Turning craft into conversation


Turning craft into conversation

words Heidi HELBIG
>> Back row: Keith Fechner, Guy Martin, Roger Leslie, Raelene O’ Connor, Ivan O’Hara and Peter Boschen. Front row: Ian Curren, David Johnson and Gerry Canavan.

You know morning cuppa’s over at the Tinkers Shed when Keith Pfeiffer goes back to work.

“You’ve got two minutes to go,” Keith calls over his shoulder as he returns to the shed floor, to a chorus of laughter.

Good natured banter flows easily between these Tinkers, who come from all walks of life.

There’s David Johnson, a quiet and unassuming type, who makes exquisite wooden jewellery boxes and Japanese tool boxes for friends.

Peter Boschen, the Apprentice, who arrived at the Tinkers shed just a few months ago.

Kathy Piscioneri, nee Meyer, daughter of a cabinet maker, who came to the Tinkers Shed seeking both to learn and share the skills of craftsmanship.

Gerry Canavan, who “helped build the place” back in 2009.

Peter Cooper, a raconteur affectionately known as Peter Turner because of his superior woodturning skills.

Sharon Arnold, who’d never picked up a drill before she set foot in the Tinkers Shed.

Ian ‘Chuck’ Curren, a retired tech studies teacher who couldn’t stay away if he tried, and doesn’t want to.

And chairman, Guy Martin, the chief tea and coffee purchaser on “director’s wages” who is the metaphorical glue that holds the whole thing together.

As the group relaxes over coffee, the camaraderie and repartee is infectious.

“Sometimes we don’t do any work with our hands – it’s all with our mouths,” quips Ian.

Their mutual affection sits comfortably alongside the impressive array of woodworking hand tools and machinery, which is the reason they’re here.

Guy explains the men’s shed movement was started to address social isolation, in the knowledge men are more comfortable talking shoulder-to-shoulder than face-to-face.

“The concept of men’s sheds is to give people who have retired or lost the shed out the back somewhere to come where they can learn, be physically active and also communicate with other people,”  he says.

Initiated by the Lions Club of Barossa Valley with a $15,000 donation from the Australian Lions Foundation, they eschewed the ‘men’s shed’ moniker in favour of the Tinkers Shed to be gender-inclusive.

Each Tuesday the facility on Research Road, Nuriootpa opens to anyone with a project to tackle, irrespective of their skills or knowledge.

The shed is dotted with projects-in-the-making, ranging from a small rocking horse, yoga stools and handmade gifts for the grandkids, to full scale furniture restoration projects.

Occasional visitors are always welcome and pay just $5 to cover costs – Ian’s advice comes free of charge.

“I think that’s the good thing about us…
I feel like it’s a family.”

- - Kathy Piscioneri

For Sharon, the shed has been a revelation, enabling her to indulge her creative talents in a completely unexpected way. Her current projects involve making mobile phone and tablet holders to give to friends.

It’s a far cry from the day she first arrived, unable to use or even recognise the myriad tools and machinery.

She recalls being “very overwhelmed”, and with nerves getting the better of her, she left – but not for long.

“I thought about it and bought a second hand table, and all these guys came up to me and said ‘what are we doing with this?’” recalls Sharon.

“So we – being them – took it apart and modified it, and from there I have gone on to learn all the machinery with their help.”

For Peter ‘Turner’ Cooper, who came to the Valley 12-odd years ago as “a visitor” after many years living overseas, the Tinkers Shed gave him a connection to community and an opportunity to share his considerable skills on the lathe.

Naturally, it helped that he’s not backward in coming forward.

“Everyone knows I like talking,” he says to general laughter. 

“I really enjoy the companionship and people I meet – it’s just good fun. And if I can help people to improve their skills, I really enjoy that.

“I think that’s the good thing about us,” adds Kathy, who’s found her niche repurposing and reupholstering furniture.

“I feel like it’s a family.

“If people have something that needs fixing, we can either help them do it themselves or do it for them.”

Each Tinker has their place and role; for Ian, it’s taken the form of supervisor.

“When they found out I was a retired tech studies teacher I walked out the door with such a big target on my back they couldn’t miss,” he laughs.

“Not long after I became supervisor here – it’s been good.”

Notwithstanding, Ian admits to having had a few close shaves: “I’m not allowed to climb ladders anymore,” he confesses, to good-natured hoots of ‘bl…. idiot!’

And now, at Keith’s bidding, the time for talk is over, and the gradual whirr of machines coming to life breaks the rhythm of conversation…but not for long, one suspects.

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