A Victorian business is taking on the English at the wily art of making cricket bats.

Story By Martin Auldist

Lachlan Fisher has taken his passion for the game of cricket to the extreme. With the help of some of Victoria’s farmers, he’s taking on the English at the wily art of bat-making. Fisher Bats is owned and operated by Lachlan and his wife Josephine. They have been trading for the past 13 years, but they are no ordinary bat-makers, being the only manufacturer in Australia making handcrafted cricket bats from Australian-grown willow trees.
Lachlan grows English willows on his 2.8-hectare farmlet at Kyneton, Victoria. There are currently 2ha planted down with 400 English willow trees at various stages of growth. “The cricket bat market demands very fine-grained willow for aesthetic reasons,” Lachlan says. “It’s cold in Kyneton and the willows grow slowly enough to achieve the desired characteristics.” The black peat soil on the farm is also perfectly suited to growing willow, since it regularly floods from the nearby Campaspe River. Like other agricultural enterprises, however, the recent drought has taken its toll and reduced the survival of new trees.
Trees are cut when they are large enough to provide a log that is 35-40 centimetres in diameter at the bottom, and about 33cm at the top. At this size the trees are at least 12 years old, and the willow log will yield approximately 30 to 35 bats, all cut from the sapwood only. Every step in the construction of the bats is carried out by Lachlan.
Once trees have been cut, they are sawn into logs 71cm long, then split into batons and the end grains sealed. The batons are then stacked and left to air-dry to the correct moisture level. “There are 15 machine steps in each bat and then all our bats are extensively handcrafted,” Lachlan says. “To achieve the best bat-making properties in the willow, the trees are cut between November and March each year. I don’t know exactly why, but the timber is much lighter if harvested during the warmer months.”
As the business grows, Lachlan has started sourcing willow from other regions of Victoria, most notably from farms near Traralgon and Mirboo North in Gippsland. “Gippsland is also well suited to growing willow trees because of the high rainfall, sunny days and high humidity levels in the valleys,” Lachlan says. “We essentially contract farmers to grow willow trees for us, which they mostly do as a side venture to their main farming enterprise.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #58

Outback Magazine: April/May 2008