“My passion is teaching people woodwork. I love introducing new wood workers to woodwork. And I always start the courses by telling my new students a bit about myself…I don’t hide anything.” – Patt Gregory
It was one of those glorious Northern Rivers winter ‘days of old’. You know the ones we USE to have this time of year…..weeks of them. The dry season they use to call it. Well taking full advantage of the picture perfect weather we took the back roads to Mullum to have a chat with the beautiful Patt Gregory of ’Woodwork for Women’ fame. What a treat. The venue of choice for our chat was the Mullum institution – The Poinciana Café. We settled in there with all the other locals, Patt being one of them having lived in Mullum now for 18 years… and in the very same house she and her husband first occupied when they arrived. Wow, that surely places her in the ‘true locals’ category!
Patt Gregory and her self published book
We started our chat with the usual question of…
…who, how or what brought you to this area?
My husband Michael. We were living in Melbourne and he went to Mullum to visit a mate and came back raving about the place saying we should go up for a holiday…which we did. His mate said ‘it’s the best place in the world, you should move up here’. So in the space of 24 hours we had decided to move here and six weeks later, I had sold a business and packed up a house.
We came up in convoy – in a camper van and Mazda and initially stayed with Michael’s mate. I had this romantic vision of moving into a queenslander in Byron Bay, but Michael fell in love with a god awful 70’s brick vaneeer here in Mullum and suggested we move in there initially. The only reason I agreed, was because it was right opposite Mt Chincogan which seemed to have a spell on me. Well – I fell in love with Mullum and the rest is history.
Top; The road into Mullum and Mt Chincogan
Bottom: The Mullum institution ‘Poinciana Cafe’ and Mullum main street.
What were your first impressions of Mullum?
That mountain… the lay of the land. The houses were pretty boring fibro houses but the land was beautiful….five months of sun… the sun gave me a very smug look on my face however that quickly disappeared when it followed with three very wet months of rain!
Having lived here for nearly 20 years - has Mullum changed much?
Lots of the farmers have moved out but lots of young families are moving in and that’s really nice with all the babies. I feel we have missed the boat to buy. We looked at buying the house way back when it was worth $160k in 1994 but that was $30k more than we could afford. We tried again later in 2000 when it was worth $240 but that was still too much and now well…we are well and truly out of the housing market.
What did you do when you first arrived here?
The house had a really big garage and because I had done woodwork in the UK, I placed a small ad offering woodwork classes and people started coming, and have been ever since. I still place those small ads today in The Echo.
How/when did you become interested in woodwork?
When I was five I snuck into my stepfather’s shed and borrowed his hammer. I spent a few hours wandering around our dairy farm, trying to whack 4 inch nails into the shed door, the laundry window frame and the concrete foundations. I suspect that, if I was a boy, I would have been shown how to hold the hammer the right way and I would have been told that 4 inch nails have rather limited uses. Instead, when my stepfather discovered I had his hammer, I was sent inside to help Mum with bottling the blackberry jam. It would be another twenty-seven years before I picked up a hammer again.
Many years later as an adult I saw a one-line ad in the Bristol Evening Post (UK). It read: Woodwork for Women – Evening classes –Wed 7pm. I turned up at the terrace cottage and was ushered into a carpeted living room with velour lounges, a TV in the corner and a few small portable workbenches dotted around the space. I was given some fragrant smelling pine, some measuring tools and some instructions to begin to make a slanted desktop writing case and there, in that stuffy lounge room, I had an ‘aha’ moment – this was what I really wanted to do; I wanted to learn how to build with wood.
The following month I enrolled in an intensive Carpentry and Joinery course. It was me and 26 lads, in a classroom at the Bristol Skill Centre. The teacher gave us quick demonstrations and told us to get on with it. It was a ‘sink or swim’ approach and I certainly did my share of sinking. But time stood still when I was immersed in building with wood. I found shaping and taming the wood wildly satisfying.
Ok, so now onto the classes you teach. Tell us about those…
My job I believe is to teach people the basics of woodwork so they can learn the basic joint techniques and go away and make their own projects. I run three courses. The first one introduces three joints; the butt joint, the rebate and housing joint. The second course is learning the mortise and tenon joint and the third course utilises the knowledge gained in course 1&2 to build a table.
My passion is teaching people woodwork. I love introducing new wood workers to woodwork. And I always start the courses by telling my new students a bit about myself…I don’t hide anything…I want them to know the real stuff…that I have rented for 18 years, I have two daughters Hollie (22 years) and Lilly (15 years) who is living with me, and that I have great neighbours who support me running the classes. In fact Helen, my lovely Greek neighbour often joins us for morning tea, she has very broken English but the girls always welcome her. I also tell them I ended my marriage seven years ago because Michael is often here as he is also a wood worker and he comes and goes fixing machines and doing bits and pieces. Also, that the classes aren’t just for women. Despite the business name being ‘Woodwork for Women’, men are welcome here too.
We understand the courses are more than about woodwork…
Ah yes. Well it’s a very supportive environment in which to learn and work. I have done quite a bit of ‘Co-counseling’ (mutual deep listening where no money changes hands, supportive listening without advice) and that plays out in my courses. At the end of each class I ask them to tell me one thing they did well, one thing they enjoyed and one thing they learned. It is amazing how challenging it is for some to express what they did well.
How many students do you think have done your courses?
About 600 or 700. One woman told me it her took ten years to get to one of my courses. She had been interested in coming along all that time but babies and other life matters kept consuming her time. My daughters have both done my courses but they hate it. They hate woodwork and they hate me doing woodwork. Lilly says I should get a ‘real’ job.
We know you have written and self published a book recently. What’s the name of your book?
Where can we buy it and what’s it about…aside from woodwork of course?
You can buy it from my website (or my doorstep!). It’s a personal journal…there are places for you to write, what you did well and your thoughts. There are lots of little stories from students in it. There are lots and lots of tips and back up – it’s a really supportive book. It has lots of solutions to problems that might occur. It’s not your average woodwork book. It only has one project in it, so it really goes into detail.
Creating this book is a personal accomplishment. Is there anyone that inspired to create the book ?
Local author Stephanie Dale has been a great inspiration to me. We met at a self publishing talk at Mary Ryans Bookshop in Byron one blustery cold evening last winter. More than 50 people had braved the cold and I had the thought that ‘everyone has a book inside them’. After her talk I introduced myself and showed her my fledgling book. Within minutes we were laughing and chatting like old friends and she said off the top of her head that we should travel NZ together when she goes over there to launch her next book in 2011, Hymn for the Wounded Man. Although we never took the journey, we have been on another – meeting for coffee and swapping information and inspiring each other to step up the ladder and get out there with our projects.
…and shaped you as a person?
My friend Nick who died of cancer seven years ago. He was an upper to middle class boy who was left field. I was a good country girl who fell into his company and was totally amazed you could think outside the box. When I first met him I had long red nails. He brought me back to the truth of the person I am. I was 26 when we met and he was my boyfriend for five years. I wouldn’t want to have married him though…too difficult. He wasn’t romantic or anything like that…and I wanted that. He got me into ‘co-counseling’.
And this is what we say…
This is a woman that touched our hearts. Listening to her story we could see her beauty within and without, and how she continues to share this with others through her gentle, compassionate way with both women… and men, in her Mullum community. Her ‘Woodwork for Women’ courses are a stepping stone for anyone that wants to connect with wood, carpentry skills and themselves, learning to go past the fears of confidence and gain a hell of a lot more than just woodwork skills. We both came away feeling we would love to spend more time with Patt, so we’re just gonna have to get to those classes sooner rather than later.
THE MULLUMBIMBY QUESTIONS
1 What’s your fave Mullum cafe?
2 What’s your fave thing to do in Mullum?
The Mullum Farmers Market. It is near where I live and I walk around it most days…. but I have to go early so no one sees me drive! (I had a hip replacement 2003 so have a dicky hip and have to drive there to cart the produce home)
3 Who in Mullum has inspired you?
Jan Barham. She supports local courses and events, like International Women’s Day and all the things I want to be involved in. She’s into the grass roots level. She tries to protect us from over development. I love her energy and I love her…she can talk to any body. She keeps her femininity and is an inclusive leader… doing it in a female way.
4 What would we find you doing on a typical Saturday morning?
Garage sales looking for tools.
5 What’s your fave blog/website?
Stephanie Dale’s blog….Soul of the City Project… When she went to NY to accept an award for her book she wrote a blog. I was addicted, jumping onto the computer each day and savouring her experiences of NY city. I felt like I was watching over her shoulder as she glided around Manhattan and visited all those places I’ve dreamt of going – the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Haarlem…
The other one I really love is Very Byron (of course)!
6 Fave shop?
7 Local’s tip for a visitor?
If you like to look at big beautiful slabs of beautiful wood, then go to The Timber Slab Factory. There is new owner, Tim – it’s my favorite place.