A traditional blacksmith, Ken Griesbach has been plying his trade for the past 51 years, after completing his apprenticeship at the Ipswich Railway Workshop, when he was a young teenager.
Today, Ken is one of only a handful of full-time blacksmiths still operating in Australia. He is based at Nobby on the Darling Downs, and together with his partner Louise Kennedy, they operate the Nobby Forge and Vintage Affairs. Ken said his five-year blacksmith apprenticeship took him five and a half years to complete, as he dislocated his shoulder at Commonwealth Games trials in 1962. “I was an amateur wrestler and just missed out on the Games, due to my injury,” says Ken. He was born into blacksmithing, as his father was a coal miner at Ipswich, which was a very industrial town in that era, and his uncle was a fitter and turner on the railways.
“I sat the Railway Entrance Exam and they offered me a blacksmith apprenticeship. My uncle said ‘they will always want blacksmiths boy’. That was really at the end of the steam era, and I made a lot of buffers for carriages, and engine and wagon components,” says Ken.
“That all fell by the wayside when fabrication came into the market, however I kept up by learning welding, but as soon as my apprenticeship was finished I was out of there,” says Ken.
Steam engines came to an end with the advent of the diesel engine, and Ken went dozer driving at Swan Bank Power Station. He soon returned to his trade, working as a blacksmith at a workshop in Rocklea, Brisbane, making slasher blades for farmers and doing spring repairs for the transport industry, as well as heavy road transport work including building trucks. Nowadays, Ken specialises in making dollies for road trains, and has done since 1985. He has worked out of his Nobby workshop for the past five years, after doing a stint on his family’s Rosewood farm, and instructing and working at Gatton Agricultural College for 10 years.
Blacksmithing is a hard trade to learn, according to Ken, but once you learn the basics you can adapt your skills to anything. “I do a lot of ornamental work, as well as practical stuff, including crowbars, cattle brands etc, plus a lot of repairs,” says Ken. His client base extends as far south as Melbourne, and throughout most of Queensland and New South Wales.
One of his upcoming projects for the Inglewood Historical Society is to restore two carriages originally owned by the Leslie Brothers of Warwick, who were one of the first settlers on the Downs.
Ken is busy at present with work backed up, a lot of this being for collectors. However he still finds time for the local school children to visit. “The kids love coming and watching the blacksmith shop in action. It’s good education for them to see how things were once done,” says Ken.
Words & Images by Linda Mantova