DAVOREN PARK, Australia — No one really knows when backyard sheds became meaningful to men, as a retreat and a place to tinker. But in the late 1990s, Australia made them communal. Hundreds of men’s sheds, as they came to be known, popped up across the country — where retirees or the out of work could stave off loneliness and depression by working on creative projects, gaining new skills and socializing.
All of which got Raelene Wlochowicz thinking: What about the women? It was the end of 2019, and she was about to retire after 28 years of working in Australia’s juvenile justice system. People kept asking her what she was going to do with her time.
“I don’t know,” she’d say. “I’m ready to finish my work life, but I’m not finished with my life.”
Always active, a working-class grandmother with bright red hair and a nose ring, she couldn’t stand the idea of playing cards in a senior center or sitting around gossiping over $4 coffee.
She knew that the first men’s shed had opened not far away, on the fancier side of Adelaide, the most industrial of Australia’s major cities and the capital of South Australia.
Women’s sheds are a newer development, and they often take on a broader mandate, in terms of whom they serve and the skills they aim to develop. Barry Golding, an adult education professor at Federation University Australia in Ballarat who wrote a book about men’s sheds, said women’s sheds were just starting to take off, with around 100 worldwide.
protests against sexual harassment are appearing outside Australia’s Parliament, the women’s shed has become another way to channel outrage and energy.
In Davoren Park, some of the women are survivors of domestic violence; others are widows or out of work. They come for protection, progress and fellowship.
Leanne Jenkins, 46, was one of the first members. A mother of two with a tightly pulled ponytail, she said she had been struggling with severe anxiety and depression when her therapist suggested that the shed might be a good place to make friends and develop new skills. At first, showing up brought panic attacks. Now, she’s at the shed almost every day.
“They treat me like family, and if I’m not here or not around for a week, they come get me,” she said. “I feel like I’m relied on. If I don’t make it to the shed, I actually feel guilty.”