On a cold winter night near Mullewa, five hours north of Perth in Western Australia, a group of farmers gather around a towering fire in the middle of a paddock.
A tin shack provides some shelter from the wet dew, while the bonfire keeps them warm.
There’s about 70 farmers gathered here tonight – some live within 50 kilometres of here, while others have travelled a whopping 700 kilometres.
They’re catching up over the 6B’s — blokes, barbecue, bonfire, beers, bonding and bullshit.
This safe space, in between the flickering flames with a cold beer and a feed, is a chance to check in on one another and to share how they’re feeling — the good and the bad.
Owen Catto is from Regional Men’s Health, a not-for-profit created to raise awareness of wellbeing and health issues affecting men in rural and remote WA.
“Blokes talking through groups, feeling safe and connected, is the way we’re going to empower individuals and communities to talk about it and say, ‘mate, that’s alright, you’re not the only one’,” he told 7.30.
Rod Messina, the farmer who is hosting the 6B’s event, said he was compelled to do it to take his mind off of work and to reconnect with friends and family.
“For me personally, I’ve just been so busy,” he said.
“I’ve sort of gotten angry at my family when they’ve wanted me to do something for them, [because] I’m so focused on what I’ve got to do [on the farm].
“If you don’t get that time out, then who knows the ramifications. We all know the worst-case scenario of what can happen.”
Mr Catto said men have higher representations in health risk categories like bowel cancer, cardiovascular disease and suicide.
“We’ve got a long way to go as blokes to improve our health and well-being outcomes,” he said.
“Blokes need to realise that we’re not alone and to give each other permission to talk about stuff.
The birth of 6B’s
In 2017, sheep and wheat producer from Watheroo Bradley Millsteed had some leftover timber after clearing some paddocks and decided to put it to good use.
“I said to a couple of mates, ‘what do you reckon about a barbecue and bonfire?'” he said.
Mr Millsteed posted the barbecue and bonfire idea to social media and then added four more ‘B’s’ — blokes, beers, bonding and bullshit.
Ever since, Mr Millsteed has helped other farmers across the state to organise their own local 6B’s event.
“Not everyone enjoys sport, not everyone enjoys going to the pub, but I haven’t found too many people who don’t enjoy sitting around a fire,” he said.
Mr Millsteed said the 6B’s concept was initially conceived as a way for men to discuss mental health but it has since also developed into a discussion around general health and wellbeing.
“As we age, our bodies change, [we discuss when] something doesn’t work like it used to work, or there’s a lump or a bump or something somewhere,” he said.
“Getting a group of guys together and hearing somebody else talk about something that they’ve experienced, these conversations might spark further engagement and encourage someone to go and get themselves checked out.”
Phil Rumble, who works as a farmhand manager, attended the Mullewa 6B’s event for the first time and said he believed it can help to break down topics that some men see as taboo.
“If he just had said something to someone, that might’ve been resolved, but you just don’t know.”
Farming is getting lonelier
The mechanisation of farming is creating a sense of loneliness and isolation in the sector, according to Mr Messina.
“We’re going to go to autonomous, there’s going to be less staff and everyone wants to move to the city,” he said.
“The kids don’t want to come back and the communities are dying, so I think farms today will probably end up like the stations in the north where they are 1,000 to 1,500 kilometres apart.
“I hope it never does, but who knows?”
Mr Rumble said one of the challenges of his job as a farmhand manager is spending long hours of the day working solo.
“You do spend a lot of time on your own,” he said.
“The daily duties of the job can be anywhere from spreading, seeding, spraying, harvesting, fencing and a lot of that time you’re spending it on your own.
“During seeding time I’ll be spending anywhere between 15-18 hours a day on my own in a tractor with my own thoughts, so they become long days after a while.”
Mr Millsteed agreed that working on the land is time-consuming and isolating, and therefore believes farmers need to stop and take time out from work to check in with their mates.
“As farmers we soil-test our paddocks to see what’s there. We can’t do that with ourselves unfortunately, we need to remove that stigma of getting help.
“As the saying goes, it’s OK to not be OK, but what’s not OK is to do nothing about it.”