Ted Barraclough
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Whittling hobby takes wings

Brigid Andersen

Growing up in western Queensland as World War II drew to a close, young Ted Barraclough would carve toys for his brothers out of the timber that grew on his family's farm.

Ten-year-old Barraclough knew all the bird species that came down to the creek below his family's house, so he started carving those too.

Now 74, Barraclough's lifelong hobby is an art form.

His children, grandchildren and friends still benefit from the toys he carves, but Barraclough's birds can also be spotted in galleries and private collections.

"My brother said to me one day, 'after 60 years of doing this you're not too bad'," he said.

"I must have started whittling and carving very young. I grew up during the war and there were no toys around.

"My uncle was a blacksmith and he had a big blacksmith shop both on the farm and in town, so I had plenty of tools. So I just got the wood and made the toys for us."

After being spotted at a wood expo in Maleny, 91 of Barraclough's birds are now being exhibited at the Doggett Street gallery in Brisbane.

The life-size, painted carvings of Australian bird species have literally been flying out the door, with almost all of them bought by collectors.

With the smallest of Barraclough's flock selling for about $200, there are now plans for another Australian exhibition and even a trip to London for the birds.

But this means he has to get carving.

Barraclough, who uses an old set of chisels to carve Australian timbers such as red cedar and beech, says it is a nice opportunity to work on his skills as a wood carver.

"Your style moves on, you paint better, you carve better. Some of my older birds aren't as good as the later ones, it's that sort of process," he said.

Working at whittling

The retired teacher usually has a few birds on the go at his home on the Sunshine Coast.

"I usually carve two or three birds at the same time, because there's a lot of gluing and there's a lot of painting so you've got to wait for paint to dry," he said.

"So rather than sit down and watch television I just try and organise it so that I'm always doing something about a bird.

"They make me play golf a couple of days a week, we've got lovely little grandchildren that we babysit, so the week fills up. I wouldn't know how long it takes me to make a bird from when I start it to when I finish it two or three days later, or sometimes the same day."

At the moment Barraclough is working on a fairy wren, a yellow-tufted honeyeater and a rainbow lorikeet, which will hang upside down with a fig in its mouth.

He does all his work in a makeshift studio in his garage and says he still gets in trouble from his wife, Del, for bringing sawdust into the house.

But he admits he has used the whittling skills to impress her.

"The first carving I made for Del, she saw a carving of a figure in a magazine and said, 'oh that's nice'," he said.

"It was an African figurehead sort of thing. So I went down and sharpened a screw driver, and cut one for her."

Ornamental woodcarving and whittling is a dying art and Barraclough says there are probably only a hundred or so people in Australia who do what he does.

He says woodcarving is still big business in some European countries like Germany, but elsewhere it has gone out of fashion.

"There's something so basic about carving wood. You pick a piece of wood off the shelf or out of the bush and you can make something out of it," he said.

"It's very easy to do when you think of stone and metal and everything else. It's the easiest piece of material to use."

Carving blasphemy

Barraclough admits that painting his creations is often considered blasphemous in the wood carving world, where timbers are usually stained to enhance their natural colours.

But he says he likes his birds to have a realistic look, so the rainbow lorikeet keeps its bright greens and reds and the cockatoo gets its sulphur crest.

He says he tries to give his birds some personality when he carves.

"Every time I make a bird I try and make it not sitting po-faced on a twig. I try to make it look as though it's alive, so I'll turn the head, or raise the wing," he said.

"I just try to do something different now to the birds so they're not just sitting there like specimens."

Barraclough, who has carved several hundred different birds, says even in our cities there are lots of different species around, but many people don't notice them.

He says he likes his birds to find homes with people who appreciate their beauty.

"I think we've just got to get the idea that birds are beautiful, beautiful creatures and you've got to do something to protect them because a lot of them are endangered," he said.

"That's where I'd like my birds to go, to some people who like birds."

He says the sulphur-crested cockatoo, which was made with enough timber "to carve a house", has so far been his hardest bird to carve.

On Barraclough's bird scale, he says his carvings are about an eight out of 10, but he is still striving to carve the perfect bird.

And with a shot at international stardom in the works for the flock, Barraclough says it is nice to get a bit of recognition along the way.

"Well that's good isn't it? I'm too old to be an egotist. I used to be and I was very good at it too. But I'm getting quite excited about it all again," he said.

"I'm starting to think now, they're paying money for it so it's got to be a little bit better made, no shortcuts.

"So in a way it's picked up my act a little bit. It's given me a kick."

From www.abc.net.au