Video: reviving the art of old trades

By Amy Russell 30 June 2014
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In workshops around the country, skilled Australian artisans are toiling and tinkering in an effort to save some of our oldest trades.

THE SKILL SET of the average Australian looks a little different now, compared with 50 years ago. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1966 almost half of all working Australians were tradesmen, process workers and labourers, while another 12 per cent were farmers, fishermen and timber getters.

But a gradual shift away from production to service industries, and the mechanisation of processes within the production industries themselves, has seen us lose touch with some of our most valued handiwork. The most common occupations in 2011 were those of professionals, clerical and administrative workers; technicians and tradespeople represented just 14 per cent.

All is not lost, however – a renewed appreciation of quality craftsmanship (and the popularity of antique goods and the ‘vintage’ aesthetic in homes and fashion) is slowly turning things around.

“It’s been more of a slow burn than a dramatic increase,” says Gemma Jones from Craft Victoria. “Over the past 10 years a generation of makers born during the last great handmade lifestyle movement is reconnecting with its own histories.”

The thing about working with your hands, says Mark Thompson, author of Rare Trades: Making Things by Hand in the Digital Age – and curator of the resulting exhibition for the National Museum of Australia – is that it allows you to have a tangible effect on the world.

“This is our way of investigating, going out into the world and touching it and receiving it. Your senses are more alive, put it that way, from this kind of work,” Mark says.

See The makers, AG 121, to meet the Australian artisans who’re reconnecting with traditional skills and reviving our lost trades.


To find out more about the tradespeople mentioned in our story, and for details about the workshops that they teach, visit their websites.