Yorke Peninsula’s Fat Farmers tackle big issues

It is Friday morning and parked in the main street of Maitland, Yorke Peninsula, outside of what was once the local footy club, are half a dozen farm utes.

Stepping out of one is farmer Ben Wundersitz, but this morning he has swapped his dusty work boots for sneakers and gym clothes – not his normal get up.

Ben, along with a growing number of other South Australian farmers, is on a mission to look after his number one farm business asset – himself and his family.

He is a founding member of the Fat Farmers initiative, aimed at promoting physical and mental health in rural communities.

Fat Farmers founding member and Maitland farmer Ben Wundersitz running on his Yorke Peninsula property.

What started in 2012 as a network of just three local farmers has grown to include about 190 males and females across many parts of regional SA.

“Fat Farmers, it’s probably not the most politically correct name but at the time we thought that’s what we were,” Ben says.

Often working alone for long hours, farming is a tough gig, and Ben says taking on the family farm business often coincides with looking after a young, busy family, and also ‘retiring’ from team sports such as footy – which can mean a loss of a social connection.

“Blokes often start to wear the brunt of the family farming business in their 30s-40s,” he says. “What exercise does for the body alone, that’s well-documented, but just to get out and have a chat to mates about the weather, what’s happening with the kids or whatever is just so beneficial.

“You can go to the gym feeling crap and two hours later you just come away feeling like a different person. It’s not just about farmers, Fat Farmers is for everyone – male and female – it’s really about rural communities.”

Fat Farmers brings rural communities together to help promote a healthy lifestyle.

These days, Ben’s local Fat Farmer’s group in Maitland meets twice week, in addition to a local personal training session once a week. The local gym is in the old footy clubhouse, where most of these farmers were once meeting for a beer on a Saturday night.

“Thankfully for us, our town had a gym, and we’ve helped make it socially acceptable for blokes to go to the gym because that’s not always the way in a small town,” Ben says.

“Ironically, the gym is across the road from the local pub too, so slowly but surely we’ve changed sides and it’s become quite the norm going to the gym. We’ll now do a gym session and then be leaning on the bar of what was the old footy club, having a coffee and a chat afterwards.”

Fat Famers groups gather regularly in communities across the state, not just for gym sessions, but also cycling, walking, swimming, and running, often with families joining in.

Fat Farmers CEO Sally Fischer says the group is also involved in fun runs across the state.

The next generation – Edwina and Harriet Marshman from the Lower North Fat Farmers team at the City to Bay in Adelaide.

The group is now also involved in the Healthy Workers Across Industry Incentive – in collaboration with Grain Producers SA – showing the direct correlation between exercise, productivity and injury prevention.

For Ben, Fat Farmers has had a lasting impact.

“I’ve lost about 8kg or so, I couldn’t run before I started this. Now I’m running 12km in the City to Bay every year and most of us are maintaining a level of fitness year-round,” he says.

“But the social impact is the big thing – anything you can do to improve the health of local communities is a good thing, we’re losing far too many rural men particularly, to depression and suicide.”

Feature image: Some of the Fat Farmers crew Darren Stock, left, Pete Dutschke, Ben Wundersitz, Sam Johns, Bill Moloney and Nick McCauley at the Maitland gym.

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Limestone Coast’s Lifeboat program a lifesaver for community mental health

On a Tuesday evening at Mt Gambier’s City Hall, men and women are chatting on couches as sunlight streams through the windows.

At mental health support group Lifeboat SE, formality is noticeably absent. There are more than a few laughs. You can speak if you want to or just listen.

Here, everyone’s story is different. Some have lost a family member, others have been through divorces, dealt with failing businesses or struggled with post-natal depression.

For Matthew Brookes, the public face of the Lifeboat SE group, these meetings are a way for people to break the ice about a deeply private subject.

Lifeboat SE meets every Tuesday at Mt Gambier’s City Hall. Photo by Kate Hill.

From personal experience, Matthew understands how difficult it is to ask for help when you’re in the grip of anxiety or depression.

“It’s a fact that one in five people will experience mental health issues at some stage but a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it,” Matthew says.

With a relaxed mantra of ‘come and chew the fat with a mate’, the group is taking a community approach to a serious issue affecting regional communities – mental health.

A couple of years ago, life crept up on Matthew Brookes. A change of management at work left him uncertain and mulling over his future.

Then having to deal with being first on the scene of a fatal car accident was closely followed by a scary incident close to home – he rolled the car with his wife and three children inside.

Mt Gambier man Matthew Brookes is a founding member of Lifeboat SE. Photo by Kate Hill.

Although no one was injured, it was a shock for the 52-year-old, who confesses he ‘shut up shop’ and stopped talking to his family and friends, instead just wanting to sleep away the day. Stress and worry developed into anxiety and depression.

“I thought I was big enough and ugly enough to handle anything that was thrown at me, but it just got on top of me,” he says.

For a bloke who freely admitted he ‘wouldn’t walk into a meeting’, he knew he needed something else to keep him on track following more traditional forms of treatment.

A group of people began to meet up regularly and the concept of Lifeboat SE began to take shape. The group takes an early intervention approach by helping people manage stressful situations before they become a breeding ground for bigger problems.

The support group is open to all … no matter occupation, gender or circumstances. Photo by Kate Hill.

They talk about the importance of sleep, exercise, socialising, having hobbies and taking care of yourself.

As Matthew says, “there’s no captain on a lifeboat, it’s just a crew of people surviving together”.

“We want to give understanding to the community that it’s okay to talk and give them some tools to understand what’s going on and how to support each other,” he says.

Recovery is different for everyone and Matthew knows he’ll be managing his condition for years to come. When he feels low, he’ll head out camping with his family, take a long walk or catch up with another Lifeboat member for a beer and yarn.

“Everyone’s ride is different,” he says. “It takes a whole community to look out for each other.”

To find out more, visit The Junction or Lifeboat SE’s website.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough time call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

It’s all about the talk: Lifeboat’s meetings are a place for conversation. Photo by Kate Hill.

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Out of the dark and into the light – how Savvy’s tough times are helping others

Mt Barker man Chris ‘Savvy’ Savill is using one of the darkest times of his life to help others battle their own demons.

In 2017, Savvy, who spent time in the military before becoming a sound recordist and camera operator, experienced a serious bout of depression after work-related stress and other factors almost became too much.

He decided to seek help and see a psychologist, which in the end didn’t work for him, so instead he tried using his military experience to develop tactics to increase mental resilience and strength.

“When I got depression at the end of 2017 it hit me pretty hard,” Savvy says.

“I pulled the military tactics I knew and converted them into every day tactics to pull myself out of depression, and that’s how I got out of it. One friend in particular also stuck by me and urged me on and I did activities that I really enjoyed, one of them being hiking.”

Now Savvy is putting these tactics down on paper and converting them into an online training method that others can access and use in a way that works for them.

Chris ‘Savvy’ Savill, an RUOK ambassador and mental health advocate.

The mental health resource, Alpha Six, is still under development and Savvy is currently studying cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology to boost his theoretical knowledge to add to his personal experiences.

The Alpha Six outreach program was launched in January 2018 and has existed through a website and Facebook page as well as Savvy himself actively reaching out to people in need of support. So far, he says he has helped save the lives of five people who were on the brink of suicide.

“One of them was a homeless person and I pretty much sat with them throughout the night to make sure they weren’t alone because being alone can be a huge killer,” Savvy says.

“The next morning, I called them an ambulance. It took me all night to convince them to get help.”

Savvy also spreads the word about mental health awareness through his role as an RUOK community ambassador, one of only two in South Australia. RUOK is a suicide prevention charity that reminds people to have meaningful conversations with friends and family who might be struggling with life.

Savvy says he encourages people to adopt four steps when checking in with a friend or family member who is having a hard time.

Savvy shares a motivational talk with a local school.

“Firstly, ask them are they ok. Step two is listen to them in a non-judgemental way, step three is urge them to get professional help and step four is check up on them,” he says.

“All it takes is a conversation. When people have depression they just want to be heard.”

It’s not only the 2017 bout of depression which brought the importance of mental health into perspective for Savvy. Growing up in Cornwall England in the 1980s, Savvy had dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult to read, write and spell.

He struggled throughout primary school where his frustrated teachers dismissed his dyslexia for laziness, shouting at him to do better and calling him ‘stupid’. This made him a target for bullies.

“It really stripped me of my self-confidence and looking back on it now, I’m pretty sure I went through childhood depression. It wasn’t a pleasant time in my life,” Savvy says.

“But my parents were the best, they were absolute fighters, my mum got behind me and fought and fought to get dyslexia officially recognised in the schooling system. She would go to specialists and they did all kinds of tests on me to confirm that I did have dyslexia.”

Savvy in his home studio.

But by the time Savvy finished high school he had failed most of his final exams, shooting his self-esteem further down but also building the determination he would use later in life.

It wasn’t until after he finished school when he fell in love with sound, one day discovering an audio mixer at a friend’s house. Still in the UK, he worked as a music producer before he was spotted by a sound designer from London’s West End Theatre where he worked for some time before the BBC grabbed hold of him.

“The BBC said they needed a sound assistant in their studios, so I applied and got it,” Savvy says.

“I mainly did their in-house productions, the big shows back then were Top of the Pops, EastEnders, and a kids show called Blue Peter. At Top of the Pops I got to work with 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani and Coldplay, which was really cool.”

Savvy met his now wife Meredith, prompting a move Down Under in 2006. His first job in Australia was helping establish and run an Aboriginal music centre in Tennant Creek in the outback.

It evolved into a recording studio where locals and Winanjjikari musicians could record their language, their stories and their traditional songs.

Savvy filming for Totally Wild.

“It had a cultural significance because people would record the languages that were dying out, they were recorded for the National Archives,” Savvy says.

“We’d go to places where only two elders were left speaking those languages, so once they passed away they’d take the language with them. Now there’s an audio record, which is great.”

From the outback, Savvy went on to pursue his career in Adelaide, working at radio stations and at Channel 10 as an audio and camera operator on shows including Totally Wild.

He was there for almost a decade when the depression hit and he eventually left to continue his own solo sound pursuit – Savill Sound – providing sound services for all media platforms. He also works as a camera operator for sporting events and local film productions here in SA.

His audio and media producing and Alpha Six take up most of his time, but he has also visited schools as a motivational speaker.

“Looking back now, I have a really big driving force because of it,” Savvy says. “If somebody says I can’t do something I want to prove them wrong.”

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Regional exhibition tackles stigma around men’s mental health

A local politician, a surfer, farmer and fisherman are just some of the men who appear in a photographic exhibition that aims to break the stigma around men’s mental health.

About 30 men from across the Eyre Peninsula have been snapped for the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign, which aims to encourage men to talk more openly about mental health and life’s struggles.

Port Lincoln photographer Robert Lang took the portraits of the men in their ‘places of wellness’, from farms to fence lines, beaches, boats, cars and veggie patches.

The exhibition is travelling to venues across the Eyre Peninsula until October.

One of the men photographed is Michael Traeger, from the small town of Cummins, who finds solace while on the farm.

Michael, pictured above, tragically lost his wife Kirsty in a car crash two years ago, just months after the birth of their first child, Zac.

Michael Traeger says it was his wife Kirsty’s life ambition to remove the stigma associated with mental health. Photo by Robert Lang.

Kirsty was passionate about speaking up about mental health and often shared her own struggles with depression and anxiety.

She was instrumental in establishing Mentally Fit Eyre Peninsula in 2014 under her role at West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS).

The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is an initiative of Mentally Fit EP.

Michael says carrying on Kirsty’s passion for helping others “means everything” as “it’s keeping a part of Kirsty alive”.

“It became her life ambition to help other people and remove the stigma around mental illness,” he says.

“A lot of people now know of the program (Mentally Fit EP) and know where to get help.

Dallas Waters of Wudinna is one of the men photographed for the exhibition. Photo by Robert Lang.

“When she got crook we had no idea what to do or who to talk to. Now the facilities that we have have changed a bit and we’re headed in the right direction.

“We’re giving people more knowledge, and everyone’s starting to talk about it more and have the conversation.”

Michael says the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign aimed to break down the shame and embarrassment men might feel when talking about their feelings or sharing their struggles.

“Men are a bit more sheltered about what they share and there is that big stigma with blokes that if they do have a problem they don’t talk about it,” he says.

“We have lost a couple of young fellows over the years to suicide and no one was any the wiser as to what was going on.

“If women are struggling they’ll talk about it, but men won’t. Nine times out of 10 it’s a ‘toughen up’ scenario for men.”

Dennis Peck of Tumby Bay finds his wellness on the water. Photo by Robert Lang.

The idea of the men’s wellness exhibition was the result of a “2am brainstorm” of Port Lincoln woman, Jo Clark.

Jo is the CEO of WCYCS and says she believes mental health issues and suicide are not isolated to regional areas.

“The impact is deeper because of the isolation,” she says.

“Regional areas rely heavily on certain economic conditions … if it’s a bad year it’s felt far and wide.”

Not all of the men in the photo exhibition have had experiences with mental health issues.

Jo says that Mentally Fit EP often relied on the local community for funding, with Bendigo Bank and Ramsey Brothers stepping in, while the State Government has also provided funds.

Member for Flinders Peter Treloar is another of the local faces. Photo by Robert Lang.

Michael encourages people to check in with friends, family and people in their community and ask if they’re OK.

“Instead of remaining quiet, if you do know someone who is struggling, have that conversation and show them that you care,” he says.

“All it takes is for one person to show that little bit of compassion and they might just save someone’s life.”

The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is showing at Cowell Institute from May 18–31 before moving to Kimba, Lock, Cleve, Elliston, Streaky Bay and Tumby Bay before finishing up in Port Lincoln for Mental Health Week in October.

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