Guy Breay: Beyond the black stump

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Invictus, salvaged flame sheoak (Allocasuarina inophloia), 600 x 580 x 2300mm

Words: Linda Nathan
Photos: Guy Breay

Out west in Queensland there’s a region known as the Western Downs that’s almost as big as Switzerland. Instead of snow covered alps however, you’ll find a tapestry of forests and farmland intersected by wetlands and rivers.

The land near Dalby, where Guy and Jan Breay live, is non-arable ironbark and cypress pine ridge country. The budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolious) that Guy loves to sculpt is also native to that area, however around 60 years ago much of it was ring-barked by timber getters to make way for the cypress pine that sawyers saw commercial value in.


'Invictus is a depiction of an ascending hunter. It reflects on a friend who has the perseverance, resilience and fortitude to endure physical and mental pain and still be "the master of his fate and captain of his soul".'

‘Budgeroo is a very beautiful timber, but prone to having natural internal pipes and cavities’, Guy said. ‘Another hard, rugged and beautiful timber that I salvage is flame sheoak (Allocasuarina inophloia),’ he added. ‘Cypress pine tree stumps also have exquisite grain patterns and are relatively hard and stable.’


Invictus, the finished sculpture

Born in England, Guy grew up in South India on the tea, coffee and cardamom plantations his father managed. Later, in the 70s, his family pioneered the cardamom industry in Papua New Guinea on a remote leased forest property, ‘with the assistance of their local Papuan friends and land owners’.

It was there that his woodworking began: ‘We built houses out of local timbers. The roofs were made of split cedar shingles. I learnt to operate chainsaws and eventually invested in a tractor-driven circular saw bench for ripping timber, mainly for packing boxes for exporting our cardamom. The sawn timber was also used for flooring and walls of houses.’


Phoenix the Firebird Rising, salvaged budgeroo, 1000 x 1260 x 550mm

Another decade later Guy and Jan bought their Queensland property. ‘Friends who visited used to say we lived in the sticks, so we eventually chose that name for our property’, explained Guy. ‘However, when I carved the sign on the entrance gate I misspelled the word, and it’s been known as “The Stiks” ever since!’

The woods that Guy works with are some of the toughest around, all of which is amplified by the twisting gnarly grain of the root and stump forms he uses. Knowing only a little of his life, it’s easy to see that Guy’s meets challenges head-on and using a timber resource that many would overlook is another he has embraced. ‘I enjoy the challenges of creating sculptures from salvaged wood. It demands very flexible thinking and design ideas, he said.’


Stages in sculpting Beyond the Black Stump, budgeroo, 490 x 490 x 400mm

Creating his free-flowing sculptures is time-consuming, not least because of the nature of his medium. I asked Guy what ratio of power tool to hand tool work would there be in his work? His answer was surprisingly precise: ‘I keep fairly accurate records of time spent carving each piece and the tools employed. Those records reveal that 20% of my time involves power tools and 80% involves hand tools.’

‘Design work is enjoyable and can be very time consuming, but most of my time is spent rasping to an 80 grit equivalent, after which I commence sanding and polishing. A piece like Invictus takes me 250 to 300 hours to carve and therefore rates at the higher end of difficulty compared to almost all my other work.’


Beyond the Black Stump was carved from a salvaged tree stump of budgeroo. 'The spiral vortex depicts the fury of a firestorm.'

With starting out weights as much as five times greater, Guy’s is a ‘less is more’ kind of art where volumes are reduced and refined to create latticed and flowing forms. ‘My favourite process is enhancing my work with movement with lines, negative spaces and contrasting colours and textures’, he said. ‘The shape of the wood is the source of most of my inspiration.’


Cassowary, salvaged budgeroo 470 x 350 x 210mm

Knowing that Guy has also played flamenco guitar for most of his life, I asked him if there were any parallels with this style of music and his style of woodworking? His reply elicited an interesting observation: ‘Both require passion, practice and patience as well as degrees of inspiration, imagination, improvisation and innovation.’

Alongside managing his olive grove and forest, Guy Breay carves six to seven pieces a year and shows work at several galleries in Australia.

Learn more about Guy Breay at


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