Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Bill Wilson
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview date: 29/02/2012
Edie Swift My name is Edie Swift and we’re recording today on the 29th Feb in Port Kembla with Bill Wilson and we’re talking to him at the Port Kembla Men’s Group and my name’s Edie Swift and I’m recording for Wollongong City Library Local Studies, and can you tell me about the Men’s Shed?
Bill Wilson I’d be quite happy to. We started on 14th February 2007, where we all met outside here and some of the fellows that we have photographed here are not all members anymore. There’s was just a bit of interest conducted upon wanting to form a Men’s Group, group in the Port Kembla area. It was a very low sort of esteemed type of place to start. It had its shaky times. We had some times where it was almost looking like they were not be able to keep the group running, but we’ve come a long way since those days and now we have workshop.
We have our little nursery out the back as well. We have gardens established. We have other projects that we support as well. We initially kicked off with a man, a gentleman by the name of Daniel Daton. He was our mentor. He has just left us now to pretty much run our show ourselves as we go along. At the time we had numerous little projects and it was a matter of getting a whole heap of fellows together that would not normally associate each
other, and to see if we could form a common bond. That was established quite well and we did this through sitting around having conversations, talking about what we’d like to do, finding out what skills each one of us had, what we could contribute towards community work.
And at that time one of their first projects was to build the table, which we did build.The funny thing about it now is we seldom use that table, it’s still out, out the back of our area. So we done a mosaic, a complete mosaic of an old cable drum, which we concreted the cable drum together and then we put a mosaic half piece in the centre of it and from there on that’s sort of been our state foundation point. We’ve used other diagrams of ideas. It sort of a became quite a, sometimes a little bit boring for me because I’m a very active type of man. I like to do workshop type activities and it got to the point where it was talk talk talk talk and I wanted to see action.
We had a lot of trouble trying to get the workshop established. And then of course I ran into problems, a few health problems at one stage. I walked away for nineteen months and I came back to find that some of our first recommendations are what we wanted to do in the first place actually went ahead. And I was quite surprised.
Edie Swift What were some of those?
Bill Wilson Well at first the council put the brakes on us. They sort of said yes, it’s OK to go ahead and do some of these things you want do but no not at this stage. So, we ended up doing a few renovations on the building. We had a roller door put in. I wasn’t around when that happened, and they had the joining with another wing or two what was the originally an old public toilet block is now been converted into a workshop.
And now we have the machine tools and things in there that when we can build a little bit of work of woodwork occasionally when we want to, maintenance and repair of other projects like mowers that come in, lawn mowers coming in sometimes that get repaired. I’m a bicycle mechanic so it’s quite common to see me working up here working on the bicycle for somebody.
We do help out with gardening projects as well and we are establishing several gardens around the community. It’s quite numerous, other projects we do get involved with. Our coffee machine is rather famous now, and we go out and do coffee for people as well. Various other areas whatever people want done, we try and see what we can take aboard to help and we’re here to help member’s problems sometimes if they want to come up and have a chat, or sometimes they have a very easy day, they come up here. Some fellows get really actively involved in certain projects, and others just sit around and talk. But, ah, we don’t hold that against them.
Edie Swift What were the gardens?
Bill Wilson The gardens we did was the Port Kembla lane way project. That was Dan Deighton’s initial project. He lived down near – in Third Avenue for years he wanted to make Third Avenue, and the lane way that was nearby a better place. Over the years it started out with just him doing it on his own then another fellow joined him, and numerous people in the district would walk past occasionally and say, ‘you guys are a mad, what you’re doing.’ But after while it caught on, and now we get various members of the community involved in different parts of it, and now it’s grown to be quite a community spiritual thing, where you have a lot of people turning up down there working away, and now we have a very well established garden. Running food and other plants interesting plants for the community, to make that space a better place to be.
Edie Swift And where’s the garden?
Bill Wilson It runs between Fifth Avenue that’s the food growing part of it, down into Third Avenue, and then you’ve got parts from say, Fifth Avenue coming back, where you’ve got a number of a few trees growing; it’s quite interesting walking down through there now.
Years ago, it used to be such an empty space, with overgrown weeds and everything. And now it’s all plants growing everywhere. It’s taken off quite well, although we still have to maintain it every so often, and keep it looking better. But we do have the problems of people dumping rubbish. But the majority of the community do respect what we’ve done there. It’s taken off quite well.
Edie Swift And what do you do with the coffee?
Bill Wilson Well, I don’t initially do much with the coffee. I probably just drink the coffee in general but some of the fellows here are probably are TAFE trained barristers and they now run our coffee machine. That’s about our second or third coffee machine we now had. It’s a proper commercial set up. People come in here and they sometimes take a coffee. The charges are non- profit basically do it quite reasonably cheap just to cover our costs of running the machine basically, but most of the time the coffee is always there from Wednesday.
And other events that sometimes occur at the center sometimes one or two fellows will turn up here and they’ll set the machine up ready to go the serve coffee on those events as well. And every so often we get like Viva-la gong we’ll get, you know, a deal with Viva -la-gong. We’ll do South Side festival events, we’ll do other events where people might want our help to go to. We had a film night at Kiama, even down at, the name of the place escapes me at the moment. No other event one time where we tuned up and we’ve done days as well and so in the business world it takes two or three of us, and I’ll- the only time I’ll support, I’ll be the water boy, I’ll be running around keeping the machine going by topping up the water as the queue turns up and we get 100’s of people turn up for our coffee. So it’s quite good sometimes.
Edie Swift How many people are there in the shop?
Bill Wilson In this men’s group there’s approximately anything between 15 and 18 people. We sometimes get more than that but it usually averages around, between that figure so twelve, fifteen sometimes we get eighteen as a ???? Many people come and show a bit of an interest. They come and go as they come along and then over a period it’s quite hard to say how many people we’ve had over a period of time – I’m here looking at photographs of people that I remember in the past – they’ve moved on with their lives and different things, but I’m still here. And ah, we got a couple of other fellows outside with one other guy, but he’s just started, will be half the time I hear, he’s here as well; the rest of the fellows have come. We now have a caretaker, who is Nigel, who ah, wasn’t here when we first began, and I’m a little bit um, sketchy on the time he started with us. But ah, then he’s become the caretaker of the centre, so he looks after all the events that are going on, so if I’m not here and, I’m like a backup, if he has to go somewhere I just stick around and make sure everything’s fine. And I might potter around in the workshop just to keep myself busy for a while.
Edie Swift What do they do in the workshop?
Bill Wilson Well I’m a fitter and turner by trade, although we don’t have a lathe at this, at this present moment but we have a lot of other interesting machines in there; some machines I’ll use myself – some of the fellows won’t touch some of the gear that I’ve got but um, I just maintain, and look after everybody else’s interests, and if someone’s having a problem with something l help them solve their problem. And on the Thursday’s I’ll come up here individually, and I’ll work the workshop, just to support the night group that comes here, so it they want something cut I’m here to do that for them.
Edie Swift Is this a community centre?
Bill Wilson Yeah, this is a community centre, yeah. So, they run many different events here, at Port. Ah, it’s a very busy little community centre, and it’s pretty much open seven days a week
Edie Swift What do the men come here do you think for – what is their need?
Bill Wilson Oh, a bit of social support, um, sometimes to want to be, you know, – feel useful, and might want to do something with their hands. You know, we get I mean, I don’t fix every single thing that comes through, like today we had a lawn mower. Lawn mowers are the my most favourite thing. I’ve spent a bit of time on the lawn mower, and a couple of other fellows have come along, they’re all going a bit by bit eventually we’ve got something – a winner out of it – and it actually started so, that was great.
But at first it was looking like – no, this thing is beyond it – and I said, well a couple of things to the fellow, that, depending on how much money you want to spend on the machine – whether or not you want to supply the parts, we can fit it for you, but ah, if it’s um, and if you don’t want to do that, well then that’s fine there’s only so much we can do but if you don’t want to do that that’s fine. There’s only so much we can do. One of the fellas supplied a brand-new spark plug, well away it went, so that’s, that’s another one finished.
Other jobs I mostly try and concentrate on is wood working, restoration of furniture and bits and pieces plus the work I do on the bikes and things. I build bikes from home then I sometimes come up here and sometimes I find the workshop here is just as supportive as what it is with me at home what I can’t do at home I’ll do up here and sometimes it’s vice versa. Years ago, I used to go to Tech and I’d turn up parts for the bikes and make bits and pieces for my tools. You could fix this a lot. Now I got a completely different gig. A box of fixtures and things that I can just use on any bike and whatever parts that I buy I’ve got a backup of whatever I need.
Edie Swift The men here do you think feel that there’s this helps them to feel useful, to feel there’s a place where they can find others to socialise with?
Bill Wilson Oh, there was difficulty with that before, but it’s had a shaky start from the from the beginnings and it’s moved on. We’ve had some people just move on with their lives, but other people. There’s been quite a number of fellas that want to just hang on and keep it going. When I was unable to attend due to health. Or that a couple of hours of running to me is not going to do that but pocket groaning this I kept reminding them ‘until the day I feel better then I will come back’. And since I’ve come back, I’m in strong support of the whole group. I’m here to support everybody. As far as getting things happening. Working out other ways around things. If we have problems with anything, they usually all come to me and ask ‘well Bill, what you think we should do about this’ and I do my best to try to help them out.
Edie Swift Do you feel that because they’re not working anymore and most of them are retired, that this gives them something to do? [
Bill Wilson Yeah, this works out perfectly well. I’m retired myself and I fall into …ah.This just gives me something to look forward to each week. Although I always come here with a mindset of things that I want to do for myself and then when I get here I always find that my day changes bcause I don’t know what to expect and it’s the interesting thing about Port it certainly keeps you busy. The centre is a really busy place
Edie Swift And the men have worked hard and so do a lot of them feel depressed and left out because?
Bill Wilson I think that Men’s groups actually improve that. I mean I’ve gone through depression myself. There are several other members of the Men’s group have gone through all that too and I think now it just like everybody respects each other and they understand each other’s problems and we just work through using our skills, our knowledge to go through the different projects we do. At the end of the day you see people walking away, going home feeling quite satisfied That they’ve had a great day and they’ve done something that is really worthwhile.
Edie Swift Would you donate this to the local studies at the Wollongong City Council?
Bill Wilson Yeah, we can yeah.
Edie Swift Ok that would be great. If we want to transcribe it would that means they might want to write it out. What you said would that be alright?
Bill Wilson Yeah well, I’ll say it would be I. Some of the fellas, I might have to put to discussion with them, but I think that’d be quite fine, yeah. We do want to be quite well known for what we do, I mean, we’re competing with other Men’s Sheds as well and we always like to have that common bond and it’s always interesting to get out there and check out other men’s sheds.
We done that in our humble beginnings, when we first started, we went down to survive mention and Shellharbour Men’s Shed, then we did Berry as well. The other guys went on a trip to Queensland and it was to deal with going through other Men’s groups from all various parts of the country. We all met there that once or twice. I at the time wasn’t what I wanted to do. Anyhow I moved on and I came back later and decided, well I’m here for the long term.
Edie Swift Well, thank you very much.