Placing mum on the nature strip when she needed a new hip was well down the list of options. First, naturally, would be a new hip; second was spending the next 40 years living in waist-deep water, and third was to take up a drinking problem. The last option was propping mum out the front, leaning her neatly on a tree trunk, waiting for someone to take her away. My reluctance to make mum hard rubbish is pretty similar to my broader worldview. That is, I don’t throw stuff out when it needs a new part. It is, I’ll admit, a horrible type of affliction, especially when my daily commute weaves through suburbs during hard-rubbish collection. In later life, I fear I’ll become one of those grubby hoarders, living amongst everyone else’s junk. But for now, I’m vaguely hygienic, keeping check on the size of the pile.
Passing on my instinct, I’ve been teaching paddle making with university students for 8 years, whereby I demonstrate the fundamental idea of collecting, chopping-up and gluing together a ‘blank’ (much like a giant cricket bat) before planning and sanding the awkward and heavy clunker into a beautiful and light canoe paddle. Students take a while to get the idea, often bringing in ridiculous chunks of rotten, treated, knotty, glued-up and naily wood. But they soon get it, and bring in succulent veranda posts, grainy beds, creamy window frames and an odd assortment of ‘don’t ask’ beauties- often rare, pungently magic remnants of an ancient or rare tree. Crafted to suit someone’s height and hand size, a new paddle made from old wood, often from a tree that germinated hundreds of years ago, seems to hold limitless potential. Most obviously, a paddle in your hands can send you down a river for the rest of your life. More subtlety, the inanimate wood lives again by teaching us how capable human hands are, and how remarkable a tree is. As if to force the idea, a splinter reminds us that wood is no longer a tree- having become a sharp and static version of its former self, reanimated as a tool, or building, or loud swearing when it gets us.
My recent creation is a junk paddle made from wood found between my train station and the office. A student email kicked off the idea, saying ‘Beau, I’d love to make a paddle but I don’t have the funds to buy wood’. Fair enough, I thought, but it meant my message hadn’t gotten through. ‘Wood is everywhere, mate’ I reply, ‘along train lines, on building site sites, under your neighbour’s house, and on every second nature strip in Australia during hard rubbish.’ ‘You don’t have to skulk around illegally either,’ I bang on ‘wood finding safaris are as free as the wind, mate, and bloody good fun’. I mentioned taking a cart along, full of beer and music, to make it an occasion. Filming the transition from train station to river, this is Junk Paddle.