Cobargo creative, Ivan Hollins

by Flick Ruby      

Among the most successful presents I have given to family and friends are special wooden boxes, hand crafted by Ivan Hollins. Maybe you have also been tempted by them when browsing in Cobargo Creators, or by his river redgum tables with antique sewing machine bases. I invited myself over to Ivan’s place for morning tea to hear the story of how he brought his remarkable woodworking skills to the Triangle area.

Ivan was born in 1938 and raised in Victoria. At around age twelve, his family moved to a large property outside Mildura. ‘My father was a veteran from the First World War, serving in Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was wounded and came back to Australia in 1920 as a first lieutenant. When I was eighteen, Dad contracted Parkinson’s and my brother suddenly died in a gliding accident, so it fell to me to run seventy acres of orange trees. I certainly got chucked in at the deep end and had to learn how to manage a farm, maintain and repair machinery like pumps, sprayers and tractors, and all about fertilisers and sprays. Everything to eradicate pests was done by hand; by the time you’d finished spraying, you had to start again.’

Ivan started to tinker with wood turning later in his life. ‘I’d always had an interest, but farming is a lot of work. Then I found myself separated from my wife and at a loose end, so I started doing woodturning and taking my creations up to Canberra on the weekends for about a year. I maintained my interest in woodwork after moving to Kanoona near Candelo. Dawn and I had fruit, vegetables, chickens, ducks and sheep – and so much fruit that I started making wine – still a hobby. We decided to downsize and moved to Cobargo, living in a caravan on our empty block until our house, built in Wagga, was brought down Brown Mountain on two trucks under police escort. We have lived here for sixteen years now, and it’s here that I’ve had the time to get more creative.’

Ivan is not only creative with wood but also metal. ‘The question arose after we had fenced the sides and back of our property of what to do with the front? I had a light bulb moment and welded together parts from my collection of farm machinery, which included wheels, pick heads, old chains, ploughshares and cream separator bases. There’s even an old bit of a Singer sewing machine and various bits of historic HV McKay machinery. It’s been photographed by many tourists and even published in Outback magazine.’

While looking around his shed full of modern and antique tools, including a bandsaw that is over 120 years old, I asked Ivan what he is making now. ‘I’m currently working on two quite small boxes made from purple heart, a rare and endangered acacia that grows in very arid regions. I gathered some dead branches near Broken Hill. It’s small and twisted, hard and heavy, with very few straight pieces. It’s a challenge, and I like a challenge.’