The new 'Australian made'
In the Western Australia coastal town of Albany, David Brodziak designs, cuts and forges custom-made knives. (Gail Brodziak)
Mention a Mora-Igra umbrella or a Salvio dance shoe to a 90-year-old Sydneysider, and chances are they will know exactly what you are talking about – these bespoke, Australian-made goods have been crafted with care and dedication for many decades. But while these beautiful items have survived the impact of cheap foreign imports and changing consumer demand, many other traditional locally made products have simply disappeared.
Fortunately, times are changing and Australian artisans are emerging from the woodwork to reintroduce quality handcrafted items and an age-old bespoke service. And it seems discerning travellers cannot get enough of these unique souvenirs.
Sharp investment in Western Australia
In Western Australia's coastal town of Albany, David Brodziak designs, cuts and forges custom-made knives, a true "art form", as he sees it. And he should know.
With a background in art, woodwork and metal work, Brodziak is one of the only full-time knife makers in Australia. He has worked up to 12 hours a day since 1990, forging both the metal and handles he uses in his products. Many blades feature elaborate engravings (done by Marcello Pedini, a master engraver from Victoria), or colourful medieval and fantasy images (painted by Carol Anne O'Connor, a local artist). For handles, Brodziak favours the rarer West Australian hardwoods, such as western desert myall or york gum burl, plus stones of West Australian jade.
His clients range from avid knife collectors to well-known restaurants. A recent commission – 80 steak knives for Sydney's exclusive Asian restaurant, Momofuku – prompted a flurry of orders for similar knives.
A large ready-for-purchase collection – from culinary knives to the "She Devil" dagger, a small fantasy-style art piece with a hand painted scabbard – is on display in Brodziak’s home (which doubles as his informal showroom), or you can commission a knife to your liking (ring ahead to make an appointment; 0427-447-245). "We don't meet in my shed because it has 22 years worth of dust and is organised chaos. It's full of boys' toys – filing equipment, a gas forge, grinding machine and the like," he laughed. Prices start at around 300 Australian dollars.
A unique egg in Queensland
It is worth visiting tiny St George, a rural town 600km west of Brisbane in Queensland, merely to chat to the charismatic owner of The Unique Egg. For 59 years, Greek Australian Stavros (Steve) Magritas has carved intricate designs – from a Greek discus thrower to portraits painted from photos – into emu eggs, whose shells are about 10 times the size of a chicken egg. He believes that he is the only self-taught, hand-carver of emu eggs in the world. His collection of more than 200 eggs is housed incongruously in his sports store, Balonne Sports Store, but works can also be commissioned (call 0746-253-490). You will be in good company; US President Barak Obama owns a “self portrait” egg, commissioned in 2012 by the US Embassy.
Magritas has come a long way since he arrived in Australia more than 60 years ago, a poor, 16-year-old post-war immigrant from mainland Greece. He first made his living as a kangaroo shooter in outback Queensland where he learned about and fell in love with emus, Australia's largest native bird and the second largest bird in the world after the ostrich. Magritas stresses that no one egg – with various colours ranging from blue-green to translucent white – is the same. "Each egg is a fingerprint," he said. And that is even before he starts carving his unique designs. He sources the eggs through a registered farm or aviary (emus and their eggs are protected in the wild), then treats the eggs with a special resin to harden the shell. Incredibly, to carve the egg, he uses a reshaped razor blade.
One egg takes a minimum of 100 hours to perfect, and a commissioned egg starts at around 700 Australian dollars.