A mustachioed silo, on the outskirts of Walla, has got the town talking.
About tumours and testicles.
Mental illness and melanoma.
Stereotypes and stoicism.
All those things, traditionally, men would rather be silent about.
Kotzur’s Emily Gooden said it was the words of one man, her colleague Rhett Gibbs, who inspired her to take the Movember message sky high and start an area-wide conversation.
Jindera-born Rhett was diagnosed with testicular cancer at just 28 – five weeks before his wedding day.
At first, he didn’t tell many people, staying stoic, acting ‘like a man’.
“I felt the stigma,” he said.
“Especially with Aussie blokes it’s just ‘she’ll be right, don’t worry’ – that’s how I was. Hopefully now because [Movember] is a big cause, it’s slowly getting better.”
Six years on, Albury-based Rhett, now 34 and a father to two little girls, knows how important talking about your health is.
Even if it doesn’t always feel natural.
Rhett volunteered to speak about his cancer at a health information session at Kotzur in the hope his colleagues would get tested and take their health seriously.
Since then, about 40 Kotzur employees have joined men across the Border in changing their face to change the conversation around men’s health.
“I just wanted to bring more awareness and understanding about testicular cancer so hopefully the information could help, even if it just helped one person,” Rhett said.
“It’s been very overwhelming just how many people came up to me saying it was inspiring.”
Walla plant manager Brett Heaven said the Kotzur team took Rhett’s message and ran with it, starting a conversation about men’s health, not just at work but across Walla.
“It’s everywhere, that stigma of ‘toughen up, just get on with it’,” he said.
“It’s bred into men to be strong and crack on.”
Albury-born Jimmy Ladgrove, 27, believes male silence can be toxic, physically and mentally.
“There’s this stereotype that most Aussie males struggle to live up to,” he said.
“The tough, unflinching and unemotional bloke who loves being with his mates and drinking like a sailor.
“There’s a ‘suck it up or man up’ attitude in Australian culture. Don’t get a check up ‘she’ll be right’, and then when he’s feeling the pinch, he keeps it to himself which isn’t healthy.”
While Jimmy, then 18, was living in Albury, his 26-year-old friend died by suicide.
Almost 10 years on, he still feels the loss.
“If I had the time again, I’d try and get my friend talking more, but more importantly I’d be better at listening,” he said.
This Movember, Jimmy – who moved to London in 2014 but returns annually to work at his family’s pub in Wangaratta – will shave the impressive 16-inch beard he has been cultivating for five years.
“I believe that a lot of suicides including my friends could have been prevented,” he said.
“I’d like to do what I can to reduce the stigma and improve the understanding of mental health problems.”
Throughout his Movember campaign Jimmy has spoken about experiencing dark feelings and struggling with anxiety.
He said at times, he too felt reluctant to open up to family or friends.
Instead, he would open up another bottle.
Not wanting to be a burden.
Jimmy, and his beard, will be returning to the North East and his family’s pub, The Vine Hotel, this summer for the big ‘shear off’.
He said it was important for him to come home, to the place the beard and he, started to grow.
Jimmy said there was a specific pressure on rural Australian men to fit a stoic, old-world definition of masculinity which contributes to many men’s reluctance to seek help.
“It has to do with the way boys are raised… the old saying that men don’t cry,” he said.
“The idea that real men need to be strong, that showing emotion is a sign of weakness.
“I think it’s important for men to open up and talk about their feelings and health.
“If we bottle everything up it can become very overwhelming, which can lead you into a downward spiral of hopelessness, poor decision-making and poor resilience to everyday life stresses.”
Dale Skinner has experienced firsthand the power of sharing.
“It can save lives,” he said.
“It’s as simple as that, having a conversation can save your life or save someone else’s.
“I've had the experience, being bipolar, where a simple conversation has taken a lot pressure off during a depressive episode.”
A Black Dog Institute advocate, Dale said ugly moustaches were helping to change the face of men’s health and masculinity.
“It’s not about being tough, being a ‘man’, it’s more courageous to talk about what’s going on than to hide it,” he said.
As someone with bipolar type two, Dale said Movember was a chance to shed light on the suicide rate among men, and try to do something about it.
“[Movember] really does encourage that conversation,” he said.
“We lose 8 people a day to suicide in Australia, six are men.
“We need to reduce that and the way to do it is to get blokes talking to each other, their wives, partners, or colleagues about what they’re going through.
“It’s a figure that’s very easy to reduce if we start having those conversations.”
Dale, Jimmy and Rhett are a part of a rising tide of men, stepping up each November, fuzzy-lips and all to help others overcome ‘she’ll be right’ attitudes.
Because they know, they’ve seen, he isn’t always alright.
- To donate or learn more about Movember and men’s health visit https://au.movember.com/
- If you need support visit Black Dog Institute at
- https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ or call Lifeline 13 11 14
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