Ten years ago, Noel Giles quit his job as a steel cutter and took to the road, turning his hand to the black art of smithing.
Story By Darryl Cooper
“I was always a bit of a firebug,” Noel Giles says, recalling his early life on the family cane farm in Mackay, north Queensland. “I loved old things and steam trains and the smell of burning coal. We didn’t have many toys back then and I used to play around under the house with an ancient anvil and vice. There was an old forge blower too, which I found made a fire burn much better.”
Noel remembers seeing a blacksmithing display at a Mackay show when he was a young steel cutter. “The blacksmith fashioned a ram’s-head fire poker,” he says. “I was fascinated and decided there and then that I wanted to do that.” He describes his early attempts as “a hell of a mess” but after a few blacksmithing courses and a lot of experimentation, Noel’s skills flourished. His new passion quickly got in the way of his regular job, so 10 years ago he quit and became a travelling blacksmith.
Every year, after the northern wet season is over, Noel loads up his battered ute and trailer with all the essentials to create a portable smithy and then he takes his trade on the road. He visits country shows the length and breadth of Queensland, including the Drovers’ Festival in the tiny outback town of Camooweal on the Northern Territory border.
Noel works under a basic tent fly to allow smoke from the forge to disperse easily. The massive anvil, the centrepiece of any smithy, has pride of place alongside the traditional leg vice, swage block, beer-barrel quench bucket and a collection of hammers, punches, cutting tools and tongs designed to hold any shape of steel.
This story excerpt is from Issue #74
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2011