Ausnew Home Care | How a man's passion for fishing | NDIS

How a man's passion for fishing is filling a mental health services gap in this Melbourne suburb

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Glenn Cooper has been stabbed eight times, shot twice and has survived a heart attack, but it was a snapped ankle from a three-on-one fight that nearly destroyed him.

Better known as "Guru Glenn" around the Melbourne suburb of Frankston for his vast fishing knowledge, the former bouncer who spent years in jail says the hobby helped turn his life around.

He is now using his passion for the sport to change the lives of troubled youths and people with disabilities.

"The benefits they get out of it is not just fishing, but social interaction.

"There's a lot more to fishing than just throwing a line in and catching a fish. The fish is the extra bonus."

Mr Cooper has helped thousands of people struggling with their mental health across the Mornington Peninsula over the past nine years. But he had a pretty tough upbringing himself.

Born to alcoholic parents, he suffered an abusive childhood, was sexually assaulted in state care and suffered a devastating injury while working as a bouncer when he was attacked by a group of drunks.

Dozens of operations for a snapped ankle later, Glenn was confined to a wheelchair for five years.

"I've gone through a bit of hell," Glenn said.

"Yes, you get annoyed, you get angry, but what saved me was I loved fishing."

During the time when he was unable to walk, he spent most days with his rod on the Frankston pier.

"While I was sitting there minding my own business, I used to have a lot of people see me and come up and ask, 'Why are you in a wheelchair?'" he said.

"All of a sudden they would tell me their life story and I would just sit there and listen to them and then I'd show them how to fish."

That's how his program, That's The Thing About Fishing, was born.

From a 'bad place' to a 'real sense of purpose'

Finn Hughes, 18, was staring down a jail term when police recommended he spend time with Mr Cooper.

"I got myself into quite a bit of trouble," Mr Hughes said.

"I was arrested at the age of 15 and I had a lot more serious charges than I would like to admit."

A young man with a blue shirt sitting with a fishing rod. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
For Finn Hughes, 18, meeting Glenn Cooper was a turning point in his life.(

ABC News: Scott Jewell


After taking part in the program, he stayed out of jail and got his life back on track. Now he volunteers for Mr Cooper.

"I found a real sense of purpose and a real sense of community," Mr Hughes said.

"Even though I was in such a bad place, I was helping people who had much less than I did, and it made me appreciate what I had more."

Three times a week Mr Cooper packs the rods in his car, drives to the pier and greets dozens of excited kids, parents and people with disabilities who cannot wait to throw in a line.

With his grey, spirally handlebar moustache, silver chains around his neck and gold rings on nearly every finger, he can look quite intimidating, especially to young kids.

A close up of a man's face, with a blue beanie and a white beard.
Glenn Cooper connected with other people while fishing off a pier at Frankston.(

ABC News: Scott Jewell


But within seconds his caring nature and humour shows, and the fun starts.

"I'm Guru Glenn, I'm the First Aid Officer — so if you fall over or hurt yourself, don't tell me, tell your parents — no only joking!" he laughs, as he gives the same spiel to each group of children that turn up.

His volunteers get the rods ready with hooks and bait and they all head down to the pier together where they drop a line and have a chat.

Helping people from all walks of life

Mr Cooper said the program not only helped the participants with their mental health, but also taught them social skills, motor skills and patience.

"We see kids who come from dysfunctional families, kids that came from normal families, people from all walks of life come down here and enjoy it," he said.

"We help a lot of kids that suffer from a range of illnesses, from autism to depression."

Lewis, 11, has mild cerebral palsy and sometimes uses a wheelchair.

A boy with brown hair wearing a blue shirt and holding a fishing rod.
Lewis, aged 11, says the program has helped him deal with his mild disability and feel able to speak up about difficult experiences from his past.(

ABC News: Scott Jewel


He says the program allows him to relax and talk about personal issues he is facing.

"I can open up in front of these people and they know what I'm talking about," he said.

"They understand me, and it's just been very good for the mindset."

Frankston has one of the highest suicide rates in Victoria and one in four young people experience a mental health issue in any 12-month period, so many services are overwhelmed.

Mr Cooper said one of the reasons why he started the program was because he noticed a massive gap in mental health services in the area.

"There's not enough money going back into programs like ours that help people who suffer from depression and anxiety."

'Changing lives, one life at a time'

Mr Cooper has been running the fishing clinics for nine years and he and his volunteers have helped thousands of people.

"We do it because we just love it," volunteer Johnny Garai said.

"We love watching the smiles on the kids' faces and seeing them light up when they catch a fish."

A group of men wearing beanies and face masks with a fishing rod.
Glenn Cooper started the That's The Thing About Fishing program at Frankston because he believes the hobby can be therapeutic.(

ABC News: Scott Jewel


Disability worker Jacques*, who brings his clients down once a week, said the bus back home is full of singing and praise.

"It's so nice for the guys to come and experience the freedom, the nature and all the social interaction — we've caught three types of fish!" he said.

"The volunteers are so patient. 

"That's one of the things we learn. It's all about patience."

Mr Cooper believes the program has helped save many lives.

"Some of our volunteers were actually on the cusp of suicide themselves and have come to us as clients," he said.

"They've got involved and started volunteering and their whole lives completely turned around.

"If we could just stop one kid through fishing, from using drugs or anything like that, we've done our job and that's why our motto is 'changing lives one life at a time'."


Source: ABC

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