The Aussie designers redefining the hand-made market

With consumer culture occasionally a bit like a never-ending trash cycle, Melbourne-based writer Vanessa Murray set about celebrating the artisans who pour love into their work with her beautiful new coffee table book Made to Last. Showcasing 50 creatives globally, we spoke to three Australians doing things differently.

Motorcycle craftiness

Jason Leppa, founder of Sydney's Gasoline Motors Co., first fell in love with motorcycles as a kid. "My uncle used to come around on his Harley and he was kind of like my idol. I'd always ask him to take me on the back, even though I was way too young to touch the foot pegs."

That hero worship saw Italian-Australian Leppa sneakily buy a Vespa while still at high school. "Mum used to think I was walking to school every day, but I'd just walk round the corner, jump on my Vespa, park out front of school and take girls for rides at lunch time," he chuckles.

Opening the business in 1994, it gradually morphed from importing scooters to the custom-built motorcycle workshop it is now, where he and fellow mechanic Sean Taylor let their imagination run riot. Their latest treasure is an American-style flat tracker dubbed the XX, built from scratch using a repurposed Harley engine. Fulfilling punter's dreams, the boys have also built custom designs for liquor brands including Sailor Jerry's and Jack Daniels.

"There are life stories behind these bikes," Leppa says. "It's definitely something you keep forever."

Tree change

Chair maker Glen Rundell, of Rundell & Rundell in regional Victorian town Kyneton, also builds to last.

"A chair is an investment," he says.

"One of mine is going to outlast the person who buys it. Provided they don't mistreat it, it will outlast their children's children."

Favouring the unadorned, beautifully joined Windsor style that originated in England but was perfected in the US, Rundell was inspired to follow the furniture craft by the simple pieces in his grandfather's cattleman's hut in far-east Gippsland high country while on family holidays: "It was very simple bush furniture that was made with similar tools to those I use today."

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Likening his labour to food culture's nose-to-tail trend, Rundell harvests the vast majority of wood he uses himself, often getting tip offs from a network of supporters when a tree is storm-felled. Anything that doesn't make the grade goes to firewood to heat his home and his workshop, or is sold as fire starters or smoking chips to cook fish and meat.

"I hope that we'll start to get back to an attitude of buying things once and having that thing for the rest of your life and enjoying it because it's a quality made item that ages with you. We create heirlooms."

Juniper's gins

Gin proprietors Prohibition Liquor Co. may be in the process of moving into a larger distillery in Adelaide city, but co-owner Adam Carpenter says they'll never lose the hands-on approach that has seen all of their bottling to date done by themselves or roped-in relatives: "Nothing goes out the door without us tasting it."

Balancing the gig with his full-time role running a graphic design business, Carpenter and business partners Wes Heddles and master distiller Brendan Carter brought their combined passion to their favourite tipple, Bathtub Cut Gin. "We wanted to create the best neat drinking gin we could," he says.

"There's nowhere to hide in a neat serving."

Though they import world's finest juniper from Portugal, as far as possible the rest of the ingredients that go into the maceration process are sourced locally, including Riverland citrus and lavender from the Adelaide Hills.

"We have such a beautiful food and wine culture here in this state," Carpenter adds.

"We want to encourage our fans to play with our gin. Dried figs give an amazing result, but you've got to be careful you don't macerate it too long or they overpower it."