Walking stick, with carved snake design, Yellow Box wood / metal inlay, Robert Read, Australia, 1890 -1938
The article below appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 June, 1939, page 13.
Realistic Carvings in Wood.
By Barbara Goode Matthews.
If happiness be in the relish we have of things, then Robert Read, of Manly, in his eighty-ninth year, is enjoying old-age to the'full, for he has found a hobby that fills his life. Old-age to some means all the miseries, but none of the pleasures, of life. In wood carving, the fashioning of his own im- plements, and the finding of special Australian woods to suit his purpose all these have occupied Mr. Read's time for the past l8 years.
Pictured below are specimens of his handi- work recently presented to the Technological Museum and now on exhibition in glass cases on the second floor. Each walking stick Is individual in style, and, most important from the technologist's viewpoint, of a different kind of Australian wood.
Snakes have a peculiar fascination for Mr. Read. He has carved them In every imagin- able way, and of woods ranging from yellow box and wild pear to kurrawong, wattle, and honeysuckle. Each species is zoologically cor- rect, the tiger snake (ready to strike) having nineteen scales across the angle of the handle. Composed of cedar and carved from a single piece, the stick piercing the body Is orna- mented with gold mined by Mr. Read in his gold-digging days. Each Inlay represents something to be found in a gold-diggers' camp. A pipe, a pick, a shovel, a snake, a spoon, and lots of other objects, culminating in the gold ferrule at the base, prove the patience of this conscientious, self-taught craftsman. The eyes, made from ordinary "Jet" dress buttons, "treated" with, a blow- pipe, are set at a true angle and are far too realistic to be comfortable.
Death adders and red-bellied black snakes those horrible things that make the words reptile, asp, viper, and serpent the most sinister and crookedest in our vocabulary-are "true to life." Almost too true, indeed, as their winding and wriggling ways are so cleverly Implied as almost to give us "the creeps." All, of course, except the carpet snake. "I wouldn't hurt a carpet snake, but give him something to eat. It is a great mouser and ratter," said Mr. Read, who used to keep a tame specimen in his store at Wellington, to keep down the rats and mice. Until l8 years ago, Mr. Read was a successful store- keeper there, trading as Robert Read and Co.
A Natural Gift.
It was a trip to Melbourne that first set Mr. Read wood-carving. Calling on a friend, he saw a flight of blue birds apparently "pass- ing'.' the back of a white door. His friend gave him a pattern, and when he started he found he had a gift for carving In wood. Since then he has made over 2,000 birds of every size, shape, and hue. Some are true to nature; others Adam never knew! Then he tried his hand at fishing rods. Always a great fisherman, he put all his knowledge into them. Now he has half a dozen of which any professional might be proud.
Then came the idea of making walking sticks of every kind of Australian wood suit- able for tlie purpose, and he found most of it in Manly. A few came from his old home town of Wellington. He has not confined himself to carving snake handles. A unicorn, with silver-tipped horn, a silver horseshoe on the hoof and fetlock of a silver inlay pat- terned "leg," and an aboriginal head, are only a few of the handles he has carved.
This versatile artist was a native of Petigo, in the north of Ireland, and embarked with his parents on the Spitfire as a lad of 12 in 1863 for Australia. Although, as he says, he "had no say," he has never regretted com- ing here. Bootmaking, his first job, he re- nounced for the lure of the goldfields, which in turn brought him to Mudgee, then Dubbo, and lastly Wellington, where he settled. Suc- cessively, he was photographer, signwrlter, watchmaker, and barber, as well as a painter who won a prize at the Wellington show for the study of an aboriginal head. In fact, he confesses to knowing "a little of every- thing" except music. "I know when it is 'God Save the King,' though," he said, "be- cause everyone stands up!"
(Information obtained from trove.nla.gov.au)