In time-honoured traditions, a small and dedicated crop of craftsmen and women are still creating practical and beautiful objects by hand. Some of these artisans may be the last exponents of their bushcrafts.
Story by Genvieve Barlow Photo by Matt Miegel
In a clearing high on his home block in Victoria’s High Country, Jimmy Findlay approaches a 13-metre, plumb-straight peppermint log with a chainsaw. All around is birdsong, towering trees, grass and the sweet fragrance of spring’s flush. Soon the timber is in five bits. Jimmy swings a pickaroon. It digs into a cut end and sticks there – an instant handle.
Jimmy drags the pieces apart and, within hours, he will have transformed this log into posts and shingles, just as Australia’s early white settlers might have done a century-plus before him.
Off the back of his four-wheel-drive, Jimmy heaves a wooden box, flicks back the latches and there, in carefully created slots, is a tool collection seemingly from another time – a morticing axe, an adze, a froe, a broadaxe, a dressing axe and others of varying angled edges: hardly the stuff that most blokes carry around in their utes.
Jimmy makes most of these tools himself, including the handles. He shapes the steel axe heads in his home forge. The broadaxe handle is made from spearwood, a timber that Aboriginals from nearby Eldorado used to make spears. The morticing axe has a narrower head than an ordinary axe. Jimmy set an old Land Rover spring in its head, folding steel around it to create a higher carbon finish that will hold its edge.
The chainsaw is Jimmy’s only real concession to modernity. Forebears would have used a crosscut saw. Otherwise he crafts and shapes the timber by hand, using his perfectly balanced sharp-edged tools to make modern-day miracles: the beginning of a fence for holding stock or yesteryear tiles that can form an impermeable roof. At 55 years of age, this part-time farmer and builder is among a diminishing number of people in Australia who know how to practise such skilled bushcrafts.
This story excerpt is from Issue #111
Outback Magazine: Feb/March 2017