SHE had to marry him really. After all he owned a lot of power tools. And so began a partnership made in heaven. Kaye Hatton met her husband John at a time when she had decided to get serious about making wooden objects.
From the age of six, Kaye had always loved building things out of wood. Growing up on a farm on King Island, she built billycarts and stick horses and even made her first tee pee with tea tree poles trussed together with baling twine and covered with blankets so she could camp out under the stars.
It was an unusual pastime in an era when boys did woodwork at school and girls did home economics. There was no opportunity to take woodwork as a subject at school but that didn't stop her passion. When she left school, and as a sole parent, she went scavenging to find pieces of timber to create rustic wooden furniture to fill in the gaps of a spartan house. Her first effort was made out of timber from an old lounge chair along with some pieces of Tasmanian oak from which she crafted a coffee table which she had for many years.
She had no shed and so had to use the only outside covered area – her verandah – before her sister took pity on her and let her use her shed. In return Kaye repaired her sister's furniture and made her an outdoor table. It was so heavy it may have been made out of marble. Where it was built – it stayed.
And then she met John. They would head off to wood shows. (So romantic!) “I loved to see what new toys there were for me to use,” Kaye says. After they married they moved to this district where they didn't know a soul. Given their shared interest in wood, they joined the Wonthaggi Woodcrafters. John was always keen on turning timber whereas Kaye was more interested in pyrography (or poker work as it used to be called) and making rustic furniture. But one day … John headed off to a bowls match … and the rest is history. Kaye says, “I had been watching John turn the wood and I thought 'I'm going to have a go at that’.” Her first effort was a lidded container which she has kept all these years.
As luck would have it, her son-in-law is a fencer. He often came to visit them after finishing a job. Kaye rummaged around in the back of his truck to see if any of the old fence posts looked like they had the potential to be turned into a beautiful piece of woodwork. To her son-in-law the wood was rubbish – but to her it was treasure.
Within two years of joining the club, John and Kaye were on the committee. At the time there were around 40 members and Kaye was one of only two women. Now the membership has doubled and there are 15 women members.
Since starting to wood turn, Kaye now looks at trees differently. She has come to appreciate each timber's different qualities. She literally shudders when she describes how some people think of yellow box as great firewood. From raw product to a tactile piece of finished work, there is nothing better, she believes.
The club is lucky that many people now know about them and will offer them timber for nothing. With tongue in cheek, Kaye tells me, “Good wood doesn't just grow on trees, you know.” Her favourite style is to turn timber which has a big natural edge into interestingly shaped platters. She calls it “turning a shadow”, which raises such an evocative picture for me.
She proudly shows me her hands, demonstrating that she still has all her fingers intact. She has now joined a furniture making class where she is made to learn to build furniture as they did in the old days without the aid of mechanical tools. “I failed mortice and tenon 101”, she laments. But she won't give in. I think she plans to outdo her fellow woodworkers. One is in his early 90s and still going strong and another in his 80s. “But they don't have all their fingers!”.
You can see Kaye's work at ArtSpace Wonthaggi throughout the year. She'll be there – with all her fingers attached!
The Wonthaggi Woodcrafters have a well equipped workshop and club rooms in the grounds of the Jean Meltzer Centre at 239 White Road, Wonthaggi. They meet on the second Monday of each month at 1pm and hold regular workshops each week. New members are welcome.