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A pig on a spit, and a good cry: Here's how Bruno is helping Central West tradies

August 22, 2022

Tradies at the shed in Dubbo and (inset) a pig on a spit and Bruno Efoti. Facebook.

By Peter Holmes

Bruno Efoti took the call last week.

A boss in Orange was very worried about one of his apprentices, who was navigating the fallout from a broken marriage, and was hoping Bruno might be able to have a yarn with the young bloke.

“I got in the car and drove over [from Dubbo] and sat with him for three hours, to try and give him some direction, and some hope that it would be fine,” Efoti - the man behind Tradies in Sight - told The Orange News Examiner.

“He said to me, ‘I was lying in bed this morning, and I didn’t think I'd be here today’. I picked him up at his house and said, ‘Let’s go and have something to eat’. We had a feed and talked for three hours, and he felt so much better.”

During the chat Efoti was assessing the young tradie.

“I knew there was a clinical intervention that he needed,” he said.

Calling on connections he’d developed over the years, he managed to get the apprentice into an appointment with a psychologist at short notice.

The Tradies in Sight shed in Dubbo. Facebook.

AFTER finishing his own carpentry apprenticeship in Dubbo, the Tongan-born Efoti spent 20 years on the tools.

As the years progressed he became more acutely aware of, and increasingly concerned about, what he saw as a common inability of male tradesmen to access and regulate their emotions.

“I always had a different perspective; I was born in Tonga and things over there are very different. Over there we talk about things with each other, and our parents - especially our fathers - show emotion in front of us. We feel safe and settled in that regard.

“I found myself in Australia on worksites and that was the very thing that people weren't able to do very well.”

What was missing?

“Community and connection. Tradies in Sight is about building connections and building a community, a village if you like, where people can really express themselves within the safety of having common understanding. That is the difference [in Australian and Tongan cultures].

“When I came over to Australia people were disconnected from each other, and because of that we became isolated and because of that we don't trust people, and we don’t trust the information.”

Growing up in a village with a population of about 200, “we did things together and people felt very safe", Efoti said. "Nobody was struggling alone. If someone was struggling we would gather around them and give them the support they needed”.

Efoti said young Australian tradies grew up in a society “that says you've just gotta man up, deal with it. We don't want you to bring that shit to work, you know what I mean? You got stuff going on, you've got to leave it at home'. [But] the fact is it's who you are. If you're struggling, you will take that struggle everywhere you go”.

He said as a society we need to accept that when “something has gone wrong, it's going to affect everything we do, our work, our family and everything else”.

Efoti lost two mates to suicide, and it impacted him deeply. “It was heartbreaking at the time, and it still is,” he said. “I had a lot of questions that I needed answers for, and I didn't have them, but I knew there was something missing in terms of community, your network of support.”

He downed tools for good.

Resources. Facebook.

“About eight years ago I decided that something needed to happen in order for there to be accessible support for tradies.

"I left the building game and along with my wife we studied counselling together. I thought that was the best skill I needed to help with helping blokes.”

Over the past six months some 1,500 tradesmen have dropped into Efoti’s Tradies in Sight shed in Dubbo.

A former Girl Guides venue, it’s equipped with a ping pong table, a dining area and a couch.

“This morning, when you called, I had someone here. They just drop in. It’s a drop-in centre, and it’s safe. What’s more safe than a shed for blokes to come and have a chat?”

There is space for about 50 men.

“When I studied I needed to learn some psychology and science behind behaviours, but I guess my 20 years on site taught me a lot about this culture,” Efoti said.

“Men here in Australia were not taught to have these psychological and emotional skills to navigate themselves when hard times come.

“We have the physical skills - we can fix cars, we can build a house, we can do that, but when it comes to relationship skills, we didn't have that.

“These blokes coming in here tell me they can't believe they don’t have the skills to mitigate how they’re feeling. [They have] an emotional disability in knowing how to understand their emotions, and how to regulate them.”

Efoti said that often the first reaction to trauma or other mental health issues was, “I don’t know how to deal with that, I’ll sweep it under the carpet, acting like it hasn’t affected us.

“To open up a conversation is to feel the pain and discomfort you have encountered. People are constantly pushing things under the carpet, suppressing because of the fear, or lack of skills in knowing how to deal with it. All of them have unaddressed and unmet needs.”

I asked Efoti about the high domestic violence rates in the Central West, and the inability of some men to control their anger. Did he see that in the tradie community?

“Absolutely,” he said. “We work in prevention, and we’ve been working with TAFE students to equip them with tools so they can build [an emotional] toolbox through those TAFE years, and when they become tradesmen they have the right tools to deal with whatever life can throw at them. The main skill is [learning to] understand our emotions.”

He said some tradesmen were masking problems with alcohol and drugs, describing them as “artificial means to help us cope with life”.

“This is the essence of it - blokes have turned to alcohol and to drugs to numb that emotional pain they have, without knowing how to deal with it.”

Bloke's gotta eat. Facebook.

FOOD is the key. To get tradies to talk, first they must eat, Efoti said. And so on occasions he will cook a pig or a lamb on a spit and spread the word that the grub is on and tradesmen are invited.

“It was from my upbringing,” Efoti explained.

“There was no better feeling than sitting around the dinner table with your parents, and them telling you what their day was like, and things they used to do in past years.

"It was a real warm and safe environment. When food is involved it breaks barriers, and when I went to think about a strategy to bring this [Tradies in Sight] concept to fruition, I knew that food had to play a big part. I knew Aussie men would love that. Tradies were drawn to it.

“I found that as soon as they started eating, they started talking, and telling their own stories," he added. "I always have food here for them when they turn up. If there is something else that is a focal point, it can help calm them, and we can sit around and talk about anything. Food settles the nerves and breaks the ice.”

It’s not unusual for a tradie to walk into Efoti’s shed, “flop on the lounge and then sob for 45 minutes”, he said.

“Because all those emotions that needed to be regulated, they've put them away, and it all comes flooding out.”

Was there a question you asked that triggered that response?

“When they walk in the door, they know they're coming to a non-judgmental place of safety, where they will start to feel the stuff they've suppressed for a long time.

“Some of them tell me they've been thinking about coming to the shed for two months, but they weren't able to gain that type of strength.

"When they walk through the doors they can be emotionally charged, and it’s been very, very difficult thinking about it, and they flop and just let it go. I say to them, ‘It’s OK, let it go’.”

He said men would often come to the shed two or three times. “We work through things and they go and put it into practice. It’s not perfect, but if they need further support, they know where to go.”

Tradies in Sight receives no government funding, and relies purely on donations from businesses in Dubbo and elsewhere, and from the tradies who have dropped by.

“It’s not sustainable for the future, and we would love to get some long-term funding, but I’m not sure where that would come from," Efoti said. "For now we survive by donations and sponsorships.”

For more information head to the Tradies in Sight website. If you are a tradesmen in the regions and would like to speak to Bruno, phone 0423 432 341.

If this story has raised any concerns, you can call:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

In case of emergency call 000


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