Taking the Lead

The Fifth Annual Men's Leadership Gathering was held in Canberra in June this year. Here is a rundown on the three projects that participants voted to support for the coming year.

Pathways to Manhood

By Geoff Price

The Men's Leadership Gathering is supporting "Pathways to Manhood" as one of its projects for 1996-97.

Pathways to Manhood is a project which aims to create a healthier community of men in ways that is very satisfying for all involved, boys and men. We are thinking, researching and developing the content, context and practical matters of how we can best welcome young boys in to the community of men with care, love and purpose.

Our society has to a large extent lost the knowledge of how to welcome boys into manhood in a ritual setting, with care and deep meaning - so we are reinventing how to go about it - it's new work for us all involved and sometimes progress seems frustratingly slow. Still I would rather take it at the pace which allows proper care and consultation to happen rather than rush it and make mistakes.

What is becoming obvious is that fathers and "uncles" still have the essence/spirit of appropriate rituals for their sons within them - it is not totally lost. With a framework of ideas which the facilitators bring along, the men are capable of creating their own meaningful ritual - since this is owned and personalised it becomes very powerful and meaningful to both them and the boys. It enables deep psychic growth, relationship changes and a more relevant context and meaning for the lives of both boys and men.

I am planning the next workshop for the new year.

Anyone interested can call me on (02) 9427 9128 or 018 285 322.

Prisoner support groups

by Peter Vogel

Peter Bini has recently completed a three year term in Mobilong prison, South Australia. However when he has served his time, he will be returning to the jail again. The difference is that this time he will be paid to be there.

Peter was one of the founding members of a men's support group started two years ago by Bonnie Gibson, a counsellor employed by Adelaide Central Mission.

For the past few months Peter has been running a support group in Yatala, a maximum security prison. Peter believes that men's groups are essential if prisoners are to have any hope of rehabilitation and he is working hard to convince the Department of Corrections that every prison in the State, and then every prison in the country, must have men's support groups.

Three men who have "graduated" from the first group at Mobilong have joined men's groups on the outside. After more than 12 months without re-offending, Peter Bini says that this is an indication that these men have really changed their lives. "For almost every man in the group, this is the first time they've been able to talk about their lives. It's the first time they've experienced intelligent conver-sation" he said. "It makes them respect each other and themselves. Blokes will not tell social workers about their past, or about intimate details. They will tell their mates in the safety of a group. Once one man starts opening up others feel it's okay to reveal themselves too. It becomes like a roller-coaster; once it starts moving they all jump on. Outside the group, the men's conditioning tells them it's not manly to talk about their problems".

The Men's Leadership Gathering voted to support Peter Bini's work and to donate $500 towards costs.

Further details of this project will be published in a future edition of Certified Male.

Keeping the political personal

By Tony Webb

Having spent most of my life as a political activist and the last three years in "consciousness raising" men's groups, I went to the Men's Leadership Gathering to explore how I might apply these experiences to the idea of men's leadership. From my past experience in the anti-nuclear movement I felt that if the men's movement is to bring about political and social change, some sort of structure will be required. I was also mindful of the difficulty of creating a structure which everyone will be happy with.

At the Gathering there was a lot of enthusiasm for starting a New South Wales version of the Men's Health and Wellbeing Association that is operating successfully in Western Australia. I saw this as my opportunity to test out my question: is it possible to form an organisation incorporating the "heart" stuff I'd learned about in my men's group while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls such as endless discussions that lead nowhere.

The Gathering voted to support the formation of a New South Wales Men's Health and Wellbeing Association, and I was one of what became known as the "Gang of Four" - an interim committee to get the Association off the ground.

The Association is modelled on the successful West Australian Association founded by Wes Carter, Rod Mitchell and others. A similar initiative is being undertaken in the A.C.T. and discussions have been held with groups in Victoria and Queensland with a view to similar State-wide bodies being formed.

I liked the idea of "health and wellbeing" because there is very little in the area of men's work that cannot be done under this heading. Our objectives include:

Research, collection and distribution of information, literature and resources

Building networks, training and support for leaders of men's groups

Raising consciousness, education and counselling on a wide range of issues such as: life-style and health, relation-ships, sexuality, anger and violence, fathering, mentoring, leadership, initiative, partici-pation in society, suicide prevention, gender, personal meaning and life mission, rites of transition and ageing

Lobbying for appropriate services, establishing men's centres

Building a community amongst men.

The NSW Association founding meeting was attended by 50 men (and 2 women) from Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and the South Coast and the Mid-North Coast regions. Apologies from a further 25 men indicated support from other regions. A committee of nine men was elected to carry the work of building the Association to an inaugural gathering and First AGM now scheduled for November 30 on the Homebush Olympic site Sydney. Keynote speakers will be Richard Fletcher and Steve Biddulph with opportunities for various planned and impromptu workshops, meetings events and happenings.

A major feature of the Association has been the establishment of project groups covering issues such as: suicide prevention, fathering, pathways to manhood, gender equity in education, anger and violence, working with men and developing a men's health policy. Members are invited to join these and have suggested interest in others such as male sexuality. The ethos emerging is of a structured organisation capable of supporting its members in developing projects for both personal and structural (political) change to improve men's health and wellbeing. It will also be organising a program of activities designed to reach out to men not currently involved in these issues and to put them on the political map.

Needless to say not everyone in the existing movement is happy with this development. Some would prefer looser networking of existing regional groupings. For others there are more fundamental objections centred on leadership, hierarchies and structures. Fortunately there is scope for many different approaches and little desire for other than occasional supportive discussion.

So far my major objective has been fulfilled: the new ways of working that have developed as a result of men's "heart" work have been retained as we move out into the political arena. This balance was an outstanding feature of the Founding meeting - a combination of sharing of personal experiences that justified the need for a new approach on health and wellbeing issues interwoven with some practical and "business-like" decision making, discussions on structures, elections and voting on resolutions.

But then it's easy at the start. The real test comes later and much depends on whether it can attract as members those who have done the necessary personal work to ensure that the organisation continues to reflect non-competitive inclusionary principles.

The NSW Association can be contacted at: MHWA(NSW)
c/o 55 Reiby St, Newtown 2042 or by calling any of the committee:
Tony Webb (02) 9550 4346
Alun Vaughan (02) 9979 7578
Micheal Woods (047) 515 173
Tony Woods (02) 9639 1643
George Burkitt (02) 9427 8518
Michael Lowy (02) 9357 2111
Norman Radican (02) 9977 7877
Joseph Fuorolo (02) 9559 1582
Geoff Price (02) 9427 9128

Membership is open to all who share the objectives and costs $30. (unwaged $20).

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