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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
takes a minimum of 100 hours to perfect, and a commissioned egg starts at around
700 Australian dollars.
Shoe time in New South Wales
Master shoemaker Andrew McDonald, one
of only a handful of traditional cobblers in Australia, has been shodding his
clients since 1992, from locals to celebrities (Nicole Kidman owns a pair) to Hollywood
characters (he has created boots for actors in Superman and the Star Wars Trilogy). He learned his
trade in the New South Wales capital, and later worked in London under famed John Lobb of London, shoemaker to the
Royal Family. These days, he and his team of four design and make bespoke
handcrafted shoes from his workshop in the elegant Strand Arcade, one of Sydney's historic
shopping arcades in the Central Business District. Here you can choose from
ready-to-wear stock or be fitted for your custom-made shoes. For the latter, McDonald
prefers three fittings in person and asks in the first instance for clients to bring
along a much-loved pair of shoes.
footwear is made from various materials, including horse leather, bison leather
and even vegetable tan kangaroo leather, finished with an iron filings stain.
"We see leather as the blank canvas and look at ways we can give it some
texture," said McDonald. "We also try to replicate textures and
colours that reflect the Australian landscape's earthiness – its colours, tones
and textures." Prices start at 1,600 Australian dollars for a bespoke pair
Strumming in Tasmania
surgery in 2005, Mark Gilbert was told by doctors to rest one day a week. But
he said he could not then and cannot now. Instead, from his workshop in Hobart,
Tasmania, Gilbert makes electric guitars
for local and international clients, including the Canadian-born blues guitarist,
teacher, graphic designer, screen printer and a long-time lover of blues music,
Gilbert made his first guitar in 1987. He lent it to some friends who played in
a band, and it hit a high note. They spread the word, and the rest, as they say
in showbiz, is musical history.
superb electric guitars are all made from Tasmanian timber – all from a sustainably
managed forest – including black heart sassafras and fiddleback blackwood, both
internationally renowned tonewoods. Models include the delightfully named Thylacine
(another name for the native Tasmanian Tiger; decorative stripes cover the top)
and the Spotted Quoll (an Australian marsupial; with large dots inlaid into the
top). Buyers can also specify custom inlays on the body or fret board.
spends around 150 hours on each guitar and prices start from 5,000 Australian
Caffeine crazes in South Australia
Greg Pullman, founder and owner of Pullman
Coffee Tampers in Adelaide, South Australia, resized the ill-fitting tamper
for the his new coffee machine in 2002, he has been fixated on the process. So he
started making bespoke coffee tampers – a small round disc with a handle used to
press, or 'tamp, the ground coffee – for commercial and domestic coffee
machines. Ten years later, he has sold more than 8,000 individually numbered tampers
tamper-making process requires great attention to detail. Pullman personally
measures, cuts and sizes metal bases for different coffee machines.
A local wood turner then makes the wooden handles using local hard woods, such
as jarrah and Australian oak.
Sometimes, Pullman will use wood
supplied by a client. "One recent client who was opening a cafe in a
former World War II bunker in Queensland
sent down some of the bunker's ironbark wood," he said.
that of all the equipment to make a coffee, the tamper may be the smallest – but
is the one with which you have the most relationship at a personal and physical
level. "You wrap your whole hand around a tamper," he said. "The ideal tamper should be comfortable and ergonomic, and made to
the perfect size for the coffee machine. As far as possible we design our
tampers to be an extension of the user's hand. If you do not get the tamper
right, it can cause problems with the coffee."
there is no outlet to visit, but Pullman Tampers are available from retailers around Australia. For
bespoke tampers contact coffeetamper.com.au;
prices start at 130 Australian dollars.
Bicycle envy in Victoria
of the 2011 Tour de France, Australian Cadel Evans, mentions you in his book, Close to
Flying, you must be doing something right. Darren Baum, of Baum Bikes in Geelong, Victoria,
has made a couple of bikes for Evans. Though “made” is an understatement.
of the top 10 bicycle makers in the world, Baum designs and engineers, fits for
bio-dynamics and constructs each individual bike frame. He even paints and details
frames according to clients' wants (the quirkiest example being when a client
handed over a sock by British clothes designer, Paul Smith, for inspiration). His
road bike models, which start at around 7,000 Australian dollars, are named
after coffee typestyles – cafes being the universal place for riders to meet –
including Ristretto, a short shot of espresso, and Cortado, espresso with a
small dash of warm milk. His mountain and touring bikes have names equally as
Trained in aircraft
maintenance and welding, Baum turned to bikes after his career as an elite
level cyclist was ruined when he was injured in a car accident. This sparked
his interest in how biomechanics and bike design could be used to increase
He sold his
first commercial, custom-made frame in 1996 and he has been on a roll ever
since, making and selling his hand-made bicycles to cyclists in Australia and
chainstay is etched with the phrase, "Handcrafted in Australia".