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Indigenous Men in Sheds

The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) has a policy of inclusiveness and welcoming of all men within Men’s Sheds irrespective of race, ethnic background, colour, age, religious belief, sexual orientation etc. There is now a huge variety of Men’s Sheds with a huge variety of men within these sheds.

Aboriginal men have a history of gathering together regularly to enable peer support and group decision making. AMSA recognizes that, just as some Men’s Sheds cater predominately to groups of men from differing ethnic backgrounds, some sheds cater predominately for Aboriginal men due to cultural preferences.

Within a welcoming and inclusive Men’s Shed there is an opportunity to learn about, understand and respect differing cultures, to treat each other with respect and to support each other. The common ground being that we are all men!

AMSA would like to encourage Men’s Sheds to take on board the following information regarding relating to Aboriginal men and thus reduce the chances of inadvertently offending Aboriginal men or others within the group.

The following is adapted from ‘Communicating positively – a guide to appropriate Aboriginal terminology’ (NSW Health)


An ‘Aboriginal person’ is a person who:

  • Is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia
  • Identifies as an Aboriginal person
  • Is accepted by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal person

Other Considerations

  • The term ‘Aborigine(s)’ may have a negative connotation with many Aboriginal people. The use of ‘Aboriginal person’ or Aboriginal people’ is preferred.
  • Do not use ‘Aboriginal’ as a noun, use it as an adjective. ‘Aboriginal person’ or ‘Aboriginal people’ is preferred.
  • Always capitalize ‘Aboriginal’ just as we always capitalize ‘Australian’
  • Never abbreviate the term ‘Aboriginal’ as this is offensive

A Torres Strait Islander or a Torres Strait Islander person is a person/descendant from the Torres Strait Islands:

  • Always capitalize ‘Torres Strait Islander’
  • Never abbreviate the term ‘Torres Strait Islander’ as this is offensive

Other Terms

Goori, Koori, Murri, Nunga, Yolngu, Anangu, Noongar etc are directly derived from Aboriginal languages and are the names used by Aboriginal people in specific areas when referring to themselves. Always check with the local Aboriginal community about using this type of terminology.

Terms not to be Used

The following terms are inappropriate or dated and should be avoided as it is offensive:

  • ATSI
  • Native
  • Mixed blood
  • Half caste
  • Quarter caste
  • Full blood
  • Part Aboriginal
  • 25%, 50% Aboriginal
  • ‘Them’ and ‘Them people’
  • Those people
  • Those folk
  • You people

Clearly, the following terms are also offensive and should never be used:

  • coloured
  • primitive
  • nigger
  • lubra
  • gin
  • abo
  • coon
  • boong
  • savage
  • jacki jacki
  • coconut
  • sooty
  • darky
  • blacks

The following is adapted from ‘Didja Know – Aboriginal Cultural Communication’ (Hunter New England Health)


There is often confusion by shedders about relating to Aboriginal people or what they should do in any given situation. The following information is provided to assist shedders to better understand the needs of Aboriginal people to be culturally appropriate and to discredit some of the myths surrounding Aboriginal people and their communities.

The following tips have come from oral history from a variety of Aboriginal people. This list has been developed in response to some commonly asked questions. It is not a definitive list and will vary across different clans.


Non-Aboriginal people may prefer a firm handshake, where a soft handshake from an Aboriginal person may be more polite. This can indicate an unwillingness to intrude on personal space or not to shake hands (females).

Eye Contact

Western society expects others to ‘hold eye contact’ while speaking and assume those who don’t, are shifty or not to be trusted. Aboriginal people show respect for age or authority by lowering their eyes. Open eye contact can have connotations of sexual availability in many cultures.


The loss of personal dignity such as being singled out in front of others for criticism, praise or being ridiculed causes the person to suffer severe ‘shame’ (e.g. Re-education).

Please and Thank You

In traditional languages there appears to have been no words for ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. Most traditional languages seem to have a particular ‘respect code of language’ to show respect or regard which includes such concepts as in the personal relationship/reciprocity system, one did things for others because it was expected, or a duty or because one wanted to do it.

Time orientation

Aboriginal people are more likely to focus on the past and present than in the future.  This means that what is happening now or what has occurred, tends to be of more interest and importance than plans or wondering about what will happen in the future. This can often produce a ‘live for today attitude’.


Aboriginal people are more likely to respond to indirect questions. Very blunt or personal or direct questions may make Aboriginal people suspicious of the reasons for the questioning. The amount of information shared often depends on the level of the relationship and commitment to that relationship.

Person Orientation

Aboriginal people tend to be more ‘people’ oriented than ‘task’, ‘information’ or ‘material goods’ oriented. This means human relationships form the most important factor in all interactions. Along with family loyalties or duties, personal relationships represent the over-riding concern in Aboriginal societies.

Being raised in an extended nuclear family system, whose significant kinship categories go far beyond the nuclear family, reinforces this persons orientation. The 3 R’s are very relevant to Aboriginal society; Relationship, Respect and Responsibility.

If we translate this into an employment or training situation, this means that who is doing the training or supervising, is more important than the success of the content of what is being taught.

Field sensitivity

Aboriginal people, are more likely to be what psychologists call ‘field sensitive’, that is, they tend more to be influenced by everything around them – family, friends, peers, colleagues, authority figures (including ‘the boss’, the environment, etc)

The individual tends to see him/herself more as part of a whole; so that removing an element from the wider field seems to change the whole field to such a person.


Like people from all other ethnic groups, Aboriginal peoples do not form a homogenous mass. Certain general characteristics can be discerned, of course, but they can never be assumed to apply invariably, and to the same extent, to every Aboriginal individual.

As a matter of principle, an Aboriginal person should be treated as an individual with individual needs and understandings and Aboriginality not seen as a stereotype.


This does not automatically mean Aboriginal people have nothing to say. Long periods of silence and thought, characterise Aboriginal meetings. Given time and trust, people do express their opinions.


Names are much more than labels; they are part of a person and may have certain cultural taboos on their use in some traditional contexts.


Like people from all other cultures, Aboriginal people do not form a homogenous mass and therefore it should not be assumed that all Aboriginal people are the same and what works for one works for all. Aboriginal people should be treated no differently to non-Aboriginal people.

There are several things you can do:

  • Respect Aboriginal peoples, their culture and the diversity that exists within the culture.
  • Remember that all Aboriginal people are not the same. What may be appropriate for one may not be appropriate or relevant for another
  • Be prepared to take a little extra time and try to view things from a different perspective
  • No Aboriginal person has the right to speak for another unless requested to do so
  • The less assertive you are the  more frank an Aboriginal person may be
  • Family  and community responsibilities take priority over any other event and can create misunderstanding by others
  • Talk to many Aboriginal people and learn about their individual thoughts on Aboriginality
  • Statements or actions regarding Aboriginal issues should be taken to a number of Aboriginal people before being implemented
  • Always ask open questions
  • Communication can be complex. To most people “yes” means yes but to Aboriginal people “yes “ may mean I’m going to say yes so that you can go away / I don’t want to answer your questions
  • Similarly, difficulty in engaging with an Aboriginal person may be due to the issue being seen as “Mens or Womens Business”.
  • Some Aboriginal people may have poor literacy levels and are distrustful of people asking questions – take this into account.
  • Listen to what Aboriginal people are saying

AMSA would like to thank members of the Aboriginal Men’s Reference Group for their help and support to develop this document:

  • Ralph Smith – Centacare
  • Kevin Read – NSW Police
  • Steven Booby
  • Luke Allan – Hunter New England Local Health District (Chair)
  • Allan Cobb
  • Neil Harvey
  • Rob Wilcox – Indigenous Coordination Centre
  • Kendall Clarke – Indigenous Coordination Centre
  • Paul McFadyen – Indigenous Coordination Centre
  • Leonard Hill – Indigenous Coordination Centre
  • Sue Jolley – Indigenous Coordination Centre
  • Gary Green – Australian Men’s Shed Association