Learn bush skill from the best at Cobb+Co Museum

22 May 2015

Bushman, leather plaiter and highly experienced tutor, Bill Webb, is looking forward to passing down the skills R.M. Williams taught him during a Hands On Workshop at Cobb+Co Museum this weekend.

The four-time Dame Mary Durack Award Winner is considered one of Australia’s finest leather plaiters and has been teaching the bush trade for fifteen years.

“It’s not a trade anymore, it’s an art form and it’s dying and if someone doesn’t pass the skills or it is going to be lost,” said Bill.

“All you need is a sharp knife, a dolly peg and a good eye. There is not a lot of equipment needed. I have the leather pre-cut, so most people should be able to make an eight plait whip by the end of the weekend with no experience.”

Bill Webb started leather plaiting on his parents’ “old scrub block, 100 odd kilometres out of Chinchilla” more than forty years ago.

“I started to plait when I was five or six years old. Mum tried to get me interested, because she was trying to keep me running off to catch up with Dad on my pony,” laughed Bill.

“She was no plaiter herself – she could only plait three or four pieces of leather, but she started me off.”

Bill later perfected the prized bush skill under the direction of outback legend, R.M. Williams, during his teenage years.

“R.M. Williams lived 80 kilometres up the road from us and he taught me a bit more. R.M. was a good plaiter, but he knew people who were better, so he encouraged me to learn from them and to keep the art form going,” said Bill.

“Then in the 1990’s he started his own plaiting school at Hodgson Vale, so I used to run those for him. He had four or five tutors and people would come from all over Australia to come to his leather plaiting schools.”

Bill said learning to cut leather is an art form in itself.

“The strands are only one and a half to two millimetres wide,” said Bill, who makes high quality, custom made whips and belts.

“I only plait kangaroo and I don’t plait cowhide. Red roo is a fur and the grain in the leather is a lot finer, whereas grey roo is a hair and the leather is very course. So I use the red roo.

“I really enjoy producing a high end article. It’s a lovely material to work with and you get a sense of satisfaction every time you make an article.”

Bill said some highly skilled Bushmen have plaited up to 72 strands of leather, but you are considered very competent once you get in the 24-36 range.

“It takes a while to learn. You don’t learn overnight – its practice and patience,” said Bill. “But I have been doing it for 40 odd years now and I still find it relaxing and enjoying.”

Bill Webb is running a leatherplaiting workshop at Cobb+Co Museum this weekend (23-24 May). Spectators are welcome throughout the weekend. Bill’s next workshop is on 21-22 November. Bookings can be made by calling 07 4659 4900.

Find out more about upcoming Hands On Workshops in traditional trades and crafts at Cobb+Co Museum at www.cobbandco.qm.qld.gov.au

Cobb+Co Museum is part of the Queensland Museum Network.  Located in Lindsay Street, Toowoomba, the Museum opens daily from 10am – 4pm.

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For further information call us on +61 (0) 7 4659 4900 or contact us using our online form.