Country: Australia
Joanne Cooley, Wira, Iṯaṟa - River red gum, 125×360×90mm

Wood crafts are very strong in many traditional Aboriginal communities. Products have a range of uses. The boomerang, shield, club, spear and spear-thrower are used for hunting and warfare. The didgeridoo, chap-sticks and bull-roarer are employed to make music, often accompanying dance. The coolamon is a carved wooden dish used for carrying food. There are also many ceremonial and decorative objects, such as punu (poker work), boab nut engraving and burial poles, such as the Tiwi Island pukamani. These are still produced for traditional use, though many are now made for sale to collectors and tourists. Maruku Arts in Central Australia is particularly productive in wood craft: Billy Cooley is a master of punu and has exhibited internationally.

Damien Wright, She Oak side board

Many wood techniques and materials were imported to Australia from Europe. But some wood craftspersons have developed techniques for working with indigenous timbers, which can be more irregular than the imported equivalents. Kevin Perkins in Tasmania was recognised as a Living Master of Crafts for his furniture and sculptural work, particularly in Huon pine. Damien Wright has developed a modernist range of furniture using a variety of common and precious indigenous timbers, such as pink ironbark and petrified redgum.  Guy Hawkes creates sculptural furniture that draws from the tradition of Australian bush carpentry, often using cast off timbers.

A number of Australian designers have distinguished themselves in the use of wood. Khai Liew has developed a studio that interprets Southeast Asian style furniture for contemporary use. Jon Goulder pursues a strong modernist practice while coordinating the furniture studio at JamFactory Craft & Design Centre. Helmut Lueckenhausen creates sculpture furniture in a more baroque style, evoking the wunderkammer.

Carving is a popular craft in Australia. There are number of successful sculptural wood carvers. Terry Martin has written many publications on the subject and presents his work in many international events. Susan Wraight is one of the world’s preeminent carvers in the Japanese netsuke tradition. In wood-turning, Vic Wood has a high profile for his sensitive use of Australian timbers.

There are a number of national organisations representing wood craft, such as Studio Woodworkers Australia. Design Tasmania Wood Collection in Launceston (Tasmania) is one of the leading public exhibition spaces in this medium. Bungendore Wood Works Gallery is an important private space. Australian Wood Review is the main national publication. Craft furniture making is taught at the Australian National University, University of Tasmania and Sturt Wood.

Further reading

Cochrane, Grace. 1992. The Crafts Movement in Australia: A History. New South Wales University Press.

Martin, Terry. 1996. Wood Dreaming: The Spirit of Australia Captured in Woodturning. Sydney, NSW, Australia ; New York, NY, USA: Angus & Robertson.