Announcing The Jan Pennell Award for Woodturning

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Maker and photo credits, clockwise from top left: George Parke (image Georgina Steytler), Hugh Mackay, Catherine Ritter, Vince Rush, Kevin Richardson.

Australian Wood Review is proud to announce the inaugural Jan Pennell Award for Woodturning.

This new annual AUD$1,500 award is a generous bequest from the estate of the late Jan Pennell. It will be presented to the entry that displays the best woodturning from across all categories for Maker of the Year 2024, presented by Carbatec. The winning entry may be created by means of other woodworking techniques and may be made in collaboration with others, as per the competition T&Cs.

Below, Ernie Newman tells about the woman in whose memory the Award has been created.


This image of Jan Pennell shows her holding giant chess pieces. The Blue Mountains Woodturners made ten sets and donated them to local primary schools. Jan was a big contributor.

Jan Pennell was born in 1948 and grew up in country NSW, trained as a nurse and brought many babies into the world. She joined the RAAF in the Medical Core and rose to the rank of Wing Commander, equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel in the army. She was an expert skier and represented the Australian armed forces in skiing overseas. One of her pleasures was mentoring her staff and she spoke fondly of them decades later.

During her service, Jan Pennell was involved with many exercises in managing local and overseas disasters. She saved many lives in the first 24 hours after the Bali bombing in 2002 when she co-ordinated the aeromedical evacuation for the Australian Air Force. In 2003 she received a commendation from Peter J. Cosgrove, AC, MC, General and Chief of the Defence Forces. The award noted: ‘As the Saff Officer Health, you displayed excellent professional initiative, inspirational leadership and dedication to duty during an extremely challenging and demanding situation.’

When Jan retired, she took up woodturning and completed a five-year course in four. Her sculptural piece for the course was an assemblage of three trembleurs. Shown right, the longest was over 2.1 metres with a diameter of under 3mm, possibly the longest trembleur ever turned. To make it she had to join two lathes together. The World of Woodturners Forum featured the assemblage and sent an image all around the world.

Every two years for a decade Jan participated in the Australian Collaboration, a workshop which attracted many of Australia’s and the world’s best wood artists.

She was a wonderful asset to the Blue Mountains Woodturners club for 20 years. Her formal roles included president, treasurer, first aid officer and librarian. But she also shared her knowledge and used her managerial and people skills to solve problems and create a positive experience for members. A combination of intelligence, common sense and respect for others made her a terrific leader.

Jan wasn’t all strawberries and cream. She could be as sharp as her chisels when she detected foolishness and the term, ‘fiercely independent’, doesn’t do her justice. Tougher than ironbark. Pain was her faithful friend towards the end but if you asked, the answer was always, ‘I’m okay’.

Jan’s generosity extends beyond the grave in at least two ways. First, she left all her woodworking machines and tools to the club. This is a substantial bequest because as she once observed, ‘The one who dies with the most tools wins’. If she didn’t win, she was in the final. A second way her generosity lives on is in those of us who knew her. It was infectious. It was an honour and a privilege to know a woman of insight, integrity and kindness. The best of this world can’t be told. Words are only shadows. We farewelled one of the best.

Enter Maker of the Year, presented by Carbatec





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