Ch.8 Gold Coast happenings

Gold Coast Men’s Help Line

A significant step in the evolution of MHL came at the suggestion of Kerry Cronan. With an awareness of the significant number of callers to the MHL from the Gold Coast area along with its transient tourist population, Kerry felt the needs of men on the tourist strip were quite acute. Hence a Gold Coast chapter of MHL was mooted.  

At the recommendation of Tony Groom, Peter Whitcombe (trained for the Brisbane service) was asked to seed the establishment of a Gold Coast Men’s Help Line (GCMHL). With Peter’s enthusiasm the service readily got under way with its services commencing on July 12 1995 and operated in a manner similar to the Brisbane branch soon taking approximately 25% of the MHL calls. 

Local men were recruited to undertake training with Kerry Cronan which was described by Peter as insightful, challenging and confronting … which came from showing the true love and support needed from our fellow man. As time went by Graeme Deeth (a psychologist) came to share the training sessions with Kerry Cronan.

Peter speaks of the group as having some very loyal and long-standing volunteers who gave wonderful service as founding members to the day the group folded.

Getting the referral directory in place and keeping it updated proved to be quite a job. Kerry Cronan insisted that every referral agency being utilised was vetted before being listed.

The Gold Coast service continued the Care and Support meetings which served as review and de-brief times for the volunteers. One guest was Emmanuel Theodosiou from D.A.D.S.(Qld) in early August 1995. He gave a rational, articulate presentation about this group. Its main concern is for the children who are often victims in relationship breakups. MHL had made many referrals to the service. 

Social meetups were held to allow new and old volunteers to connect, maybe for the first time. Some were one day events, others were weekend activities. These occasions fostered interaction, bonding, camaraderie, exchange of ideas as well as fun, all with a view of a group of men contributing to a greater cause.

Finances and fund raising were forever a constant from the outset. Fees charged for training courses and regular men’s groups helped the bank balance. An arrangement with Steve Biddulph to organise some promotional talks for his new book Raising Boys both in Brisbane and the Gold Coast saw sell-out events with subsequent generous donations from Steve. Members of the GCMHL were willing helpers in the successful outcomes of the talks.

Issue 8 of “He-mail” (4th August 1997) reported that the:

Teenage son leaves home…

With the blessing of the parent, the slightly precocious Gold Coast off-spring became more independent at the MHL AGM on July 17 with the Gold Coast Branch to stretch its wings and fly…

It will have its own committee and will raise and spend its own funds, but will follow the aims and objects of “head office”. 

Peter Whitcombe’s regular trips to north America allowed him to undertake valuable networking with other men’s movement activity. These included visiting the Guelph Men’s Helpline in Ontario, Canada and the Men’s Centre in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (subsequently set up their own Men’s Helpline). Additionally, he made contact with a number of men including Robert Bly (Minnesota), Bert Hoff (editor Seattle Men), James Smethurst, George Taylor (San Francisco and author of Talking With Our Brothers). Peter imported Taylor’s book for Australian distribution as it proved to be a valuable tool in the early-stage establishment of men’s support groups and providing confidence in new ideas and purpose for the growth of the group and its participants.

The core group of participants included Tony Groom, Ken Vesperman, Graeme Deeth, Bill Sayers, Craig Pickstone, Rob Buss, Brian Maroney, Andrew Hogg, John Garufi, Mark McMenamin and David Reed.

Gold Coast Men’s Centre

The GCMHL was gifted, at no cost, the ground floor facilities of Bethel Community Centre in Coolangatta through the good grace of its convenor, Julie O’Gorman. The space became known as The Gold Coast Men’s Centre (GCMC). This was to become the first physical Men’s Centre to be established in Australia. It was a registered, not-for-profit organisation with the organising committee made up entirely of GCMHL volunteers.

Necessary renovations were completed to allow the centre to become a hub for many different activities which the GCMHL volunteers were to initiate in the ensuing years including: the training venue for GCMHL, de-briefing venue for GCMHL volunteers, day-time drop-in centre, rent-free facility for evening men’s groups (both open and closed), resource & information centre. 

Peter Whitcombe was co-ordinator of both GCMC & GCMHL and played a significant role in keeping the centre running both from a practical perspective and on a financial basis. Peter’s view is that the GCMHL was extremely important in providing an effective listening and localised/personalised referral organisation.  

Demise of the service

The passage of time saw new volunteers come on board to play their role and make a contribution in support of the service. With this influx there arose differing ideas on the conduct of the service resulting in friction and conflict between the old guard and the new guard. This ultimately led to the demise of the GCMHL.

The November 1998 edition of Mentor (the first edition) gave evidence to the changes with the following valediction:

Two stalwarts of the men’s movement, Tony Groom and Peter Whitcombe, who have occupied key leadership positions and have made major contributions from their Gold Coast bases, have decided to move on…..We are saddened at their departure from our ranks. We assure them both of our highest respect and affection…..

In the following Mentor, of Winter 1999, Tony Groom wrote:

I think that we on the Gold Coast suddenly ‘lost the plot’. One of the difficulties in managing something like the Men’s Help Line is that there is the constant balancing act between effective administration and care and support of each other….. When we lost this balance and private agendas were allowed to over-ride, it fell apart.

Peter Whitcombe later noted that the abrupt demise of the GCMHL and eventually the GCMC was brought about by internal politics and personal agendas of a small minority who felt a need for control.

Adapting to change and continuing to forge a path forward presented its own set of issues for the GCMHL. Then MHWA(Q) Gold Coast Branch President, Gary Simpson, noted: 

It became obvious that MHL was consuming a great deal of resources, in time, energy and finances (cost of training, incl facilitators fees were significant) and no longer financially sustainable. This caused much angst and grief amongst volunteers and supporters.

It ceased operations at the end of April 1999. Gary went on to express his: 

… heartfelt thanks to all the men who volunteered their valuable time and energy, as well as their family, friends, and other community members who assisted in the running of this service.  Mentor Winter 1999

It seems that the GCMC continued for a time until it, too, reached its closure.

Steve Biddulph – Patron of Men’s Help Line

Steve’s book “Manhood” (first published in 1994) had quite an impact on many men involved in the unfolding men’s movement. With the advent of a further book “Raising Boys” (1997), Peter Whitcombe approached Steve who very willingly agreed to take on the role of Patron of MHL. With the amalgamaton and name changes he continued as Patron of Men’s Health and Wellbeing Associaton (Qld) and then, Mens Wellbeing.

Patron Steve Biddulph

In striking up a good friendship Steve asked Peter to assist in organising promotional talks for his book in Brisbane and Gold Coast. These were used as a fundraising opportunity for MHL. In return MHL volunteers assisted in running the events which Peter co-ordinated over the next 2-3 years. 

On September 16, 1996, the day after attending the 5th Annual Qld Men’s Festival, Steve spoke to a sell-out crowd of 700 at one of the largest venues on the Gold Coast. His presentation on Raising Boys was warm, open, practical, appealing, thoughtful, insightful, direct and effective. He showed the capacity crowd that he is truly a gentle man. An outcome was a few thousand dollars reaching MHL coffers. 

In his support of the growth of men, Steve has written:

The Men’s Movement is about learning how to be confident and easy in making better marriages, jobs, pastimes, friendships and in developing a rich and sustaining inner life.

Singing with men – Ancestral Tones

Peter Whitcombe had long harboured a desire to sing acapella style with men. Through links to Tony Groom, then to Rod Smith, Peter enlisted Brian Martin, a recent graduate in Music from the University of Southern Cross, to be the Musical Director for a new, Coolangatta based, male acapella choir called Ancestral Tones. This was, in effect, Brian’s entrée into men’s work. He has since become a well-loved songman for Mens Wellbeing.

Brian Martin the Songman

Brian’s initial attraction to becoming the Musical Director of a permanently established all male choir was the uniqueness of such a project. He rose to the challenge and followed his intention to create a safe, friendly and supportive singing environment for men and develop a group of men singing in harmony and unity on a regular basis.

The format of the choir was to sing world music chosen specifically for men. A great percentage of the founding members came from Men’s Help Line members. The group grew to 36 strong at times and staged, as well as participated in, singing events throughout the Gold Coast and northern NSW. There was even a whirlwind performance tour of some 18 men through the North Island of New Zealand.

When Brian moved on from Ancestral Tones in 2004 Simon Chate took on the role and, with time, the choir renamed itself Men Wot Sing and continues to sing on the Gold Coast.

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