When is barbed wire the wrong or the right kind?
(and who knew there were so many types!)
My husband and father continuously make not so subtle suggestions about using barbed wire in my work. To the extent that they bring me different pieces when they find it, twist it into shapes, proclaim loudly when they come across a 'perfectly rusted' stash, and complain bitterly when it's not rusty enough.
From their influence I've been playing with barbed wire for a while now and working with the different shapes they come up with to try to make wall hangings, but it's never quite been right...
he last few weeks I've been back home on Curtin Springs (a million acre cattle station in Central Australia), spending time with family, working in the cattle yards, paper-making with native grasses, showing the new Artists-In-Residence through the process, landscape and life on the station (before the current events made it too crazy to stay and I had to come home to husband and children and Grandma!). I'd taken pretty much everything with me to complete orders and make anything that was needed in my own business while I was there. Halfway through the 2300km drive, I realised that my husband had cut and washed a box of wire... but not barbed wire. 'Oh well' I thought. There are so many old fences and piles of old fencing that I'm sure to get some if the need arises.
Then it happened... an order for Alpaca Flowers on barbed wire. Asking the senior members of the family where I might find a stash that could be used, I was given instructions and left to go searching. DILEMMA! It was all shiny and new!
Over 3 days my father and I, and then my mother and father and I, covered about 200 km, finding the old fences and looking for correctly rusted barbed wire. We didn't find the type I needed to make flowers - it was all too new looking or not the type we could undo the twists. There was however ample of this lovely barbed wire that caught my fancy.
'Army barb' is what my Poppa called it. (Poppa is 92 and took over the pastoral lease of Curtin Springs in 1956. He's seen and done it all, and has the most amazing stories). They say this particular barbed wire was only made by the Army during WWI and WWII. It was the wire that was run in coils around trenches, and three quarters of a century later it is still pretty lethal. Each barb is actually an individual link that has been connected together with the next one, and made from high tensile wire. Nothing like I have ever seen before and another example of 'they don't make it like they used to'.
After WWII the army didn't need it any more and the surplus was then used by the pastoralists to build fences.
I was chatting with Poppa asking him about the wire, where it came from, what he knew, and then of course asked him how they came to purchase it.
In his beautifully level tone he simply said 'no Dear, we acquired it'.
The internal giggle ended the conversation. He has always had a way with words!
Alpaca Flowers and #buyfromabushbusiness
The back story: For the last few years I have been 'commuting' from my family property and work in Central Australia and my new home in Central West NSW. We had set time for me to make the move permanent and a wedding date on the farm for a time that should normally see clover a foot high, crop in paddocks and fat fat ewes and lambs. The plan was I could continue to build my art and design practice, make paper out of cereal crops, read my book and help out when needed...
When the time came, the paddocks were bare, the dams almost dry and stock feed hard to find. Our wedding did happen with the support and assistance of many family and friends and our life together has started with many challenges but also many interesting solutions!
Alpaca arrival: We had made a decision to purchase a small number of alpacas as herd protectors at the beginning of 2019. We got them home to settle them in and get to know the ewes before lambing started. We didn't find one lamb this year that had been killed by a fox or dog, so for us the alpacas were worth their weight in gold. Another decision was made to invest in some good quality stud alpacas to increase the numbers, and to introduce high quality wool and colour into our small herd. We shore them all (for our first time, what a learning curve!) in November. Then my husband needed surgery which put him out of action on the farm for 8 weeks, and meant me doing the work for both of us. The fleeces had to wait.
First Alpaca Products: Traditionally, my artform is hand-paper making from native grasses, and using the paper and paper pulp to make jewellery and artworks. After 3 years of drought, there is very little grass and no crop to make paper from, I still didn't have a work space set up, but, I still needed to do something! I had felted before, and had an idea. After trial, error, trial, error, trial, success, the first alpaca fibre 'beads' were made and jewellery constructed. I'd had a number of family and friends mention #buyfromabushbusiness and One Day Closer To Rain - Cottage Crafts and say I should start to look at growing my art business, but while the husband wasn't yet at full capacity I kept putting it off. When I could finally concentrate, and take a deep breath, the first alpaca fibre earrings went up, and within minutes the first orders had been received.
Alpaca Flowers: Brainstorming with my family, we came up with a whole list of things that could possibly be adapted in our own way and made from our coloured alpaca fibre. The next trial was flowers and flower pots. Within minutes they had sold and the requests were coming in for more. Then the flower stems themselves became another item. I've had a steep learning curve about a back end of a website! Over the past month we have sent 191 orders across the county. My Grandmother came to visit (from the ACT), my mother came to visit (from the NT), and our girls have been helping pack orders, write notes and card wool.
What it means in real terms: At a time when we had no idea how we were going to buy more feed for stock, or put water in our tanks, or fuel in the tractor, or organise uniforms for the new school, we were working out how many of our breading stock needed to go to buy more grain and hay, and who we could get to watch the kids so we could look at some additional work. Not an easy thing to do when every day you have to hand feed stock, check water and drop everything if something happens.
You've probably seen that picture that says buying local means you help a little girl get dance classes, a little boy get a team jersey and mum and dad put food on the table? For us, you buying from the bush, and from our small business, means we have been able to buy hay for our animals, keep some more of our breading stock, adopt a couple of extra coloured alpacas that needed to be re-homed, put fuel in the tractor to turn over the hard paddocks so one day when it does rain the rain will soak in rather than run off, buy new uniforms for our girls, pay for a term of dance classes for one, and singing lessons for the other (which we have never been able to do before). It means something really positive for our family to focus on. Those tough decisions are counteracted with ideas and decisions about colour combinations. It's brought our family together - my husband is busy fixing broken fences so he can bring me home the rusty wire for the flower stems, before setting up at the table with me to help felt the flowers. The girls chatter about the day and what's happening while carding wool and sorting out orders rather than trying to retreat to their rooms.
Our little post office (still half an hr drive away) is being kept busy, I've been able to support an emerging photographer from Narromine get her name in the newspaper with the story she was taking the photos for us for ( @nicoledrewphotography.com ) - all the photos in this post are hers as well (except the wedding pic at the top which was taken by Grenville Turner), and we've learnt the local pub does a really good schnitzel special on a Monday night when I've got carried away and forgot I need to organise dinner!
I'm playing around with the prototypes for some new products, writing the lists to keep my husband busy and looking at today and tomorrow in a much more positive light.
From my family to yours...
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