Saturday, August 26, 2017

at last, a story of inclusion

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing
The following is a post from 'Humans in Geelong" concerning a project to build St Ayles  Skiffs, but the build of these two boats is by some Syriac people from Iraq who find themselves here in search of peace and safety. It may only be two boats and a smallish group, but this is a monumental piece of community building through education and creative effort. Stories of inclusion and empathy and shared skills are so rare but never more important than now with so many voices in the West actively trying to instil irrational fear in our populations, trying to build intolerance and prejudice from insecurity. 

A light emanates from the workshop in Deakin University Waterfront Campus. The sun is setting and most people are dispersing to the car parks at the end of a long day of lectures and studying. After a while, only a dozen people remain, working away on a project that intends to span years. The dream: a Pako Festa on water, with a dozen hand-built wooden boats bringing together a multicultural community for exercise, festivities and fun on the city waterfront. 
For many of these builders, however, they have never seen a boat before. The Syriacpeople of Iraqi who are working on the boat alongside Geelong Iranian Society - G.I.Shave escaped devastating conditions under ISIS and travelled to Australia seeking refuge from their war-torn country. 
The youngest of these is just 16 years old. For the Iraqi refugees, their ancient hometown of Bakhdida (modern-day Quaragosh) is just south of Mosel. It was occupied by ISIS and reduced to rubble in the ongoing conflict. But, Peter Doyle from the Royal Geelong Yacht Club tells me, the refugees don’t let these tragedies define them: they are focused on and enthusiastic about their future in Australia. He adds that most of their conversations focus on mundane topics such as football, and I notice small buzzing conversations across the workroom in between the buzzing of tools.
The project, launched in May this year, has a goal of building 10-12 boats. Based on Scottish coastal rowing boats of early last century, the St Ayles Skiffs were designed by Australian boat builder Iain Oughtred who now lives in Scotland. Built entirely from Australian timbers, they are delivered as flat packs and assembled with epoxy with not a screw or a nail in sight. What I really enjoyed from learning about this project was the sheer joy, enthusiasm and welcoming environment that I found myself in. It was with great enjoyment that I watched Peter rifle through his photo album of these skifs from all over the world. “Isn’t this one gorgeous!” he tells me, pointing at the photographs of handcrafted wooden skiffs in his folder. 
As for Peter himself, he is retired and is now dedicated to his passion for boats, bringing these boats and their builders down to the Waterfront for the Wooden Boat Festival Geelong in March. In an incredible feat, one of these skiffs was towed across the Nullarbor from Perth to attend last year’s festival. With many smiles and an increased knowledge of boats, I left that evening to allow the group to continue to work with the warm light of the studio emanating through the approaching night and the clangs and whirrs of the tools the only sound that remains.
I returned on a sunny Saturday morning with our photographer Phil Hines in tow and was pleased to observe the workshop in full action. Since my last visit, the very first boat created by the group had been named: Bride of Bakhdida. On the whiteboard in the workshop, the name of the boat is written in the Syriac script. That name will be written in both English and Syriac on the boat upon its completion, signifying the unity between the Geelong and Syriac communities and reflecting Australia’s multicultural nature. Further demonstrating this fusion, on the whiteboard is also a list of boat-related terminology in English, Syriac and Persian (the language of Iran). ‘Hello’ is shlama lekow in Syriac and salam in Persian. 
I spoke with Arash and Shiva about the decision for the Iranian community to collaborate with the Royal Geelong Yacht Club in building these boats but I was swiftly corrected: “It was all Peter’s idea,” Arash insisted. The glowing praise for Peter’s work and commitment to bringing Geelong’s ethnic communities together to build and use these beautiful boats was extraordinary. My final question was what they were the most excited for in the near future for the project. “Seeing the first boat on the water,” Arash replied. “That will make all the difference.”
Written by Stephanie Downing. Photo: Phil Hines Photography

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A book about Matthew Flinders at sea

The following is the introductory blurb on Goodreads...I haven't reviewed this book yet. I enjoyed it and gave it four stars.

Flinders: The Man who Mapped Australia

 4.09  ·   Rating details ·  87 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
The exciting story of Matthew Flinders the man who named Australia and the first to chart its coastline.

Matthew Flinders is a towering figure in Australian history; the first to chart our coastline and the leading champion for naming the country Australia. In 1801 he was made commander of the expedition of his life, the first close circumnavigation of Terra Australis.

Famous for his meticulous charts and superb navigational skills, Flinders was a very fine sailor. He battled treacherous conditions in a boat hardly seaworthy, faced the loss of a number of his crewmen and, following a shipwreck on a reef off the Queensland coast, navigated the ship's cutter over 1000 kilometres back to Sydney to get help.

Rob Mundle brings Matthew Flinders fascinating story to life from the heroism and drama of shipwreck, imprisonment and long voyages in appalling conditions, to the heartbreak of being separated from his beloved wife for most of their married life.

This is a gripping adventure biography, in the style of BLIGH: MASTER MARINER.

Monday, August 14, 2017

touchstone in a box

Back in the early 1980's I was very busy at work and it seemed like ages since I had made anything, so despite not having an adequate workspace to put things (or work) in, I built a bench and then this box. My Art Department was clearing out old storage and discarded some shelving but seeing that it was all Kauri Pine from pre-war times I lathered at the mouth a bit, and then saved the boards from a miserable, wasteful fate.

 It is several boxes within a box really, and nothing special in design or construction- but it has lasted a number of bumpy moves, and dark months in storage sheds covered in dust. I should have fitted handles but never got around to it. There is a box in there for my oil stone, but now that I use water stones it is there 'just in case'. The tray holding the old screw drivers can lift out or slide across. Those old drivers were my maternal grandmother's. She was the handy one in that household and her tools are over 100 years old now. I used to have quite a few of her old carving tools, but some were stolen when I set up shop as a violin maker, before they were even unpacked. The square in the lid belonged to my father. He was not very handy, but loved to potter and he did encourage me. He arranged for Santa to give me my first hammer when I was four and the coping saw in the lid of this box was a gift from him when I was in Grade Four at school. I still have the original box of blades that he gave me with it. Parts of the dovetails on various joints in these boxes were done using that coping saw.

When people brought me old family violins, wanting me to buy them I always tried to talk them out of it because inheriting an instrument or a tool that has been loved and used is to hold the possibility of creating something that furthers their memory I think. I generally bought the violin if they persisted but it was important to me to make the point anyway.

The bottom drawer lock has a lever which locks the lid too. What with the tools that I seem to have accumulated for different jobs over the years, this box has become a 'touchstone' for me, representing a time when I wanted to make things and to collect some treasures in one place. I still go to it, but the things I use most are now on the walls...and shelves...and drawers...and cupboards.

And finally, a few thoughts on boxes I shared for a group getting together to make some stuff with wood (from the Metung Violin Maker's Workshop Facebook Group).

For the people coming to our meet and greet who have limited experience with wood, may I suggest that you spend some moments thinking of a box that may be useful to you as a project to get started. It might be a tool box, a wooden tray for jewellery, an implement tote or caddy, a box for your boat, a box for rigging tools...etc. It might be rectangular, open, lidded, handled or plain. I'm thinking finger-jointed corners for machine experience or maybe hand cut dovetails for more experienced grafters with a determination to be patient. Boxes can be precious, utilitarian, humble or extraordinary. Maybe honest, vernacular and basic of pine, and machine made (but nicely), hand finished. Maybe delicate and decorated and hand cut from an exotic piece of wood that has a meaning for you..Putting meaning into simple things can be done through memory association, recycling old bits of a something that no longer works, maybe a shape that reminds you of a better time, or a special person, or maybe a function that reminds you of those things.
I'm just saying that in a group of more than four it may be that some need to consider an achievable goal that gets you into a 'groove' that makes getting ambitious and motivated more likely. We might then have secondary aims that are more ambitious and then I'll have time to prepare ideas, designs and materials. A beautiful piece of wood does not need to have a complex structure to invite people to touch, hold or admire it. I also recommend drawing ideas in a little sketch book if you can. Ideas in the head get out more easily if they can be tested through drawing. Making bad drawings is cheaper than making bad objects and failure at some level is what creation is all about. Over and over, we can always do better by simply doing more -thoughtfully.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nuts for an Acorn, Heft in my Hands

I had just ridden home from playing down at Gardiner's Creek, and there in the gutter was a bluish-brown crumpled bit of thick paper. It was five quid. A fiver. No-one that I knew ever had a fiver. Except grown-ups, but they didn't count.

When I was nine, five quid (Five Australian Pounds before decimal currency here) was a heck of a lot of money.

Nine year olds back then might be tempted to look at a sum like that in terms of the number of liquorice blocks you could buy (4 a'penny, that's 48 per shilling- that's 360 per Pound. That's 1800 liquorice blocks or 50 chock-wedge ice creams). Unthinkable wealth.

But in those days people had this old-fashioned thing called used to be quite normal. So my mother took me to the Police Station and I handed the money into them to be claimed by the poor sod who lost it.

It wasn't altogether easy, but I did it. I had a powerful force for good behind me, so I can't claim much of the credit. My Mum wasn't a saint, but she would have given plenty of them a good run for their money. Even I knew she was more about goodness than grandness.

Ten days later (the legal time period) a nice person at the Police Station called us and said that since the money hadn't been claimed, would we please come down and collect it for ourselves. I can still remember that glorious day, rocking up to the Constabulary in our Austin A60 (licence plate HHS878), Mother at the wheel, me wriggling and fidgeting with anticipation, and the trip home with the prodigal five pound note planted firmly in my pocket.

The thing was, I was overcome by the importance of it and the liquorice block thing had lost it's magic because if you suck and chew long enough they are all gone. I wanted a serious tool for working some wood.

1949-50 McPhersons catalogue

I already had a few good tools (another story), but a plane would make real wood conversion possible, or it would in my young imagination, because a wood plane looks like serious kit. It has cast bits and knobs and is terribly adjustable, so if you set it to cut deep you can take great swathes of wood off and make very thick pieces quite thin. 

It had a blade.

But, (you see) Mr Wenbourne down at the hardware store was hard work. Grey coat and cynical eyes, he was an anal-retentive storeman who would be deliriously happy counting inventory, but absolutely terrifying with young customers, and I was always making something and wanting a dozen of this and a packet of that, and he would tease out the process into details that I had difficulty imagining. A bag of Plaster of Paris. Glue size, Whiting, balsa wood strips for arrows and aeroplanes. I was an endless headache for the man.

Hello Mr Wenbourne may I please have a shilling of nails? Flat or bullet head, he wants to know. Flat. Galvanised or bright he asks tersely. Bright I say. How long? he demands. An inch and a half I offer. What gauge? You would't have a clue...All right he says, shuffling off to the big drum with his galvanised shovel thingy, tipping nails into a brown paper bag until the weight is right. The brown paper bag was the only part of the transaction I ever enjoyed (until I got home) because if you squeezed it you could feel the nails inside, and it made special brown paper bag noises.

desirable things and modern marketing

 I used to buy pine wood one  foot at a time to make skateboards for local friends. They'd supply the old roller-skate wheels and I'd shape the board and fit them, and we'd all fall off together. But  buying the right wood was a bit of a process at our shops and I thought, without having the words for it, that the transformative power of a plane would allow me to make whatever he had into the shape I wanted. But I knew not to ask him for a plane. McPherson's somehow entered my imagination. How it did is one of the few things I have no memory of. The problem was, I understood that McPherson's was in the city and I was only little.

Somehow, I was allowed to go by myself, on the train to the city. While I have no memory of the trip, I do recall quite vividly being at the counter and learning that I could not afford a Stanley Bailey plane, or a Record, but there was a number four made by Stanley and marketed as an 'Acorn' that would fit my budget, and it had the advantage of having red paint on the inside of the castings and a lovely transfer sticker on the top of the rear handle. Golden Beech handles under glossy varnish and a very purposeful brass knob, all packaged in a grey cardboard box with a label at one end. I had my tool. Even Dad didn't have one of these. The box had heft. For the thirty-five minutes on the train this little slip of a boy had heft. I'm still a slip, and I still love a bit of heft.

At some point about 15 years ago I finally threw out the cardboard box- and I have regretted it ever since, but I still have my Acorn Number Four. The first in a life-long love affair with planes, cardboard boxes, brown paper bags and heft.