17 Oct 2018

Building Fences

The response to my recent article ‘Are you bogged mate?’ has been overwhelming and extremely humbling. I have received emails, messages, and phone calls from all over Australia and around the world. I have had conversations with country blokes that were so powerful they will stay with me forever. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for reaching out, thank you for opening up even if it was just a tiny bit, thank you for sharing your story, thank you for trusting me with your deepest secrets, and most of all, thank you for just being blokes.

Recently I looked at my website statistics for the two weeks after posting that article. In those two weeks, almost 21,000 people from 80 different countries had visited the site with over 18,000 of them being from Australia. In addition to the online version, the article was printed in multiple agricultural publications where countless more people read it. It turns out people have a much greater interest in rural men’s mental health than my spray drift workshops and I’m very happy about that.

The response was so great that ignoring it was not an option, so with the support of several awesome people, the ‘Are you bogged mate?’ program has been created to tackle the issue of rural men’s mental health. Stuart Armitage, the President of Queensland Farmers Federation, has been the main driver behind this and without his passion, unending support, and access to people of influence, this movement would be lost. As the well-known quote goes ‘If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. Stuart is certainly a giant for agriculture and I sincerely thank him and his wife Maxine for their support.

Now the main question I get is ‘what is the ‘Are you bogged mate?’ program going to do?’

You may have noticed I am an analogy fan, so here is another one to explain the program. 

I want to build fences. Most country people have built a fence of some sort, and whether it is to keep in guinea pigs or Brahman bulls, the fundamentals are the same. The first question should be ‘do we need the fence?’. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the next logical question is ‘where do we build it?’. Closely followed by ‘what do we need to build the fence?’. Some of the materials we need are posts, gates, wire, netting, latches, tie wire, concrete, the usual suspects . We might need different types of posts such as strainer posts, gateposts, steel posts, and maybe we need rails and stays. To build a fence we also need tools and equipment such as pliers, strainers, a dolly bar (post driver), or a tractor mounted hydraulic post driver (especially on hard gibber ridges!). Maybe we need a bulldozer to clear the line for the fence. It is also fairly handy if you have some skills and knowledge about fencing. It is not impossible to build a fence without skills and knowledge but in my experience, it does make things a hell of a lot easier. You can build a fence by yourself but it will be slower and you will have to do a lot of extra legwork so having a team makes things much quicker. Another important factor is money. We need this to buy the materials and equipment and maybe the skills and knowledge to build the fence. There is a lot that goes into building a fence and it can be harder and slower if one person has to do all of it.

My question to you is ‘what part of the fence are you?’ Given the response to the ‘Are you bogged mate?’ article I think we can safely say there is certainly a need for this fence but where do we build it? Are you a rural community or group holding an event that ‘Are you bogged mate?’ could be part of as either a speaking role or just having a presence? Are you a post in the fence? Are you a mental health organisation that can be a strainer post or has skills, knowledge, and tools? Can you be another sort of post in the fence or the wire that connects the posts? A single post alone does not make a good fence. We need lots of posts and wire to connect together. Maybe you are a gate that opens up to other people, places, resources, skills, or support. What about tools and equipment? Are you able to supply some key tools to build the fence? You might have skills and knowledge about fencing that could be helpful, or maybe you are none of those things – you don’t know where to build a fence, you don’t have any tools, skills or knowledge but you still think it is a great idea to build this fence. Can you contribute money and investment to help build the fence or do you have connections to organisations that can? The more people we get to contribute to this fence the faster, stronger, and longer we can build it.

There are already organisations that provide counselling services, resources, brochures, training, and information on mental health. That is not what ‘Are you bogged mate?’ wants to do. What I see as a major gap is how this information is communicated to rural men so this program aims to bridge that gap, break down the stigma, communicate with country blokes in their language, and be the conduit between them and getting help. One of the key messages from mental health experts is that we need to stay connected especially when we are struggling. We want ‘Are you bogged mate?’ to help with that connection.

On the website we have listed the four fence posts of the program which are:

  1. Engaging directly with rural men – letting country blokes know that they matter by speaking their language and meeting them in their comfort zone.
  2. Changing the landscape – breaking down the stigma around mental health and bringing this crucial topic into the spotlight. We do this through spreading awareness, as well as straight-talking speaking engagements and education events that challenge, enlighten and empower.
  3. Bridging the gap – connecting rural men to the resources available, supporting and directing them to the right places while bringing the conversation to rural communities.
  4. Being a voice for rural men – speaking up for those who often won’t, we want to light the path to understanding and be a strong advocate for all.

Why do I want to build fences? Aren’t fences considered a barrier? That depends on your perspective and your upbringing. As a child growing up in the bush, I spent as much time as I could out in the scrub. My younger sister and I would wander miles from home and usually our plan was to get far enough away from the house that we couldn’t hear mum calling us for School Of The Air, which was easy to do on 127,000 acres. Sometimes we did get a bit lost or disorientated if we were busy chasing rabbits or lizards or searching for just the right stick to build a cubby house. Luckily, I have a good sense of direction, I would get my bearings again, and we would find our way home. Dad always told me that if we got lost, just walk in a straight line until you hit a fence, then follow it, never go through it, just stick to the fence. Eventually you will come to a gate, wait there for help. So to me, a fence is a good thing, it is the way home, back to safety.

No matter how good our sense of direction is, we can all get a bit disorientated sometimes and we might need to find that fence back to safety. I want the ‘Are you bogged mate?’ program to be that fence for rural men right across Australia. I want to build fences. Let’s bring them back to safety.