Tim Wighton (b. 1986) Engineering patternmaker, woodworker, Victoria
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at Bradken Wodonga 2006-2008.
I was quite lucky, actually, looking back. The first three or four years of my apprenticeship there was no rapid prototyping or CNC or anything like that. Through the shop – everything was made by hand. So the original pattern would be all fully machined or hand machined, hand carved, and then from that you would make your blue gel patterns. […] It was another lucky thing, the year I started my apprenticeship, it was also the year that Wally Gore restarted the Trade School down in Melbourne.
Probably the job stands out most to me was in my third year of my apprenticeship: there was a giant gear that drove one of the major bits of machinery in the green sand … and had been made back when the plant was built in the 50s and forgotten about, but by the time I got to third year, it had worn out completely. So as the apprentice, and I s’pose as a way just to test me out, sort of thing, or put me back in my place, one or the other, they gave it to me to make the pattern, so that they could cast the gear themselves …
So I was given the drawing and just told “You can do what you want”. There is no, no one was going to help, you know, the methoders weren’t gonna tell you what to do, you can just decide how the job is going to be made. …
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
Photographs courtesy of Tim Wighton
I found that the original engineer had actually done it wrong. … That was quite, you know, empowering as an apprentice, to sit down with all the other people and actually be listened to and taken seriously. … So that was a really fun job and I felt quite grateful to do that, because now that I’m out in the world I’ve met other tradesmen, other patternmakers.
You don’t get that opportunity anymore. Most people would just machine it … you know, or they’d 3D print the pattern or they’d do something like that, because any of those CAD programs, you know, you put in two or three numbers and it generates the whole gear now. There’s no, you’re not sitting there with dividers and compasses, and doing it all by hand.
I think all of us, and Wally encouraged us, to see what we were learning at Trade School … as a ‘step’, to try and actually go out and get the CAD side of things, … get the CNC experience. Sort of not to be afraid of that change but that was more of an evolution of the training, than an actual end point. But … it doesn’t seem like that these days. I dunno, businesses seem to think patternmakers are hand-tool people, whereas they would rather get an engineering graduate … which is difficult, I s’pose, ‘cos the poor engineering graduate doesn’t know anything about foundry, because foundry is a very specialised thing by itself.
Debra Schuckar (b. 1966)
Currently practicing engineering patternmaker, singer, textiles maker and artist, Melbourne.
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, Richmond, early 1980s.
You become a patternmaker once you get your ticket. So probably after my four years, and you come out of your time and you become one of the time, like you are a patternmaker. … I won a couple of awards along the way, made me feel that I am in the right direction. … I remember those times, you just grab your drawing, you know exactly what you’re doing, and you go from there.
I understand we have computers but computers are just a tool. If the person behind the computer doesn’t know what they’re putting in, because they don’t have a practical feel for what they’re doing, it’s going to waste a lot of time. Trades are there for a reason but I know trades have sort of demised. I’m hoping that will open some sort of a – there will be a window open and they’ll start training again. I mean, where are you going to get those skills from, you know? I know machines are taking over but you’ve still gotta understand the machine to do it, and is that machine always going to be able to do it? I don’t know. Machines need to be fixed.
I was the first [woman patternmaker] in Victoria. So that was kind of scary I suppose at the time because I felt a lot of pressure to succeed. I didn’t want to fail anybody because I was the first. I felt like I was, you know, making a wave in the change for women’s vocations, If I didn’t fail or I become this patternmaker, then anybody could do it. I mean, it’s a funny way of thinking, but I just wanted to make sure that the doors would be open. … At the time I did feel a responsibility to be successful so that other women could follow in their own way. But I look back and think well, it’s not a failure if you don’t do well anyway, it’s just that first thing you try out. But that’s how I felt at the time. … No, I didn’t fail anybody. … It’s a lot of pressure.
Serge Haitdutschyk (b. 1950)
Former engineering patternmaker, Victorian Railways (1968-1992) & Graham Campbell Ferrum. Aged-care maintenance worker, artist and woodworker
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at the Victorian Railways, 1968-72.
Well, to be quite honest, how did I handle that change? I didn’t handle that change very well. After twenty-five years of working in one place – and people say, “How can you work in one place for twenty-five years, at the same bench?” I could walk in there with my eyes closed. I loved it. I loved it. It was my home. The environment, I loved my job. I loved working, what I was doing. When all that came to an end, I was actually quite depressed. … Forty-two years of age. I don’t want to retire, and I’m not retiring, so what am I going to do?
On the apprenticeship interview:
… The job interview at the Victorian Railways was in Flinders Street in the city, upstairs in Flinders Street Station. That’s where the interview was. And I was petrified when I had to go for the interview, and I said to Mum and Dad, “I’m going to go for the interview. What do I do? How do I dress?” and Dad said, “Don’t worry, son! We’ll go to the city. I’m going to buy you a lovely suit.” And Dad was a lovely man, too. Dad took me to the city, and he spent a lot of money. He bought me this beautiful blue, satin-type suit. I’ll never forget. It was a lovely suit. And I had a tie! So, Dad dressed me up. We had these mock-up interviews at home. … How could my Dad give me a mock-up interview on my trade? But anyway, it was like a pretend thing. The mock-up interview with my dad was more about attitude, and Dad always said, “Listen, son” – and Mum – “It’s your attitude. When you go to this interview, you be a nice fella! Don’t be a smartie. You be a nice fella. And answer the question that they want you to answer. Don’t go raving and ranting stuff that you were running and chasing snakes down at the creek.” So, Mum and Dad had this strict thing about…presentation was very important. It always was. Anyway. I rolled up to this interview at the Victorian Railways Commissioner Board, they were, and there was about three gentlemen there, and I was petrified. They had this – there was this humungous big desk, and there was three gentlemen that sat there, and I thought, “Oh, my god. These old fogies!” I mean, I was seventeen, and these guys were probably about thirty and forty, and I used to think they were old fogies! And they would sit there. “Serge, sit down there. We’re going to interview you about a patternmaking job.” I sat there and I had my folder there, all nicely dressed in my suit, and they said, “Serge, you applied for a job as an apprentice carpenter.” I said, “Yes, I did.” And they said, “We’ve been looking through your resume, and you have got 98 for woodwork, you’ve got 96 for art, and you’ve got very high marks in all the technical subjects.” I said, “Yeah, I’m a hands-on person. I like to do fine work. Fine, delicate work.” They said, “Well, if you like to do fine, delicate work, we believe that you should be a patternmaker.” I said, “A patternmaker? I don’t know what a patternmaker is! I came here to apply for a job as a carpenter, not a patternmaker!” “No, no, no! We believe you would be a good patternmaker!” And I said to the gentlemen there, I said, “Excuse me, sir. What is a patternmaker?” “Oh, a patternmaker is…” They explained to me what a patternmaker is, and it went over the top of my head. And they said, “No, no, no. You make all these lovely wooden patterns. Very delicate, crafty work, and we believe you’re good at that. You’re good at mechanical drawing. You’re good at woodwork. You’ve got talents in fine woodworking. We believe you should be a patternmaker.” And after about five minutes, they convinced me. I said, “OK, I’ll be a patternmaker.” “Oh!” And they were happy. These guys, these people interviewing me, were so happy because they’d got a patternmaker. A Ukrainian patternmaker that’s very highly skilled with his hands. And I was highly skilled. I was. I really was. And I was dedicated. So, they were happy. So, I joined the patternmaking department at Victoria Railway’s Newport workshops. I didn’t even know what patternmaking was, but I got the job. They give me the job. I started January the 18th, 1968.
I remember that moment very well, and that was the moment, in 1972, in June, when I actually got my apprenticeship papers from the government, saying that I have completed my apprenticeship successfully. … I got presented my certificate of completion of apprenticeship, which I treasure. … but when I received my apprenticeship indentured papers on that day, I felt fantastic. … And it’s ironic, because you get this paper and you think, “Oh, this is a free for all! I can do what I like!” So I went back into the pattern shop … “I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I’m a man! I’m twenty-two years of age. I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I can do what I like!” And I turned around to this guy, that guy, and I thought, stuff you, I don’t have to listen to you anymore! I’m a tradesman! It’s funny how people think how our mentality is in life. A piece of paper, you think that you’ve got power, and you think that you can say what you like in life to people. In hindsight, I look back now and I thought, my mum said to me, “I have to be nice to people in life, whether it’s your wife, whether it’s your work colleagues, whether it’s whoever in life. You have to be nice to people. And I fall back to this, I have to be nice to people. Just because I’ve got my indenture paper doesn’t mean that “I don’t like that guy, I’m going to start abusing him.” Yeah. And that was an experience. The most important experience was getting that paper and feeling like I’m free.
Serge Haitudschyk’s interview is held in the National Library of Australia. It isn’t available online just yet, but it soon should be, and it is available via Copies Direct or in-person at the Library.
Paul Kay (b. 1954)
Engineering patternmaker & second-generation patternmaking business owner, surfer, artist. Sydney
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking 1971-74
I’ve been in patternmaking all my life, never done another job at all. I mean, they talk about people having, let’s say 10 or 15 years ago, that people might have had 3, 4, 5, 6 jobs in their life. I’ve only had one. So I do view myself as being a bit different.
My first impression is, it wasn’t technology that was affecting us, it was people’s decision to manufacture overseas, to find cheaper labour sources. … So that was certainly doing Australian patternshops out of a job. […] I think once they had tried this idea of ‘let’s make it offshore’ then people started thinking ‘how can I still do this in Australia but in a cheaper, better way?’, and that’s when everyone looked a bit harder at what was going on in Europe and in the United States. It’s at that stage, perhaps the late 90s, early 2000s, when people really started to say, ok we’ve got to invest in technology, in digital machinery, in CAD drafting.
I didn’t believe that CAD would help me where I was at” [because of the organic forms and size of jube patterns.] “We started making the confectionery products in 1985 and to give you an example, early on in the piece, one of the more complicated pieces was a … baby with a head and body features. But it was only 23mm long and it had to be a certain volume and the customer said to me, ‘Look, do you think you could do this?’ And I just looked at it, and I’d been doing some wood carving things through my own interest, and I said, ‘I think so, yeah.’ And I think it was better than reasonably well. And I think they were ecstatic with that, and I never looked back after that.
Our client base, when you’re doing one-off shapes, when you’re doing one-off things it’s very difficult to warrant producing an item like that on CNC because it’s purely a one-off … There was not enough there, let’s say, forcing me to change and the client was still happy to meet the expense of me doing it traditionally.
Scott Murrells(b. 1964)
Former engineering patternmaker, automotive clay modeller, woodworker, artist, hardware expert
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at John Williams Patterns, Melbourne, c. 1981-85.
I guess, in a way, patternmakers solve problems. There’s a design, that comes along, and it gets turned into a drawing … and you solve that problem, you turn it into the three dimensional object that they want.
When I first started patternmaker, I remember a tradesman saying, ‘Why’d you pick this trade? It’s not gonna be around in the next few years.’ They knew it was coming. … the teachers knew it was coming to an end. I think it’s just normal human nature just to hang on until you’re pushed over the edge. … It was all starting to be mechanised, I guess, or computerised.
The majority of the work that I did when I started was metal casting patterns. And then there was a slow down in metal casting components for machinery, and plastics was taking over. I guess the automotive industry is the easiest way to illustrate it. You go back to the early cars and a lot of it was stamp metal and cast metal. Then it became very plastic, so the plastic side of patternmaking took off, it had a peak there for a short time … and then CNCs came in. That’s how I see what happened to patternmaking. It was labour intensive, long lead times to produce a pattern. … I never sort of thought about it much back then. But I think they were always looking for quicker turnaround. So once computers became, you know, CAD systems got off the ground, they saw an opportunity to do it digitally.
I wasn’t really frightened of [technological change], but you thought well, the work became less and less fun. Because you’d get these CNC-cut things, and all you were doing was, you know, making sharp corners round and the round corners sharp, sort of thing. So it was boring. I guess that’s the reason I didn’t stay in patternmaking – because it became boring. You know, there was no real, there was no problem solving, you didn’t have to think. That was all taken off you. … It basically means that you no longer become the problem solver or the creator of the pattern. It’s done for you. You then became you become the finish[er] of the pattern. … All that creativity comes away from it. So there’s no fun, there’s no fun in it any more.
Bruce Phipps (b. 1933)
Retired engineering patternmaker & second-generation patternmaking business owner, tennis player, Sydney
Apprenticed as an engineering patternmaker at Cockatoo Island shipyards, late 1940s – early 1950s
I actually made a wooden pattern of the Sunbeam Kettle which is still – that same model is being used today. So, I made that kettle out of wood.
On his apprenticeship at Cockatoo Island: Well, you see, it was a shipyard, so they made all the patterns for the valves, and all the parts that used to be in the ships. That was interesting. But it was a big pattern shop. There was twenty-three fellas, which was a lot in a pattern shop, and they all – a lot of them had independent jobs. Like, there was a fella downstairs, if you wanted timber, you’d tell him what you want. He’d plane it up. And they had, in those days, which was good, they had special machines – like, special routers which were not just all hand-done, and they used to make patterns for propellers, and I remember, even to this day, Lady Hopetoun on the Harbour – which is still going; it’s one of the maritime boats – I actually made the pattern myself for the propeller on that boat, which – if you know the Lady Hopetoun, it’s a weird thing. All the cabins are on an angle, and so was the propeller! Instead of just being a straight propeller, the blades come back on an angle, and that was one of my jobs that I did myself, which I was pretty rapt in. and not only that, at that time – I was in fourth year; you did five years’ apprenticeship in those days – and all the fellas wanted more overtime. And the work wasn’t there, but, I don’t know why, they said, “Yeah, OK. You can have all the overtime you want.” And they worked themselves out of a job. … So here I was, no work, so they gave me a job fitting out a model of a frigate with all the valves, the turbines, everything in the engine room, in sections. … very interesting for me because it meant that I went all over Cockatoo Island getting all these different drawings of things that I’d never seen before to make all the different parts of the ship.
Bruce Phipps’ interview is held with the National Library of Australia (not available online just yet, but can be accessed via Copies Direct or in person.)
Peter Phipps (b. 1965)
Engineering patternmaker & third generation patternmaking business owner, Sydney
Pinball machine repairer, surfboat racer
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking 1981-84, private patternshops
Son of patternmaker Bruce Phipps
Look, if, in my career, I wasn’t the manager of a business, my gut feeling is that I would have gotten retrained. I would have said, ‘this is going nowhere’, and I would have jumped ship. Retrained … I’m pretty sure of that. But I was the manager of a business, and I had people that I was responsible for, and I want to support them, so that really made me committed to stay and make it work as good as I can.
If you can sit down with a customer and they say, “I want this. Do that,” and I say, “Well, that’s good, but let’s get a good quality one. Let’s talk to the foundry if they think they’re going to be able to get you a good casting.” If they say, “Oh. Well, how are we going to do that?” Or they’ll say, “Well, that doesn’t matter to me,” I’ll say, “Well, can we redesign that and make it this shape? It won’t affect what you’re trying to do with it, and you’ll get a good casting from there.” That’s…a three-way conversation always gets a good result. … often you’ll redesign the customer’s part, and they really want – they often come to you and they expect you to know everything about their industry, as if you’re an expert in their industry. One minute you know all about petrol tankers; the next minute you know all about mining; you’re an expert in the guy who wants a mould made for a shampoo bottle; you’re the expert with the guy who wants the headlight of a car made.
I’d love to put on more staff. I want to advance. I want to do more, but i need a growing industry around me. But ultimately it’s a shrinking industry. … If you went into the local village here in Thirroul, there’s probably eight or nine, and there’ll be a tenth coffee shop open tomorrow, and they’ll still sell coffee, and they’ll be vibrant and making money, because that culture is booming, and people are doing that. But we’re not in that position. I’m in a different part of society that isn’t advancing. We’re going backwards.
On going to Trade School during his apprenticeship:
I used to go in there once a week, and that’s where I really loved it, because you had other people your age doing the same thing, and it was really good to share with each other what you did, and where you worked. … It was just a great way to bounce off each other and learn.