Hunter Johnson’s ‘Man Cave’ Initiative is Taking the Macho Out of Manhood


Helping a brother out, one step at a time.


Archaic assumptions around masculinity run rife in modern culture, not helped by our everyday throwaways to ‘man up’ and ‘grow some balls’. But if men don’t express their emotions with words, they simmer away in silence, sometimes spilling out in harmful ways (shockingly, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men under 25).

“In our own lives, we have seen and experienced the impacts of unhealthy conceptions of masculinity, social isolation and their negative impacts on mental health, violence and substance abuse,” says Melbourne’s Hunter Johnson who, in October 2014, banded together with best mates Jamin Heppell and Benson Saulo to form The Man Cave – an initiative that designs and delivers social and emotional wellness programs to deconstruct, challenge and redefine traditionally held views of masculinity, resulting in long-term behaviour change for boys and young men aged 13-18.

“Instead of crisis management and Band-Aid solutions, we must focus on developing social and emotional strategies that become life-long tools for boys and young men,” says Hunter, who’s kicked off “courageous conversations” in classrooms spanning Australia’s east coast. “We believe that equipping boys with the right skills, tools and resources, it is possible to create a movement of respectful, open, empowered and compassionate young men.”

Here’s how the initiative came into being.


What impacts have you seen since the beginnings of The Man Cave?

Since our inception, we’ve worked with over 500 boys and young men across the country with 95 per cent reporting they ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they have the tools to maintain and improve their emotional regulation and wellbeing. We’re really excited to continue building this momentum in 2016.

Have you always had a passion for helping other people?

Yes I have! I’m really fortunate to have been born into a family that believes in being of service to your community, living your values and having positive relationships. As I grew up surrounded by such values it absolutely shaped my passion for helping other people.

I share this passion with other young people that I have the opportunity to work with. What is really exciting for our generation is that we no longer have to choose between doing well financially and doing good socially as two mutually exclusive options. We have the unique privilege to make a lasting positive impact on the world and become financially sustainable at the same time.

We heard you’re also working with the Foundation for Young Australians…

I am incredibly lucky to work with an amazing team at FYA who continually mentor, support and guide me in my work. In particular, I work as the Enterprise & Changemaking Manager where my role is to co-design and deliver Young Social Pioneers (YSP). YSP is Australia’s leading incubator program for the top 60 social entrepreneurs and innovators across the country aged 18-29 years. Over six months, the Pioneers develop their business acumen, financial sustainability, social impact and pitch for their share of $50,000. FYA has been fundamental in supporting my growth personally and professionally, I feel so fortunate to be a part of such an inspiring community.

What are some ways that our readers can get more involved in local initiatives while balancing work and life?

Time is such a valuable asset to us all, so often it can be difficult to find a spare moment in the busyness of our lives. My top tip would be to think about what your skill set is, the issues you’re passionate about and find an organisation or community initiative that aligns with those. It’s always easier to make a commitment when you have friends involved so you can be accountable and social too. What I’ve learnt is that the more you give the more you get. Giving back to the community extends past just donating money to organisations, it’s about strategic giving – your time, skills and networks – for the greater good.

We would love to hear your thoughts