What is your job?
I have a stand at the Mt Beauty Community Market where I sell plaited and solid leather belts. A lot of people find it hard to get proper leather belts that will last. I also make leather braces, dog collars, straps for stringed instruments, buttons, key rings and little leather bracelets that are very popular. I mostly use kangaroo leather, plus some American steer hide and I am going to get some bison and water buffalo hide.
What made you decide to do this?
I was sent to boarding school at the age of ten, and the senior master taught leatherwork to any of the students who wanted to learn. We made watch straps, riding crops, belts – all sorts of things. I really enjoyed it, but I stopped doing it for years.
What got you back into it?
I got interested again when I was working as a stockman as far west in Queensland as you can go, on the edge of the Simpson Desert. We used greenhide to make ropes, and I thought about making a stockwhip but I thought it would take too long to learn how to make a proper working stockwhip that I could actually use. I’d have to make a lot of them before I got it right. I was three years up there west of the Georgina. After that I came back to Bethanga to work on the family farm, and the leather work was put on hold again. Later the property was sold and I went to work in Wodonga and started doing it again. I made things for the family but I never thought of selling them until recently.
What do you love about your craft?
It’s much better than watching television and it helps keep my arthritic fingers moving. Part of the fun is trying new patterns. Some of them are very intricate. I have books of patterns and I get some off the internet. The most fun is going to bluegrass and folk festivals, I love the music and there are lots of people interested in buying straps for their instruments. I used to sell lots of guitar straps but now it’s more for mandolins and banjos. I have just finished making a very decorative wool-lined banjo cradle for a musician I met at a festival. I have a lot of things to show, but it’s often not exactly what people want, so I take down their descriptions, make the article and send it off. I’ve sent leather articles to Canada, the US and New Zealand as well as all over Australia.
Are you going to continue?
I believe so. As long as my hands can take the pressure.