If the lights ever went out at the Men’s Shed, the pride in Rick Priest’s eyes would light it up again.
If that failed,about 140 Wagga men would put their hands up to fix it.
Mr Priest – the Shed’s founder – could not contain his joy when he announced the upcoming milestone celebration of the city’s “big-boys club”.
As the Wagga man wandered across the grounds at Ashmont Avenue, sharing the stories behind its many projects, accomplishments and people, it was clear he had welded his heart and soul into the place. He was not alone.
From humble beginnings, under the grandstand of the Wagga Showgrounds, the Men’s Shed has grown into a giant workshop for budding carpenters, welders, cooks, brewers, gardeners, bee-keepers and more.
Heading a steering committee in 2008, Mr Priest lead a public meeting at Wagga’s council chambers to see about starting up a club.
“I was expecting about 20 people,” Mr Priest said. “I walked in to a room of about 140 men and thought: ‘Oh my goodness’.”
That is how it began. The club held its first meetings under grandstands, until it was given a license to occupy the former Pony Club grounds at Best Reserve.
Of an average annual 135 members each year, Mr Priest said there had been about 30 pairs of hands on deck each day for a decade.
He said to the men, it was a second home; a place to gather, tinker with things and talk, with a focus on mateship.
While they are common across the country, the city’s not-for-profit is one of the most unique, having been named the best in Australia last year. As a result, it was awarded a prestige prize from the Australian Men’s Shed Association.
“We've got all sorts of guys who come here,” Mr Priest said. “They all come from different jobs and careers, but that doesn’t matter.
“Here, you can be everything do you wanted to do, or be anything you wanted to be, but couldn't when you were working.”
Mr Priest said there were even computer workshops and phone lessons, designed to bring the older members up to speed with technology.
“It’s not until you see it all together that you realise how many things we do and what we’ve done,” he said.
“But none of it would be possible without council’s help or the generosity of local businesses, who have supported us for so long.”