Lost Trades in Bendigo

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Greg Pennington is a master craftsman who visited Australia specifically to attend the Lost Trades Fair and to teach his craft.

Words and photos: Dan Dwyer

In 2023, the Lost Trades Fair celebrated its ten-year anniversary this year at Bendigo Racecourse. Glen and Lisa Rundell organised artisans to come together to relish craftsmanship, heritage crafts and inter-generational knowledge. Toolmakers, ropemakers, locksmiths, wheelwrights, chairmakers, coopers, carvers, fly-fishing rod makers, pipe makers, luthiers, hatters, weavers, leatherworkers, gunsmiths, bootmakers and bookbinders – just to name a few, of the over 150 makers represented.


Metalsmith Seth Gould traveled from the USA to demonstrate fine toolmaking skills. 


Wing dividers, hand forged and fettled by Seth Gould.

I arrived on Saturday morning, roughly an hour after the gates opened. Already the thronging crowd were six-deep at the entrance stalls, testing the 15,000 person event capacity. Near the entrance, Seth Gould, a metalsmith and toolmaker from Bakersville, North Carolina, was pounding on an anvil before a rapt audience. Seth was demonstrating how to make a pair of dividers. He held each arm before the crowd, pounding each in turn with his hammer before quenching it in his cooper-made barrel.

‘A minute here on the anvil will save me 15 minutes on the file’, Seth said. He continued to assault the arm. Seth put the two arms together, holding them with his bare fingers, the red hot segments now cool after quenching. ‘They don’t need to match up exactly, I’ll do that at a later stage.’ Seth’s work is not contained to tools only. He makes coffers, locks and boxes, and kitchen items including a duck press (to make a duck served in a sauce of its blood and bone marrow, which is extracted by way of a press). At the fair, however, Seth was focused on selling his beautiful dividers, 300 and 450 gram cross-peen hammers, and wing dividers. The tools were of exceptional quality and beauty.


Aaron Smith trades as the Keyhole Surgeon and shared his love for traditional locks and locksmithing.

I enjoyed meeting Aaron Smith, the Keyhole Surgeon. Aaron is lead teacher of locksmithing at Melbourne Polytechnic. Aaron’s business specialises in heritage lockmaking, conservation of locks, keys and restoration. When I approached, Aaron was busy making a key for an antique French lock.

‘Would you believe me if I told you that this lock was the world’s first CCTV camera?’ Tom, Aaron’s colleague, and a fellow locksmith said, as he held the Chubb detector lock in his blackened hands – clear plastic replaced the faceplate to reveal the lock’s inner workings. Tom inserted a large key, and the handle, called the bow, was in the shape of a crown.

‘See, if someone tries to pick this lock, all of these levers lift up, and the lock won’t open. When the owner  comes home, the lock won’t work in the normal way (Tom turned the key other way), but this resets the levers and the owner can open the lock.’ Tom explained that the owner will now know that someone had tried to interfere with the lock and take action accordingly.


Will Burke, aka W. Burke Chairmaker, hails from Byron Bay, NSW and now explores his passion for Windsor chairmaking on a professional level.

Next up was chairmaker Will Burke of Byron Bay. Burke was corralled in the same stall as American chair maestro Greg Pennington. I overheard Pennington say, ‘Chairmaking is almost easier for a beginner. If you’re used to making perfectly square boxes, and using dead straight lumber, it’s very hard to get used to the wonky lines of chairmaking.’ I was still thinking this comment over when a punter stepped up to buy one of Burke’s chairs. ‘I’m booked out until August,’ Burke said. I was both happy and impressed that Burke had so much work on.

Maori sculptor Kāpene Alexander sat behind his sculpture with mana – spiritual power and authority. His liquidambar (American sweetgum) sculpture of Tāne Mahuta, the God of the forest, commanded respect. The sculpture wore a whale’s tooth necklace.

Kāpene said that he had originally given the Tāne Mahuta piece to a friend, and the necklace separately, but the friend had gifted both back to him, as he had ‘taken off on a boat.’ Tāne wore the necklace now. And it seemed like he always had. Kāpene said that it was tempting to go back and fix old carving mistakes from previous pieces, but that it was all really just part of the process, all learning.


James Findley and Andy Hooke demonstrated the traditional skills and tools of bushcraft.

Lastly, I stopped in to see Mike Subritsky and Jim Anderson at the Vintage Tool Shop and Heritage Saws stall. Mike and Jim had their gorgeous range of handmade saws on display: Brunswick, Fitzroy, Carlton and Yarra saws, that can be made as dovetail, carcase or crosscut saws depending on the client’s discerning requirements. My favourite saw is a custom 12" Fitzroy model. This features an Australian ringed gidgee handle with sapwood contrast and a fine 14ppi rip profile. These saws are unique pieces and will join the pantheon of tools made to the highest standard.


David Douyard, USA (right) was another of the elite Windsor chairmakers represented at the Lost Trades Fair in 2023.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Lost Trades Fair. To make, repair and grow is to be human. We have lost touch with this part of ourselves and I was heartened to see those stalwarts keeping the trades alive. The Rundells did such an incredible job of organising the fair. The logistical achievement aside, the real victory is exposing people – particularly young people – to skills that ignite the potential for artistry while honouring our ancestors in the craft. To see artisans like Will Burke and Heritage Saws booked out for months, confirmed that these trades are not dying, but have experienced a renaissance and are indeed thriving.

The Lost Trades Fair takes place again in Bendigo March 9–10, 2024. Learn more here.

This article first appeared in Wood Review magazine, issue 119, June 2023.

Dan Dwyer is a part-time writer and now lives in New Zealand. His article in the March 2024 issue of Wood Review magazine investigates the world of Melbourne luthier Martin Paul.

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