Blacksmiths forging ahead in ancient trade

·3-min read

When Iain Hamilton was made redundant from a carpentry job, he used his payout to buy a hammer, an anvil, a 200 litre drum and a vacuum cleaner.

Mr Hamilton built a crude blacksmith's forge, with the vacuum rigged up to blow on hot embers, and taught himself the age-old trade.

"Looking back, it was terrible and dirty and smelly and stinky," he says.

Two decades after those first attempts, Mr Hamilton and his wife Sarah run Mother Mountain Forge at Dignams Creek, in southern NSW, making intricate metal art and upmarket knives for hunters and home cooks.

He felt a profound pull toward blacksmithing, a trade steeped in ancient myth and legend.

"It's so primal. It's a bit deeper than just the surface," Mr Hamilton says.

He sees creativity as a salve for the stresses of modern life, a sentiment he passes on to students who attend classes in his workshop.

"One of the biggest things I try to teach people is confidence," he says.

"It's very hard to stuff it up when you're forging. If you bend it the wrong way, then you heat it up again and bend it back the other way."

Working with flames at his fingertips most days, Mr Hamilton knew he could use his trade to support traumatised bushfire victims after the Black Summer fires of 2019-20.

He and another blacksmith, Philippe Ravenel, are helping locals forge steel gum leaves, stamping them with personalised messages of hope and resilience.

Thousands of leaves will be gathered to form a memorial tree in Cobargo, a village in NSW southeast, where hundreds of homes were destroyed in the fires.

"It's a tree made by the community that cannot burn," Mr Hamilton says.

"This is a way of getting people who are necessarily a bit skittish around fire to see that fire isn't evil. It's just a thing. They can make something good out of it, something permanent, and now their experience of fire is different."

Mr Hamilton is joining nearly 100 makers at the Sydney Knife Show next month, where traditional techniques will be on display.

Mick Henricks, whose axes and hammers will also be on show, says he and other blacksmiths are "a bit nutty", constantly chasing ideas and originality.

"It's almost like a power," says Mr Henricks, who runs The Farmer's Forge with his wife Mardi from their cattle property in Roma, Queensland.

"You're not cutting something to length and shape, you're actually forcing it into shape."

Growing up on a farm, Mr Henricks spent most of his time tinkering in his father's shed and following his mother around the Old Things Shop in the rural town.

He remembers always searching for ways to make things, like machinery parts and trailers.

"If it can be made or cut or ground, I was giving it a go," he says.

A decade ago, Mardi suggested he go to a blacksmithing class at the Cobb+Co Museum in Toowoomba, Queensland.

Now, Mr Henricks' products are in demand from farmers, tradespeople, and overseas collectors.

He hopes the path to finding his passion will inspire his three sons.

"I want to show them they don't have to be the doctor, or the farmer, the chemist, or the teacher," he says.

"There (are) a lot of things out there in today's world. It's not just the little town we live in."

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