With the admirable Rosie Batty winning Australian of the Year, the focus on domestic violence within family structures in our country is thankfully and finally at the forefront of all our minds.

But it is no use just talking about it. Action needs to be taken. But what type of action? That’s the real problem — no one really knows how to fix it even though many are trying their hardest. One of those people is Michael Colling, the CEO and founder of The Betterman Foundation, a wonderful organisation striving to stop violence in young men.

For me, this is where we begin the long journey to addressing and solving violence within families. By helping our young men understand the right and wrong of violence, not only against women, but against themselves, we can begin to heal the epidemic. I caught up with Michael Colling to talk about his foundation, the good work they are doing, how they are doing it and ways we can help them help more young men.

How did The Betterman Foundation begin, Michael?

When I started out as a youth worker, almost 20 years ago now, there was a need that was recognised then to meet the needs of young men from a mental health perspective. 20 years on, sadly, when you look at the statics around things like violence and suicide, men — particularly young men — tend to be over-represented in those statistics in Australia. So myself and some pretty fantastic mental health professionals, with a lot of support from the community and other organisations, got together and The Betterman Foundation was born.  We deliver programs and initiatives to schools, sports clubs, and other organisations right around Australia with a focus on helping young men to make some positive life choices.

And you now have an awards night, where you give out awards such as the Young Man of the Year award and the Mentor of the Year award. Can you tell us about the Daniel Christie Memorial Award?  

Daniel Christie was a much loved and well respected young fellow from his community in Sydney. Unfortunately, and very sadly, his life was taken way too quickly at the age of 18 one New Year’s Eve in a random coward punch attack. So we wanted to work with the Christie family in paying respect and honoring Daniel’s memory by way of the Daniel Christie Memorial Award, which celebrates and recognises a person or an organisation who has demonstrated excellence in the pursuit of preventing violence against young men. We have now selected the award recipient for the year of 2015, which we are very excited about, and that will be announced in the coming weeks in the lead-up to the awards.

How much of a change do you think you are making? Can you give some examples?

One young fella, who’s up there in Queensland, wrote a big long email recently thanking The Betterman Foundation after an incident in a pub in the outback of Queensland. Someone tried to pick a fight with him and remembering some of the teachings in that program he got up and walked away and said if it hadn’t have been for the program he knew he would have said, ‘Come on, lets take this outside’. But he thought, ‘No, this is not a path I want to walk down’ and effectively was the better man and got up and walked away. That’s what we try to teach, to be the better man.

Australian of the year Rosie Batty is really highlighting the issues that we have in this country with Domestic Violence. She has mentioned that we do need to start by educating our young men.  Is that the motto of The Betterman Foundation?

Absolutely, we have the utmost respect for Rosie Batty and couldn’t have thought of a more deserving recipient for Australian of the Year. The thing we certainly see in our work is that Rosie is just one, unfortunately, of many. She’s right, and the community is right, when we say we have an epidemic of family violence in this country at the moment, and violence in general, so we are working with a number of individuals. We have the  Victoria Police on board for an initiative that hopefully will be replicated right around Australia and that’s a positive mentoring program — working with young men that have been victims of family violence and pairing them up with Victorian Police members for an ongoing mentoring initiative.  We are hoping that will be up and running in 2016 and that it will be something that we replicate all across the country.

Why do you think there is such a problem?

Good question. I think it’s still taboo that men and boys are supposed to have a hyper-masculine stereotype that they fit within. Boys don’t talk about their issues.  When we are in Queensland the one thing that the boys continually say, and this is reflected right around Australia, but particularly the boys in Queensland, they seem to love the term, ‘Suck it up, Princess’.  So there is still a perception that boys aren’t able to talk, aren’t allowed to open up and they aren’t allowed to cry. They have to retain the hyper-masculine stereotype and I think therein lies the problem.  Things are changing, they have certainly changed over the last couple of generations, but we still have a hell of a long way to go.

How can mums and dads teach our young men to be ‘better?’

Be yourself, and do what you feel is right, don’t feel you need to live up to an unrealistic expectation. Being a good person trumps any of those things. Don’t say ‘Be a man!’  When we say ‘Be a man!’ that’s when we start laying the foundation for problems. Say ‘Be a good person!’ and be true to yourself. Then you can’t go wrong.

How can we help?

We are now taking nominations for the 2016 Better Man award, so if people want to, they can jump on to the website betterman.org.au and nominate.  You can also bid on auction items for the upcoming launch of the charity. But certainly if anyone wants to get on board as far as supporting us financially that would be terrific, because we would love to see our mentoring program, working with young men that have unfortunately either been witnesses or victims of family violence, we would love to see that program replicated right around the country.