Thumbnails and models help mental health

When Col Walter retired he needed something to occupy his time and after witnessing the move of a historic house, Mr Walter decided there was a need to keep a record of old Cairns.

With no training or experience, Mr. Walter decided to start building miniature versions of historic buildings in Cairns.

It now has an exhibit at the Pier Shopping Center where people can wander through its display of miniature buildings dating from 1883 to the 1930s.

“I woke up one morning and saw an old building being demolished and I thought I’m going to rebuild this miniature house and from there I decided to start rebuilding Cairns in miniature,” he said.

“All buildings are made from a mixture of pegs, mixing sticks, matches, siding and cardboard.”

Over the past 12 years, Mr Walter has constructed hundreds of miniature buildings from Cairns’ past which he studies with the help of local libraries, historical organizations and photos of locals.

Mr. Walter is a Vietnam veteran who said working on his miniature village has helped his mental health.

“It’s the best thing for me, working with my hands and the concentration it takes,” he said.

Over the past 12 years, Col Walter has built miniatures of historic buildings from Cairns past. (ABC Far North: Phil Brandel )

“My doctor told me it was the best thing for my mental health because it gives me a reason to get up in the morning and chat with people who walk into the store.”

Companions and Trains

Cairns Model Railroad Club chairman John King said the club is not just about trains.

“At any given time, we could have half a dozen people here at the club house who would normally be at home watching TV,” he said.

“Instead, they’re here with other people having fun, it’s a great way to interact socially.”

Two men in blue shirts standing side by side holding a model train and ship
Ian Mcleod-Clarey and President of the Cairns Model Railway Club John King at the new pavilion inside the Raintrees Shopping Center (ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

Mr King said part of the fun was working with his hands so he could build something from scratch.

“I’m 80 and I think I’m as young as anyone in their 30s or 40s,” he said.

“It’s a way to keep you busy and you always have something to look forward to.

“I have a lot of fun making model trains and I also have a lot of fun watching our members build and play trains.”

The Cairns Model Railway Club recently found a new home at Raintrees Shopping Centre, and a new layout thanks to a high profile benefactor.

“About three weeks ago we moved and people can now see our facilities when they walk past to do their shopping,” he said.

“We have several great layouts which have all been donated, including our biggest layout which was donated by bush killer Major Les Hiddins.”

A miniature train on the tracks surrounded my miniature buildings
Part of the new exhibit at the Cairns Model Railroad Club which has been donated by Major Les Hiddins(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel )

Planes, tanks and automobiles

Scott Collingwood hopes to start a model club in Cairns for anyone interested in building static models of aeroplanes, tanks and automobiles.

“There’s a social aspect to coming together to share and compare notes on what we’re working on,” he said.

“There are also the historical factors that we like to look for.”

Mr Collingwood said working on role models with like-minded people is good for his mental health.

“It’s that divergence from the everyday, it gives you something to focus on, something detailed that you have to put a little bit of effort into,” he said.

“It’s rewarding because the more effort you put into it, the more reward you get.

“We hope to create a club that has a social aspect and is also a meeting of minds.”

A Spitfire Mk VC model
One of Scott Collingwood’s model planes and he now hopes to start a model club in Cairns to meet like-minded people (Provided: Scott Collinwood)

A meeting of friends and minds

Beyond Blue’s senior clinical adviser, Dr Grant Blashki, said social connections can play an important role in helping with mental health issues.

“You don’t want to wake up in the morning with no plans and no real reason to get up, that’s not good for your mental health,” he said.

“When people get into a rut, their minds are just full of negative thoughts,” he said.

“Getting your brain in the here and now by meeting people and making and fixing things can help.

“A big part of healing from a mental health issue can be that beautiful creative absorption you get when you’re lost in something that’s practical or artistic.”

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