Ch. 14 Men’s Groups

Put simply a Men’s Group is a group of men who come together regularly to hear and support each other with the intent of helping each other establish and pursue their own life purpose and nurture their emotional and social wellbeing.   

ManKind Project

The men who attend groups and gatherings … want to find a new image of masculinity and a new meaning for the word ‘man’.

At My Father’s Wedding – John Lee

Men’s groups have played a role in the lives of men over many years. Whether men gathered to nurture their emotional and social wellbeing or to find a new meaning for the word ‘man’ or for a plethora of other reasons there have been profound benefits for each individual and, in many cases, for others in their lives. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a number of men’s groups within the greater Brisbane and broader SEQ & northern NSW areas. Some of these are mentioned in Chapter 1 – What Came Before

  • Some of these groups were formal and structured while others were less formal and more relaxed.
  • Some were open and welcomed a free flow of participants while others were closed thus allowing men to enhance their familiarity with each other and foster deeper work.
  • Some had a leader or facilitator while others were leaderless or utilised a rotating leader approach, or, as some men would describe it, their group was leader-full..
  • Some were issue focussed while others catered to whatever issues were current for the participants.
  • During the Men’s Help Line (MHL) era the Care and Support groups were a feature and provided nurture for the emotional and social wellbeing of the telephone service volunteers.
  • The first edition of Mentor (November 1998) listed 15 men’s groups in the Brisbane metropolitan area.
  • During the latter 1990s, the Gold Coast Men’s Centre hosted a number of regular men’s groups which, to an extent, provided volunteers for the Gold Coast branch of the Men’s Help Line.
  • Quite a few men have found connection and support through joining their voices with other men in song. In 1999 Brian Martin was enlisted by Peter Whitcombe as conductor for a male acapella choir, Ancestral Tones, in Coolangatta. In Mentor of Autumn 2005, Tony Groom noted that “some members drive up to an hour for their weekly singing ‘fix’”. This choir continues as Men Wot Sing in northern NSW. In 2002 Brian began conducting the Mansong choir in Petrie Terrace on a fortnightly basis. This group met for around 3 years.
  • Browsing on Browning, a bookshop/café in Browning Street South Brisbane became an informal meeting space for anyone interested in men’s issues on the first Sunday morning each month during 1997. It was a chance for informal discussion or catching up with friends over good coffee, brunch and a fine range of books available. Organised by Ronno Heard, a host of regulars availed themselves of the opportunity.
  • SMASH (Some Men Are Staying Home) came into being in 2016 as a Stones Corner café based meet up group for men who found themselves at home. Initiated by Churaig MacNiall, it was a weekly, open, informal men’s group aimed at any man who finds himself at home: single dads, Dads at Home, students, shift workers, carers, retirees, unemployed, house husbands were all welcome to attend. It was conducted on an open, come if you want to basis with a free-flowing format determined by whoever turned up and the ensuing conversation. In its latter years the majority of attendees were Mens Wellbeing members. With the arrival of Covid the activity switched to Zoom until interest waned. Many men continue to speak fondly of the breadth and depth of those Wednesday coffee dates.

Hence, it can be seen that men’s groups were multi-faceted and multi-functional. No doubt a few groups were influenced by a selection of the literature of the day such as the writings of Robert Bly, Sam Keen, John Lee, Steve Biddulph, George Taylor, and Warren Farrell, amongst others, as mentioned in Chapter 6 – More Goings On.

Men’s groups have become a staple for many men who continue to find support, connection, nurturing, camaraderie and succour. It could be said that the core of every men’s group is just guys coming together and sharing what is happening in their lives with other guys sharing about how they navigated similar situations.

Following the amalgamation of MHL and MHWA(Q) in 1998 the newly merged organisation moved towards an emphasis on men’s groups and men’s gatherings. In pursuit of promotion of men’s groups a Men’s Facilitator & Leadership Training Program was conducted in the Spring of 1999. The 50-hour program was led by skilled facilitators John Lucas and John Saunders and sought to empower participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully facilitate and lead men in groups.

A little over a year later three men drafted the first Common Ground format (see Chapter 11). The first programs were promoted in Mentor of April 2001:

Men’s groups are a uniquely effective way for men to resolve life’s issues. There are profound benefits when men have the space to discuss the things that matter with other men.

These groups are open to all men. They are designed to improve the lives of the men who attend and because of the flow on effect they directly benefit the women and children in our community.

The ensuing years have seen many programs conducted and, as a consequence, a fostering of a large number of ongoing men’s groups.

Open Share Circles

In 2012 a group of men, experienced in men’s work, from the Gold Coast came together and formed what became known as The Greater Circle. Key organisers included Paul Mischefski, Hunter Reed, Tim Fisk, Gary Simpson, Steve Dyer and Justin Chandler. This new group embarked on many activities such as BBQ family days and park activities, supporting men with projects and men’s share circles. (See later Chapter)

The men’s share circles initially invited men to come along who had been involved in Mens Wellbeing activities and also opened up to any man. Often guest speakers were invited to the share circle to broaden the knowledge, understanding and awareness of men’s matters in the local region.

The greater Circle was independent of, though affiliated with, Mens Wellbeing with its wholehearted support as a model for satellite men’s connection communities that could be formed.

In 2017 The Greater Circle experienced some upheaval with some discontent amongst facilitators causing fractures and a dissolving of the then Circle. In the aftermath, a new course was set with the name Gold Coast & Northern Rivers Men’s Group.

The concept of Open Share Circles resonated as far as Brisbane and in 2016, with the blessing of the Mens Wellbeing Executive Committee, monthly meetings began at the Brisbane Rosicrucian Centre at Norman Park. Facilitators of these meetings were Peter Kroll (experienced Common Ground Facilitator), Gavin Daly (then Common Ground Manager) and Matty Cutler (then Common Ground Marketing Manager).

These Open Share Circles invited men from the Mens Wellbeing community as well as promoting it to new men as a way of connecting men between gatherings as well as a funnel for Common Ground Programs. These events relied on donations to contribute to the cost of hiring the venue.

Early in 2018 Brisbane Rosicrucian Centre made some changes which affected the viability of continuing use of the venue. Additionally, with a dwindling of participant numbers and a reduced availability of facilitators a final meeting was to be held. Thus, in March, Nicholas “Dob” Dobrosklonsky (experienced Common Ground Facilitator and 2018 Executive Committee Member) stepped in to host the ultimate Open Share Circle.

Open Men’s Groups

In April 2018, upon noticing the empty space left by the closing of the Open Share Circles, the Mens Wellbeing Executive were faced with either no open circles or embarking on a different approach of supporting men in men’s groups. With the demise of the former men’s open share circles, a gentle nudge from someone within Mens Wellbeing, and being inspired by his brief involvement of open share circles, led to Dob becoming involved in the next iteration of share circles where men could meet without commitment, experience or cost.

After fumbling around to find an appropriate name for this new entity, Dob blurted out Open Men’s Groups and then realised the fun and simplicity of calling them OMGs and so began the current era of Open Men’s Groups. Fired with fresh motivation, Dob set about finding locations to host the OMGs and secured the historic Ithaca Hall at Red Hill on Brisbane’s northside and Annerley Hall on Brisbane’s southside.

“Dob” – Nicholas Dobrosklonsky

The groups got underway in May 2018 with Robert Ah Hoon and Dob taking on Red Hill while Peter Kroll and Dob handled the Annerley venue. In the next couple of months, the Gold Coast OMGs commenced at The Hub at Burleigh with the venue generously made available by Dan Hanson.

Dob says that it was never his intention to be involved with the OMGs long term but he proudly took on the role of OMG Coordinator from the outset – he says it is a fancy title for doing something meaningful for other men. Now almost 5 years on Dob continues his post as OMG Coordinator and he facilitates the Brisbane South OMGs on a monthly basis.

Important functions of the OMGs are is to provide a space for men to connect, to share what’s going on in their lives, to listen to other men and generally be themselves. While the OMG is an avenue for any man to attend it does provide for new men to dip their toes into men’s work without making any prior or ongoing commitment.

Hand in hand with the passage of time the OMGs have relocated their venues and various facilitators have come and gone. Most significantly the biggest changes occurred when a little pandemic called Covid19 hit in March 2020 and Australia was in lockdown shortly after. As a result of not being able to host OMGs in person Dob and David Murray set about setting up online OMGs using the Zoom platform.

The call went out for facilitators, hurried training took place and Online OMGs were launched in April 2020 with five teams. The teams were typically categorised/named geographically as that’s where the faciltators were based and where in person OMGs would resume when available. The teams and their facilitators were:

  • Brisbane North: Robert Ah Hoon & Mal Missingham;
  • Brisbane South: Dob, Thomas Wong, & Matt Martin;
  • Sunshine Coast: Gary Cox, Tyler Birch & Greg Robison;
  • Gold Coast: Hunter Reed & Peter Matthews;
  • Rural Men: David Murray & Richard Kaser.

The Rural OMG was targeted at rural men who were unable to meet in person even before Covid19 due to their localities. Any man from anywhere could join in to any and all of the Online OMGs. Due to high levels of uncertainty, shock and anxiety for some there was strong interest in the online OMGs and men from around Australia logged in. There were even a few attendees from across the seas to New Zealand and other parts of the world. As restrictions relaxed and the uncertainty waned, at least somewhat, the need and desire to log in online also waned and where and when possible the OMGs resumed in person. As a legacy to the Online OMGs the Rural Men and Brisbane North continue.

The Gold Coast OMGs led the way to returning to in-person meetings and other areas soon followed suit. Hunter Reed was the Gold Coast’s key facilitator until mid-2021 when he stepped back and he was loyally was supported by Peter Matthews. From there a promising team of four facilitators was formed with David Gilmore, Peter Matthews, Jarod Sparke, and Leif Morris ready to breathe new life in the GC’s OMGs. Unfortunately, this team of four didn’t last and Jarod Sparke and Leif Morris continued for several months until due to poor attendance and other life commitments the GC’s OMGs were disbanded in June 2022.

Over time with low attendances the Sunshine Coast OMGs, then being held as in person meetings, also had come to a halt in early 2021.

As at March 2023 the OMG’s which are available are:

  • Brisbane North – at Chermside Library on the first Thursday evening each month with Robert Ah Hoon as the key facilitator. Additionally, Robert hosts an Online Zoom OMG over Zoom on the third Thursday evening each month.
  • Brisbane South – at Annerley Hall on the second Tuesday each month with Dob as the key facilitator. Thomas Wong has been a co-facilitator with Dob since 2019. However, in July 2022 Thomas together with his wife and children flew over to Holland for a 12-month holiday. Dob is trusts that Thomas will re-join him in July 2023.
  • Rural Men – since its inception in May 2020 the Rural Men Online OMG has continued to serve men throughout the country on a fortnightly basis. It has been conducted on the first and third Tuesday evening of each month with David Murray and Richard Kaser as the key facilitators.

The two Online OMGs have proven to a valuable resource for those men who are not able to readily access a face-to-face group as well as for the critical Covid times. They even continue to have the occasional attendance from men when they are overseas.

The benefits of the OMGs have demonstrated to be:

  • A gateway to Mens Wellbeing and the good work the organisation does for individuals and the flow on into their families and the greater community.
  • A way for new men, who are often in some state of distress, to enter the world of men’s work and see if it resonates for them as well as finding a bit of solace.
  • A place where men who have been involved in Mens Wellbeing can attend and get a top up of the benefits of sitting in circle. Some men attend because they have been in a Common Ground group but it no longer exists.
  • A vehicle to promote the other activities of Mens Wellbeing such as Common Ground programs and gatherings.

The OMG facilitators have shared that through the years they have witnessed many new men come to an OMG in a mixed state of apprehension, caution and despair to then sit inn circle and partake in the night. These men gradually seem to have realisations conscious or otherwise that this is a safe space, without judgement in which to share and to listen to other men which give them reassurance and hope.

For many men this may be the first opportunity they have had to listen to men being real and vulnerable and talking from their hearts, which in turn ‘gives themselves permission’ to do the same. For some this is a turning point that leads them into becoming part of the Mens Wellbeing community by participating in Common Ground and gatherings. Of those some men go on to take on various roles within Mens Wellbeing such as training as facilitators for Common Ground and Tribal Group Leaders at gatherings.

On a personal note, Dob has expressed his men’s group experiences as follows:

My experience of being in a men’s group has positively influenced my life, how I interact with others and providing an improved sense of being a man. My relationship is happier and healthier, and I have tools and support to cope with the challenges.

New Ground

In May 2022, Steve Smythe and Richard Kirwood launched a new program to provide assistance to experienced men who are looking for a men’s group in their area or for an existing group looking for new men.

This initiative is designed to support those groups whose numbers may have waned over time as well as to find a “home” for those men who may find themselves group-less

Richard and Steve have reported success in creating new groups for a collection of interested men including an offer to run the first few nights until they get on their feet. Additionally, they have been able to merge groups that have experienced a dwindling of numbers.

While Toowoomba was not a part of their initial target area, Steve and Richard were able to help out a local man through connecting him with other locals and fielding interest from some others who had travelled to Ipswich fir their men’s group fix. Steve is excited by this “push” into Toowoomba.