Soon after arriving at the RAAF base at Amberley in 1981, Andrew MacDonald became captivated by all South East Queensland has to offer.

On completing his service in the Air Force he went on a safari around Australia before working in Murwillumbah, which he describes as another “lovely part of the world”. A defining moment in MacDonald’s life came in 1991 when he decided to enrol as an arts student at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). Since then, he has become one of Toowoomba’s most creative artisans. He was at USQ from 1996 to 2010 as studio manager, demonstrator then production manager, before being appointed factory manager at Cobb & Co Museum. MacDonald’s current role allows him to indulge his passion for constructing anything from display cabinets to sculptures to his present challenge of restoring a butcher’s cart, with ironbark and spotted gum wagon wheels.

Born in Christchurch, MacDonald’s early years were spent in a small town on Western Australia’s wheat belt. On leaving Scotch College in Perth where he was a boarder from 1974 to 1977, he went to the WA Institute of Technology to study Biology but lasted only 12 months, before going surfing and working in factories for three years. “Then an old German guy told me the Army would straighten me out, so I joined the Air Force,” he says. “I left Perth at 21 and went to the RAAF School of Technical Training at Wagga. I was there for 18 months training to become an aircraft engine fitter, which took me to the Amberley Air Force base where I worked on F-111s and gained my first sheet metal shop experience. That’s when I began my love of South East Queensland.”

With no chance of another posting MacDonald left the Air Force in 1986, bought a Kombi Van and travelled around Australia, working along the way as a diesel fitter. “I don’t really know why but then I decided to go furniture making. I went to Murwillumbah where I learned a lot about working in solid timber.”

That was followed by his enrolment in a Bachelor of Arts degree at USQ, majoring in print making and sculpture. On receiving his degree, with honours, he took up managing duties for the Visual Arts Department which included demonstrating workshop skills and techniques in the sculpture studio, in wood and metal, and ensuring all studios were maintained for safe and effective teaching.

Later, as production manager, he oversaw outdoor theatre production as well as building and designing sets and props for theatrical productions including Shakespeare in the Park. “I had a great time at USQ but felt 20 years was enough so when this relatively new position at Cobb & Co came up I applied. We do all sorts of things in the museum. I am able keep an art practice on the side and have just installed a public sculpture, in laser cut stainless steel, in Pittsworth. It has all been a great experience and I love it.”

Readers also enjoyed this story about local artist Anna Bartlett.