Friendship in times of need

By Major Brendan Nottle

“I’m actually not scared about becoming sick with COVID-19 or even dying. What terrifies me is the thought of being locked inside my home with no connection to any other human being.” 

This was the statement Cathy* blurted out on Bourke St amid uncontrollable crying.

Cathy’s concern is not unique. Rather, it echoes the heart cry of so many people across the city, our nation and indeed the world.

The federal and state governments have both recognised that acute mental health issues are absolutely rampant at the moment and they have responded with significant financial investment into the sector.  In fact, Beyond Blue and Lifeline have both reported major spikes in demand so far this year for their crisis counselling services. The commitment of these and other mental health agencies and governments needs to be acknowledged and highly commended.

However, through our interaction with people from a wide cross section of the community, it is obvious that, even though many will benefit from the federal and state government investments in mental health, there are so many people who are longing for something else.

Back in June, 1961, a young woman, new to Melbourne, spoke to some work colleagues and in a moment of rare vulnerability, she expressed that she was very lonely. One person in the group encouraged her to go to her local church, simply to make friends.  

The young woman recalled her predicament when she wrote a letter to the “50/50” column in the Melbourne Sun newspaper. She said, “I went to church to make friends and address my loneliness, but it appears that people who attend church can only say two words- hello and goodbye!”

In response to this letter, a Salvation Army Officer, Major Isabelle Gale, wrote back to the “50/50” column and said, “I will be opening The Salvation Army building at 69 Bourke St every Tuesday night. I will be commencing the Red Shield Friendship Club for anyone who is lonely and who wants to make friends.” Over 100 people attended every week for 41 years!  They participated in table games, sharing food and engaging in a range of other community building activities.

With the incessant reminders that today still, there are so many people who are battling loneliness and COVID-19-induced anxiety, my wife, Sandra, and I have re-launched the Salvos Friendship Club – but this time it’s by telephone.  

Every weeknight during Stage 4 lockdown, Sandra and I sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and our telephone, and then it all happens. People from all different walks of life call to simply have a chat with some friends. It’s definitely not a crisis line or a counselling service – just a place and space for friends to meet and chat. There is nothing magical about the formula. It’s about making time for each other – especially those that don’t have anyone else to chat with.

So, if you find yourself at home with no-one else to talk to, you are most welcome to call us on: (03) 9653 3277 between 8pm –10pm, Monday – Friday.

Feel free to share the number with anyone that you think would benefit from a friendly chat.  

Only together will we get through this.

*Name has been changed •

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