TOP THAT: Ross Pearce, left, and George Oxenbridge, laugh about the hours spent on a router to build a fighting top for the Bou
TOP THAT: Ross Pearce, left, and George Oxenbridge, laugh about the hours spent on a router to build a fighting top for the Bou

craftsmen fashion a fighting top


LIKE two young boys describing the finer details of their new toy, George Oxenbridge and Ross Pearce can't contain their excitement.

The pair has just completed rebuilding the main fighting top for one of Australia's best-know ships, 'The Bounty', and their talk of the project, of timber and work, is infectious.

The successful completion of the project, inside time and within budget, will now be added to a growing list of achievements for what is effectively a backyard business that gets all its jobs through word of mouth.

According to George, getting work is not a problem.

"There's always plenty of work ... it's just the money is sometimes a bit scarce," he said.

The fighting top, also known as a tarry top because of the tar used between layers of timber to stop rot, sits towards the top of the main mast, much like a crow's nest but with more intrigue.

They were originally built for sharpshooters to 'pick off' officers on the quarter deck of opposing ships and were supposed to be able to withstand cannon fire.

But, according to Ross and George, they often had a seedier role ... one that would have been particularly apparent on the original 'Bounty'.

Because of a lack of privacy in the main living quarters, they were often used as hideaways when women were secreted on board for romantic interludes.

The new fighting deck for the replica 'Bounty' ?- built as a movie prop for Mel Gibson for his original Hollywood role in 1984 ? weighs 771 pound (350kg) and measures 12 foot by 10 foot (only imperial measures were used).

It contains 150 bolts, $180 worth of silicon bronze nails costing about 40 cents each and tar between timber layers.

Ross and George reclaimed most of the spotted gum timber used in the project from trees cut down near the Grafton Airport that were to be burned.

In fact, the rented property from which the pair work is littered with reclaimed timber.

They have put it to good use.

Some was used in the construction of Russell Crowe's original chapel at Nana Glen ('when he was going out with young Meg'), other was used in a mini cricket pavilion on Crowe's property and other on street seating in South Grafton.

Visiting the property from which the pair work, it is hard to reconcile the surroundings with some of the fine timber work produced there.

There is no massive workshop, no computer-assisted cutting equipment, no-one decked out in corporate colours, no work benches ...

There is a worn old dairy housing some timber products, a home handyman's thicknesser and some rudimentary power tools.

Their work sits on top of a trailer, and it has only been in the past few weeks that power has been connected to the shed.

Bits of rough sawn timber lie around, incomplete projects lean against trees, an Australian red cedar rowing boat sits on the river bank collecting leaves and the whole area smells of freshly cut eucalypt.

But the passion both artisans apply to their craft could not be questioned.

George tells of how, when he was a teenager, his father would take him out into the bush to get timber. It was a tactic his father later revealed was to keep him off the streets.

It worked.

And it instilled George with a lifelong interest in timber. He hates waste.

Ross, a sailor of long standing, was bosun on the 'Eye of the Wind' and has sailed around Cape Horn.

He is a traditional ship rigger and, even after spending three days on a router to make rebates for the fighting top, retains his love of timber and working with ships.

Both like their work to be a bit 'outside the square'. So, for the more unusual jobs, they might be worth considering.

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