.
He has lived in Narrabri for 88 years, leaving for a short while to work on a Queensland property.
He married a girl 64 years ago.
Once the power went out while Doctor Horsley was operating on her at the hospital, so they twisted the table to the light coming through the window and did the operation that way.
“I worked in sawmills, that’s where I chopped my hand right into the wrist.
“They wanted to take the whole thing off, but Dr. Horsley wrapped my thumb up and saved it.” – No biggie.
We’ve barely scratched the surface, but they seem to have warmed up to me because I receive a hearty round of applause, and thanks for attending morning tea.
This group needs each other, and the community needs this group.
And what else have we learned?
That every man in this shed has a story…To order photos from this page click here