Grievance Debate: Rotary Club of Busselton-Geographe Bay, Busselton Health Study

I want to talk about the Rotary Club of Busselton-Geographe Bay and the building of the Busselton Men’s Shed, and how the promise of a $50,000 donation from the Rotary club was the spark that resulted in a million-dollar men’s shed. In 2012, Trevor Fisher was a member of the board of BESS, the Busselton Elderly Support Service, now known as Community Home Care. He was also a member of the Busselton-Geographe Bay Rotary Club, which had begun the Sail into Life experience for people with disability, seniors and people who’d never previously enjoyed the thrill of sailing. He mentioned to Leanne Miller, the CEO of BESS, that the Rotary club would need a shed for its Sail into Life boats and equipment. Leanne and Trevor then mentioned the idea to David Johns, a registered builder, and a member of Rotary club. They agreed, ‘Let’s build a shed.’ On behalf of the Rotary club, Rotarian Don Harrington applied to the City of Busselton for some land on Roe Terrace, on the edge of the Busselton light industrial area. Sadly, Don was diagnosed with cancer and died several months later. His widow, Rose, approached Trevor and David and gave them the papers she found in Don’s files. David and Trevor then approached the city’s mayor, Ian Stubbs, and CEO, Mike Archer, requesting the grant of 4,000 square metres of land to the Rotary Club to build the Men’s Shed and Rotary shed. David drew up plans for the proposed building, but tragedy struck again, and David Johns was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died a few months later. In his place, Trevor Fisher and Alex Meares approached the city, who approved David’s plans and agreed to clear the site and remove the vegetation and topsoil.

The city’s planning engineer, Paul Finucane, accepted a proposal to amalgamate the two existing vacant blocks and arranged for planning approval to be waived. The project was now up and running, with Trevor and Alex as the project managers responsible for organising the bulk of the work needed to get the project completed. It was delayed, as the main funding source, Lotterywest, wanted reasonable proof that a Men’s Shed would be a viable activity in the Busselton area. A small shed was built on Bussell Highway near the CBD, leased and made into a Men’s Shed, attracting over 100 members within just a few weeks of opening the doors. After 12 months of successful operations in this shed, Lotterywest were actually convinced that a full-scale Men’s Shed would be viable, so they agreed to provide the funding of $386,000 to add to the Rotary Club’s promised $50,000. Julie- Anne Howes and Emily Brown from BESS agreed to be the financial managers, making payment for materials and services provided to the construction project as they were completed.

The Rotary shed was built first, and then the Men’s Shed on Bussell Highway was able to move into half of the Rotary shed for 18 months as their new and much larger shed was being built. Thanks to Trevor asking contractors if they could undertake work on a costs-plus basis, the Busselton community then proceeded to donate materials and services either for free or at cost. APH Contractors donated and delivered 542 limestone blocks that formed the wall, within which clean sand was laid as the foundation. Matt Treasure laid the blocks without charge for his time.

After 18 months of work, the shed was completed and ready to be used. The final cost had been budgeted to be $472,660, but a total of over $301,000 was donated. The City of Busselton provided a cash donation of $50,000, the Bendigo Bank Community Bank Busselton donated $1,000, and the Rotary Club donated over $40,000. So, including the land, the total value of today’s Men’s Shed is close to a million dollars. What a great result for the Rotary Club’s initial offer of $50,000 and a fantastic effort by all of those men involved in the Men’s Shed that were part of this project from day 1.

We have a lot of Men’s Sheds in my part of the world. I know that a lot of other members do as well. There’s a lot of great work they do in the community as well as in their own work. Today, the Men’s Shed in Busselton turns over between $65,000 and $75,000 in paid-for work for the local community, although the actual value is at least double that amount, thanks to donations of materials and services by Men’s Shed members. The hourly cost of work is $80, but for groups like the Busselton Hospice and not-for-profits, people on low incomes and City of Busselton projects such as slabs and benches in the Japanese garden, they’re provided free of charge. The current membership is 108, and their work entails administration, woodwork and metalwork, as well as reupholstering of items such as pool tables. All that investment, all that work, has produced a fantastic result.

I want to also touch on a second project of the Rotary Club of Busselton-Geographe Bay. They took on a really ambitious project to provide lightweight swags called Shelterbags for local homeless people. The club imported Shelterbags from South Africa, where they were made by people with disabilities. Rotary Australia World Community Service partner with The Ark City of Refuge, who provide training, accommodation and support for homeless people in South Africa. The Ark have trained seamstresses to make the bags, which are affordable, lightweight, suited to the climate of Busselton and Dunsborough, and waterproof for some warmth, shelter and dignity for those sleeping rough.

The cost of importing a container of 750 Shelterbags is estimated to be nearly $70,000, including the Shelterbags and the shipping. The Rotary Club of Busselton-Geographe Bay was prepared to donate up to $10,000 to kickstart the project, the rest to be sought from donors, but in the end the community response—like we’ve seen in Busselton on a regular basis—was actually overwhelming, and the club only needed to contribute just under $7,000. The community contributions towards the project included a $20,000 grant from the City of Busselton, $10,000 from the Dunsborough Lions Club, contributions from the rotary clubs of Kenwick and Wyalkatchem, and $5,000 from Shelter Brewing Co and Rio Tinto. Other contributors included St Mary’s Anglican Church, the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association and the Geographe Bay Yacht Club, and private donations were made by Rose Harrington, Kevin Dodson, Noelene Hartley and Peta Saunders amongst many others. I was at a meeting where the Rotary Club were talking about the bags that they’d already distributed. They expected a particular demographic of people to seek these bags, but they were incredibly surprised at who actually needed them and who came forward to receive them. This is a fantastic project.

In finishing, I want to briefly touch on the fabulous Busselton Health Study started in 1966, one of the longest research projects anywhere in the world. It is a global collaboration, it’s cross-sectional and it’s focused on a range of conditions and diseases and illnesses, from sleep, respiratory and cardiovascular to diabetes and genetic issues. They have an extraordinary and valuable database with data from 1966 with this same group of people in Busselton. It is a fabulous longitudinal study. They have research facilities in Busselton and Perth, and they collaborate with medical researchers both around Australia and globally. This is just an extraordinary, extraordinary resource for Busselton and the broader region. As I said, the amount of material that they actually have in this database—that biobase for medical research—is just extraordinary. The wealth of information that sits there could possibly be used for so many other purposes, with the illnesses and conditions we are seeing today but also with those ahead. I encourage every organisation that I come across in this field to get in touch with those at the Busselton Health Study to draw on that wonderful wealth of information that they’ve gathered.

In closing, I want to thank the people of Busselton who have been part of this since 1966, with regular health checks and going in and making sure that their information is recorded for health purposes and for others to use. What an extraordinary effort and contribution not only from those who run the Busselton Health Study but also from the people who have made sure that the continuity has been there and who have fronted up over and over to have their checks and make sure that this data is recorded. I’ve supported them where I can, and I will keep doing so, because I think this is both a global and national resource that is yet to be tapped into. I’d like to see our health department tap into that here in Canberra as well.