The Backyard Shed is an integral part of Australian life. No other nation values them as we do. Despite this, our sheds, modest from the outside yet glorious on the inside, have never really been recorded or their many purposes explained.
Sheds come and go with no-one the wiser, remaining secret, and mysterious places that are exposed only at a garage sale or on the death of their owners.
Why the backyard shed sustains life and meaning for so many men?
In a shed the rules are different. Chaos is allowed to reign, asserting its creative force in wayward contrast to the suburban order all around. It’s a place that permits the presence of spiders, sawdust, and stinks. The acrid smell of gardening chemicals mixes with the reek of damp mold and old oil; light softened through dusty windows never gets to the murky corners.
Danger lurks. Hidden in roughly painted cupboards are forbidden chemicals. Rusting nails lie scattered around the floor, ready to pierce unprotected feet. Screeching power tools send sparks flying. Risks and thrills are everywhere.
Old biscuit tins and Vegemite jars full of nails, screws, and washers await the pleasure of being sorted and reused. Tobacco tins bursting with bits of wire, broken plugs, old glasses, and pieces of machined steel — clearly a part of some device only to be wondered at — squat on sagging shelves. Never throw them out. Their time will come. A shed can be a reservoir of memories and experience, rich with satisfying layers of accumulated personal history.
Time can stand still here, making it a place for meditation and contemplation. Some men go to their sheds to escape from family responsibilities, never really to emerge again.
Others make their sheds the centre of family and community life, using them as places for preparing food, brewing beer, making music, playing sports, sharing information, and generally socialising.
Sheds transcend class. All sorts of people, rich and poor, city and country, are sustained by their sheds. Anyone with the modest luxury of a reasonably sized building block can construct one in their backyard.
Sheds also transcend age. Young men go to them to be initiated into the mysterious art of making a motor vehicle go or brewing beer, while retired men take advantage of the quietude to work and yet not work — an opportunity to tinker away their twilight years.
Our national knack for invention and innovation, for making do, lives on in the shed. The “she’ll be right” attitude may be denigrated as the blight of the Australian industry, but it thrives in the country’s backyards. And it’s this do-it-yourself ethos that gives the shed supremacy. A shed is a palace of practicality where a bloke is the ruler.
In this book, you’ll find just some of the types of sheds that” grace our backyards. Like their contents, sheds come in all shapes and sizes and their purposes range the spectrum. “What binds them is something undefinable, something as mysterious as the dark corners of their interiors — something that happens when a bloke gets a shed.
In Australia, a shed can be anything from a dunny-side construction to an aircraft hangar covering an acre or two. A shed might be defined as a building outside or away from the main domestic living space. However, this doesn’t go far enough; a rumpus room can demonstrate shed-like qualities, even though it’s part of the house. Perhaps what really makes a shed, a shed, is the value placed on it by its owner.
A garage is not a shed: it’s simply a place in which to store a car. However, a garage can be given a little care and attention, become a shed. Many of the sheds included here could also be called home workshops.
An important criterion for the selection of your shed is that their owners or occupiers were men. That’s not to say that women don’t have sheds or other special spaces, but the link between men and sheds is a strong one. Australian blokes like their sheds and spend a lot of time in them.
Sheds are not uniquely Australian. Many countries have similar domestic spaces: America has its basements, for instance. However, in Australia, the average home has plenty of space, and our standard of living is high enough to allow for the cost of spare domestic buildings.
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