19 February 2024

Tallong man forges a new career from an age-old craft

| Sally Hopman
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Blacksmith working on forge

Blacksmith Murray Newman working on his forge at Tallong, near Goulburn, where he plies his trade. Photo: Supplied.

As a young bloke, Murray Newman kept snakes. Pythons. Up to nine at a time.

Today, he is a self-taught blacksmith who recreates those snakes in an iron form, so lifelike that they’re scary.

Some of the snakes are sold to Canberra people as garden ornaments, but many of his customers have told him, they are so lifelike that they’re also being used to scare away garden pests, including birds.

“I started making snakes because I have always had a thing for them,” he said. “I studied their body positions and how they looked which I guess is why they can seem so lifelike.

“People seem to like them – I’ve even made snake door handles for some people at Tarago. They’re a mirror image pair to open the door.”

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Living off the grid on about 16 hectares at Tallong, near Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, Murray, 32, reckons he’s in the best spot to perfect his version of the age-old skill.

He is inspired by his surroundings, untouched bush, and can survive well without modern technology to ply his trade, although he has a generator on hand if needed.

“I’ve always loved doing this sort of thing, but I really started working on it when COVID hit. I got this cheap and nasty little gas forge and started experimenting with it.

“Then I started making my own charcoal and it started turning into a bigger project.”

Snake on log

No, it won’t bite … it’s a piece of metal art created by Tallong blacksmith Murray Newman. Photo: Supplied.

He uses wood from his property and cooks it up in a 44-gallon drum, loading it high up and then repeats the process to get a good fire going so it is heated from the bottom up to produce the charcoal. He then bags it up and uses it in his open forge. The temperature can reach as high as 1400 degrees Celsius in the forge.

“I’m pretty lucky here,” he said. “I’d say I have a lifetime of wood on my property I can use.”

Murray says he is inspired by nature when it comes to his creations, but he also adheres to special requests from clients, ranging from metal roses for weddings to a giant dish in the shape of an oak leaf – “I made 14 before Christmas for one lady who wanted to give them out as presents”.

He has also made fire tools, garden ornaments and even hooks and hairpins for customers in Canberra and surrounds via his Facebook page, New Iron Forge.

Although he has done some beginner classes in the trade, Murray is mostly self-taught, learning, he says, via trial and error “but with help from the university of YouTube”.

“It’s a hobby now but it is really growing – I’d love to do it as a business. I only have a 50-metre walk from my house to the shed where I can tinker away.

“There is something about this sort of work that is really special.

“In the old days, they called blacksmithing the king of trades because they made tools for everyone.

“I reckon they were right.”

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