Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Chairmaker of Drouin Swamp

Gum Scrub Creek on the north side of Drouin’s Princes Way, is home to some splendid giant remnant eucalypts, significant wetlands and prolific birdlife. 

Gum Scrub Creek was also ‘home’ to one of the most significant yet little known settlers of the late 19th century.

Gum Scrub Ck today
 Antonio Debortolis was born in 1849 in Tonadico Austria. He emigrated to Australia in 1877, moved to Drouin (it is unknown why) and became a naturalized citizen in February 1893. He owned 43 acres from at least 1880 to 1913 in what was known as The Drouin Swamp, or Gum Scrub Creek.

The Drouin Chairmaker - picture courtesy of the Drouin History Group
 Antonio or ‘Old Antoney’ was a genius at making chairs from Blackwood. The environment of Gum Scrub Creek would have made an ideal location for his chair making business. The seats of woven rush were made with materials from the swamp. Antonio did not use screws, nails or glue and he joined timbers using wooden dowels. A biographical outline of Antonio plus two of his chairs were published in Kevin Fahy and Andrew Simpson’s definitive ‘Australian Furniture: pictorial History and Dictionary, 1788-1938’.

Antonio’s chairs sold for 2/6d and his armchairs for 4/6d. One of his chairs circa 1890 is in the Power House Museum in Sydney. His chairs were owned by many famous Melbourne people and prized long after his death. He is one of the most interesting craftsmen to have ever worked in Gippsland.
Two survivors of Old Antoney's work
 Antonio died in 1913 aged 63 years and is buried in the Drouin Cemetery in an unmarked grave. He is one of Drouin’s least known yet most profound identities.

Today some of the massive Strzelecki Gums which were part of the land where Antonio lived are still part of the landscape of Gum Scrub Creek. One is a giant of 30-35m height and a trunk girth of 8.1m and is estimated to be 300 years old. Remarkably the corridor of old trees along historic Buln Buln Rd still comprises many old giant remnant eucalypts which would have been there in Antonio’s day. 

'Giants' lining Buln Buln Rd.
 There are five Eucalyptus strzeleckii (Strzelecki Gum), four Eucalyptus cypellocarpa (Mountain Grey Gum) and three Eucalyptus obliqua (Messmate), all with trunk girths greater than 4.0m!

(Contributed by Judy of The Friends of Drouin’s Trees)

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