By Kyra Gillespie

Ben Macdonald is the founder of A Guide To Cardinia Shire, a platform dedicated to promoting events and achievements in the local community.

The online site has garnered hundreds of followers since it’s inception a few years ago, quickly becoming the region’s go-to events hub.

“I started it five or six years ago, and for most of that time it was sharing things every now and then when I could around work and family.

“I had a change in circumstances at the start of the year, and that’s when I thought: why not put in a bit more effort?

“So I built the group, threw up a website and it’s really taken off from there.”

Ben now resides in Drouin, but lived in Cardinia for years prior to that.

He said he started the page as a way of promoting community connectedness after noticing a void in the area.

“There are so many people feeling isolated and doing it tough out there.

“As someone who has suffered from depression for a good 30 years, I know what it’s like to not want to get out of bed.

“I figured if I can do a little thing to help someone out and make it a bit easier for them, then why not?”

Ben is a father to two 16-year-olds, two 15-year-olds and a 7-year-old.

When he’s not running the page and working, the he spends his time creating art out of discarded materials.

His unique creations range from wooden wedding albums, chessboards made from recycled tiles, candle holders, wooden placemats and coasters and much more.

“I get a bit arty and crafty with my woodwork,” Ben said.

“Everything I make is recycled out of things people stick on their nature strip.

“I use whatever I can find; the less that goes to landfill the better.

“Most of what we throw out can be reused in one way or another; you just need a little creativity.”

Ben has even used the plastic tubes from pens to make a dish rack and a magazine stand.

He said the creativity is partly a by-product of his battle with mental illness.

“I’ve had depression for over many years and part of that means I find sitting still difficult.

“I’m open about mental health because I think it’s a good – and essential – conversation to have.

“While dialogue is only part of the solution it helps people understand it more; I know even as someone living with it I don’t fully understand it.

“Awareness is absolutely essential.”

Ben has family members who have been directly impacted by mental illness and domestic violence.

He believes men’s mental health issues have a big impact when it comes to domestic violence.

“I believe that men’s mental health issues have a great deal to do with domestic violence. I am in no way excusing that behaviour but I think if studies were done properly they would often find that the perpetrator is struggling mentally.

“It’s not a natural thing for people to treat other people like that.

“Men are so often told to man up and ‘be tough’ – which is basically the same as telling someone with depression to just ‘get over it.’”

The father of five himself attended a workshop to help get his anger under control.

“I went to Caring Dads, a free program offering support, parenting courses and groups for fathers.

“I did the program because my behaviour, feelings and actions started to affect those around me.

“I’ve never been violent and I’ve never thought of myself as a perpetrator, but I was loud and would shout a lot.

“I’m six-foot tall and 120 kilos so I’m a pretty big guy, and probably pretty scary when I was angry.

“Since I went to Caring Dads my behaviour improved, I spent more time with my kids and turned around completely.

“My son was failing school before, and since I did the course he has improved from a 25 per cent grade average to 85 per cent, and also got ‘most improved’ in the class.”

He said that while his website, A Guide To Cardinia Shire isn’t necessarily a mental health platform, he would always be open to discussing the issues with anyone interested or in need.

“The message is important, and while it’s quite terrifying to tell my story if it helps even one person then I have done something good.”

A Guide To Cardinia Shire can be found on Facebook and online.

To check out Ben’s art, head to ‘Unwasted – Pallet Art by Ben’ on Facebook.

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