TRADES ALIVE: Leather plaiter Bill Webb learned the trade he has been plying for 50-odd years from the legendary RM Williams himself, and happily passes on the tricks and skills to others.
TRADES ALIVE: Leather plaiter Bill Webb learned the trade he has been plying for 50-odd years from the legendary RM Williams himself, and happily passes on the tricks and skills to others.

Old crafts not lost on a new generation

HELPING to highlight traditional crafts and craftsmanship, ensure they don't disappear, and inspire a new generation are the goals of the Lost Trades Fair Queensland.

Multi-award-winning leather plaiter Bill Webb pushed for the event, which began successfully last year at Toowoomba's Cobb+Co Museum, after he attended a similar fair in Victoria.

"I said this is the best show I've ever seen - the only thing wrong with it is it's not in Queensland," Bill laughed.

"We need to get the message out there that these trades are alive and that these artisans have extraordinary capabilities."

They did just that, with 8000 people attending the inaugural Toowoomba event and more expected to attend this year over the weekend of October 6 and 7.

Dozens of career artisans will demonstrate and share their skills, talent and passion for heritage trades.

These include French polishing, glassblowing, spinning, blacksmithing, silversmithing, barrel, tool and spoon-making, book binding, weaving, lacemaking, and making long-bows and penny farthings.

Unlike the artisans of the past, who Bill said often wanted to keep the secrets of their trade under wraps to prevent competition, those at the Lost Trades Fair are eager to share their knowledge and experience to ensure their trades survive.

He began his own over 50-year journey into leather plaiting at just six years old, with his mum keen to find something to keep his hands and mind busy, and hopefully stop the youngster from wandering off and getting lost on their large cattle property.

That didn't work so well, according to Bill, but it did get his interest and earned him a good bit of pocket money from school mates who wanted belts.

In Year 7 he wrote to RM Williams ... and got an answer, culminating in him spending a couple of weeks training with the man himself, who later opened doors for him to other leather experts.

"When I think back on it, it was amazing that he took the time to write back to a snot-nosed kid," Bill said.

While he has continued to plait leather, and has taught for the past 15 years, it's only in the past five years that Bill has made his hobby his career, with his pieces made to order and shipped throughout the country and the world.

Students of all ages and backgrounds, from school kids to truck drivers and doctors, also travel to his classes nationwide - the only thing participants have in common being the wish to be creative.

"I think a lot of people now are looking for high quality Australian-made goods - they're sick of getting something on Christmas Day and taking it to the dump on Boxing Day ...

"And they're realising they can create things themselves and that, if they buy something, they have to pay for quality and expertise ... artisans have to live and eat too."

Bill said that looking back now, given the consumer interest and the enjoyment he gets from his craft, he should have gone full-time 30 years ago.

"You're only limited in what you make by your imagination," he said, including everything from belts and whips to keyrings, bracelets and necklaces to handbags.

He chooses to use red kangaroo hide, which he says is both strong and workable, and says people are often "gob-smacked" with the fine detail of his work, which can involve plaiting anything from to 64 strands.

"You're never at the top of your game; you always try and make the next one better than the last," Bill said.

To find out more about the Lost Trades Fair on October 6-7 and book, go to www.cobbandco.qm.qld.gov.au. Adult tickets are $15 online, $18 on the day, with Seniors Card holders $12 and $15.


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