Being the Prime Minister’s partner is a role unto itself. The leader of the country will always be under intense scrutiny, so support from family requires immeasurable time and dedication.
If you then throw in a considerable amount of effort in supporting several large charities, there is little opportunity for personal space.
In short, Tim Mathieson is a busy man. He is most publicly known as the partner of the 27th Prime Minister of Australia, The Honourable Julia Gillard, yet he has been travelling the country for years in his own right as a men’s health ambassador.
In recent years, his role as the patron of the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) has become a focus of daily life.
“In really simple terms I will make myself available for whatever AMSA wants me to do to support the sheds,” Tim says.
“I believe the work they do is incredibly important, so I will offer help whenever I can. Having said that, I really enjoy getting out there and visiting the individual sheds, so I’m quite happy to make it a priority.”
Tim attends events in a formal capacity to raise awareness and promote AMSA to a high-level audience, but is equally happy dropping into sheds for a personal visit.
“I love just getting out and meeting the characters. There’s something very real about it. No matter where you are in Australia you just get this sense that each shed is loved by those who use it.”
These visits are important, as Tim’s profile helps attract attention, and the local media. This can help with sponsorship and awareness to help secure the shed site’s future.
“We love to see the local media there. A local newspaper will keep the focus on the area – and helping the community is the purpose of our visit. People need to remember that these sheds are largely self-sufficient, so any help that can be provided locally is fundamental to continued success.”
As mentioned in several ManSpace articles, the men’s shed movement is growing at a great rate throughout Australia. The sheer volume of new sheds means that Tim has not been able to make a return visit to any one site, and he doesn’t think that it will be possible in the immediate future.
“We have MPs from both sides of politics wanting us to visit a local shed to see what they do. It’s a bipartisan area of society – which is fantastic – and a wonderful indication of the great work being done.
“It’s extraordinarily pleasing to say this, but we are almost at a point where our greatest problem is containment, rather than encouragement of new sheds. The growth rate this year is one shed every four or five days.
“The immediate problem is that this organisation was funded for 380 sheds representing 30,000 blokes. Now it’s up to almost 700 sheds with almost 70,000 members, and that puts considerable strain on everyone involved at an administrative level.”
There is no set structure as to what a shed must be or how it must operate, as each shed has different resources at its disposal. Those involved know the needs of their area and can determine the best way of making it work.
Tim has seen a great array of activities, ranging from traditional woodworking and metalworking through to vegetable gardens and set building.
“It’s a great display of Australian ingenuity and spirit. These guys have skills, and they create something of value to the men who drop by – and to the community at large.
“It’s by no means a place for retired men only. I’ve experienced amazing stories first-hand from men of all ages. There are guys who perhaps have a disability of some sort, or have been through a bad time with family, relationships or work. They can come along and spend time without fear of judgement.”
The passion in Tim’s voice is evident and there is no doubting his commitment. However, having a conversation at The Lodge does involve a certain amount of distraction.
There is an abundance of beautiful furniture and classic artwork reminding you of the extraordinary history of the place. Yet The Lodge maintains a homely feel to go with the dignified grandeur and – if it’s possible for a building – commands its own respect.
So, is it possible to create your own space within such stately walls?
“No matter where you live, it’s fundamental to create your own space,” Tim says.
“There’s very little separation between work and home when your family is in government, and it is obviously a high pressure environment. But that just makes it more important to have some space to relax with your own things around you.
“In many ways, visiting the sheds helps me to experience some personal space. And that’s the fundamental basis of what the shed movement is all about – sharing space with others and making everyone feel welcome and as though they have a share in it.”
Given the demands of travelling around the country, Tim is happy to have a more relaxed space at The Lodge where he can sit, unwind or share a drink with friends.
“Like a lot of guys I enjoy doing a little woodwork and furniture restoration, but it is difficult when your time is shared between your family home and official residences in Sydney and Canberra.
“I’m obviously not going to send my tools to different sheds around the country.”
So Tim has nominated two rooms at The Lodge where he can go to relax.
One of them displays an impressive collection of sporting memorabilia that would be envy of any Australian male. A World Cup Wallabies jumper with signatures from the entire squad has immediate pride of place, and a framed Richmond jumper with full team signatures signifies true dedication (as any Richmond fan of the past 20 years will tell you).
“It’s a great room just to sit and read. It’s only a small space, but it helps you relax when you have your things around you like this.”
If Tim feels like a bit more activity, he retreats to the official Hawke Billiards Room. Let’s be honest, what other room would you name after Bob Hawke?
“You can feel the history in here, and you can only imagine some of the things these walls have heard,” he laughs.
“It gets a lot of natural light, which is really lovely. There’s obviously the full-sized billiards table if you feel like having a game and a few comfortable couches, and I’ve got a little CD player.
“Some music, a game of pool and a great room to relax on your own or with mates – what else would you want?”
Furthermore, a little space for getting away and being comfortable is often where ideas are born.
“Sometimes you need to step away from whatever you do to look at it clearly.
“As I was saying before, part of our immediate problem with the sheds is being able to provide support for something that is growing so quickly. Sitting up here recently, I had the idea of putting together a form of Shed Radio. It will take a bit of work, and it’s something I don’t think we’ll be able to get to until next year, but the possibilities would be extensive.
“I think it’s a very traditional thing to go out to the shed, or the study, or some space on the back deck and put the radio on. It’s a very Australian male thing to do. In that sense, it would be the perfect way to unite these guys and provide them with an avenue to inspire and support each other.
“The Shed Radio concept would also be an excellent bridge between the physical sheds and The Shed Online.”
The Shed Online, a social community that mirrors the work and values of the men’s sheds, provides contact for men who unable to leave the house – perhaps due to injury, mobility issues or physical distance.
The Shed Radio would not only support this position, but would also fill a gap when the actual shed is not open.
Ultimately however, any space at an official residence has limitations. You can’t exactly strip the back shed and put in a new set of shelves. But what about back at the family home?
“Stage two of our renovations – that is, prior to Julia becoming Prime Minister – was that we were going to knock down the old shed and build another. In there I was going to build a salon and fill it with all my stuff,” Tim says, hinting at his early career as a hairdresser.
“I could use it to cut mates’ hair or the family’s hair and also have it as a comfortable place to hang out. But there’s plenty of time for that, and lots more work to be done with AMSA, so I’m happy to wait.”