Harnessing the Past

Harnessing the Past 

 By Jim Beaton 

(the president of Australasian Saddle and Harness Makers Association, I’ve heard a few snipes about where are the best Saddlers and also Harness makers. Well I’ll put a few ideas forward about both sides of the Trade and I think that I’m qualified to do so as I have spent considerable time in each of the Eastern States (N.S.W., Vic & Qld) and a lot of time in S.A. When I went to Victoria in early 1970 I was overwhelmed by the lack of Trades men. (Not to say there were none as there were a number of Top Tradesmen). And the lack of development or improvement in upgrading Saddles and Harness. Show Saddles re-stuffed with Horse Hair, Bridles didn’t have style, Back Saddles with little Stuffing and ill fitting, no Collar makers. Prices were much dearer than I had been used to. A Trade in decline in the midst of the start of a boom, because of a lack of training for the Future by the Veterans of the day. One thing did impress me though. The number of very Good Horse People and Horses. Also there was a willingness to advance the Equine industry to a higher level. Coming from N.S.W. I had been used to the City based Companies who dominated the Trades. Everything was made in Sydney and sent out to the Bush Saddlers who then on sold at 20% mark-up, often with their own stamp on as the Maker. The Tanneries were at Botany, the ironmongers close to Sydney, Tree Makers at Canterbury. Each Saddler was watching what the other was doing, worrying that they would steal Customers. But funnily enough this created development as each tried to beat the other. Leather Prices were steady, Tree prices constant. Saddles sold for similar prices, Collars were low priced, Top grade Back Saddles were the same price for 10 years. Another Trade in decline because of lack of communication. At the same time Queensland was supplying a growing quantity of mid range Stock Saddles and Harness to the southern States, for re-sale at margins of 30 to 40% and sometimes more. They had a good quantity of Tradesmen capable of keeping up the supply. Butlers, Stephens, Uhls, Hills to name a few. All steadily growing. All reasonably good friends and able to help each other where needed. (Source Erne and Eric Stephan). Through the Boom of the early 70’s there was a change in the air though. Prices increased markedly for materials and Products. Margins increased to 60% and more. Queensland Industries saw the demise of several established Companies from owners getting too old and being taken up by the remaining Firms. Retailers popped up out of the Woodwork all over the place. Bush Saddlers Died of old age, especially West of the divide. Suddenly Saddlers and (the Few) Harness Makers were in demand. This was the time when all States recognized that we were getting fewer in number and the Tradesmen were getting old. Communication started to increase between States. I remember being in contact by visit and phone with Saddlers in Qld, N.S.W. Vic, S.A. Tas. Regularly. One uniting factor was the advent of Dick Leffler moving into Saddlers and Harness Ironmongery in 1970 (as the Shoe Repair sector dwindled) when he went to Throw the Hammer at the Commonwealth Games in Britain. Gerry Watson was told to go on the Road and sell something as there was not enough work for him in Clicking. He became such a Friend to us all, carrying the news from Shop to Shop, State to State. Gerry having been a Clicker and Stuff Cutter, he understood our needs and I don’t know of any Saddler who didn’t look forward to Gerry coming on his erratic schedule. Also Cliff Watson represented Equestrian Supplies and made regular visits to most Saddlers, hence his Trade knowledge was well known and respected around the Bush, a Mate to all who know him. George Davidson (Davo) called on me a number of times in Traralgon and Swan Hill, as did Mike Cummins (RMW), Stephan’s and a number of other Saddlers. We talked about Trade trends, Materials and what others were doing. In other words we helped each other. Around the 1975-7 period the States came to be on a level playing Field. Sharing Techknowledgy, Advice, Material sources even Customers. Time was right for the Old Saddlers and Harness Makers association to be re-formed. The suggestion was made by Old Jim Talty to me that as I was so familiar with so many Saddlers I should talk to them about forming one again, to give us numbers to be heard. Well it’s History now, SHMAA was formed. Unfortunately we were short of numbers as there were only around 15 Tradesmen trading at that time and some were not willing to join as they feared Squabbles would erupt. So several of the Retailers were allowed Membership to make up the numbers. Lets just say they controlled the Meetings with their hatchets and I left the Country in disgust. Pako Paddy reigned supreme and Asian Leather goods flooded the Market. Now where does this apply to to-day? No one State can be better than the other. All have had and will have to make a contribution to make to make our Trade thrive. Originally SHMAA started under the Vic Chamber of Manufacturers. Somehow it was transferred to N.S.W. and Incorporated. When I came back to Australia I looked for contacts and found that all there was, was a reference on Dave Morris’s Web page. I tried to get in contact but he was apparently out of the Country. It was some time later that I heard from Warren Newcombe that there was to be a meeting to either re-start or fold up SHMAA. I was to attend that meeting along with Archie McManus, but spent the weekend in Hospital instead. Consequently I was elected as President which I had been asked if I would stand for. Well that first year was a problem year and I ended up seconding Gabriel as Secretary to help me. There after we both were working nearly full time getting things into order. SHMAA was up and going A lot was achieved from our efforts by working to-gether harmoniously. Come the next AGM I was elected as President again, so we could go forward and achieve the Goals we had established. I was kidding myself. The committee procrastinated all year and drew things out with non productive nit picking. The hatchets came out and we are no further along to-day because of the Hatchets. Where are the Standards? Where are the Apprentice Training guidelines, to name a few things? We have a good President who has my full support. We have had consultation about a number of items that I had wanted to see bought to fruition with-in a third term before Keith became my choice for President for this term. What’s happened? Exactly the same as I had problems with. We need a proudly supportive Secretary and Committee to help the President to Drive SHMAA forward. Not chosen for sentiment but for ability both to be Proud Knowledgeable Tradesmen and Women and work co-operatively to-gether as a team supporting the President, for the Promotion of our Trade of Australian Saddlers and Harness makers. Not to hinder with little Tomahawk’s as has been happening. Needs a change as nothing has been happening as it is. Now what is the answer to which State or Area is best? The States that remember that they have both Bush and City Members and possible Members. None is any better than the Other. Bush needs the City and City needs the Bush. Innovation is done in the Bush and Production is done in the City. What happened to our Market for Australian Stock Saddles to the US? City Manufacturers disregarded the advice of the Bush and developed a Saddle that was supposed to be a Genuine Aussie Stock Saddle and flogged it in the US as such. The US market dried up as they were too hard on the Horse and on the Bum. So Our Famous Stock Saddle was relegated to being lumped in with the So called Aussie Stock Saddle and demand dwindled to a trickle. What did SHMAA do about it? Nothing because we had no Voice because of the near death of us as protectors. We are Australian Saddlers and Harness makers and should be Proud of it. So lets get the Show rolling and support our President to the Hilt, don’t sit on your Bums. Do it!! Do it right!! Do it Right Now!! Do it To-gether and share the Joy of being an Australian Saddler and or Harness maker. No matter what your line of Production is, be it Aussie Stock, Cross Breed, Western, English or Harness. I must add that in my Semi Retirement I enjoy the contact with fellow Saddlers be they Old Timers or Green learners and sharing Trade knowledge for the betterment of our Trades. I also would like to thank the Members who have rung and expressed their appreciation of Harnessing the past and the job I did as President. Many fully understood about the Retailers Stamps being put on their Saddles, they’d been there and done that. Help stop the Imports that we can make Better and fit better, here on our Benches. DO IT TO-GETHER AND DO IT RIGHT Hatchets must be Buried or Burned before attending or Voting at any of our Meetings!