No time like the past: the Lost Trades Fair

An armourer in medieval chainmail is taking a call on his mobile phone. We turn to the opposite direction, and spot a row of penny-farthings. Then beyond that: kayak builders, wooden xylophones the size of an electronic keyboard, signwriters, letter pressing, gunsmiths.

I turn to Elly and ask: “When are we?”

At the same time she asks: “What year is it?”

We at least know where we are: the Lost Trades Fair at Kyneton Racecourse an hour out of Melbourne, an annual event at which niche artisans of bygone trades congregate and show off their wares and skills.

The two-day event includes everything from woodwork – furniture making, cooperage, ornate clocks made from shipping pallets, intricate rocking horses by a former prop maker – to hedge laying, basket weaving, harp making, earth rendering, book conservation, metalwork, calligraphy, locksmiths (although the preferred title is “keyhole surgeon”), and banjos made from upcycled oil drums and vintage Arnotts biscuit tins.

Outside, near where a horse is being shod, two gentlemen dressed in matching medieval lace-up shirts, Akubra hats and hiking boots are explaining to a small crowd the mechanics of scythemaking and reaping. Not far away, a rather appropriately eldritch fletcher stands next to an assortment of bows and arrows, describing how, instead of sandpaper, sharkskin used to be used to sand down arrows into an aerodynamically effective shape.


Inside the main building, I wind up meeting the president of the Australian Antiquarian Horological Society, Vivian Kenney. With 40 years’ experience in horology – the art of clock and watchmaking, or of measuring time – he’s also the person behind the restoration of the clock at Southern Cross Station on Spencer Street that dates back to 1883. He tells me that he’s about to build a sculpture of a monster that will stand on the exit to Wandong because he “kept missing the turnoff,” and wanted to erect something that will stand out.

Opposite the AAHS’s stall, a young woman is restoring an original 120-year-old Victorian leadlight taken from an old house in Malvern. Next to her is a series of stain glass windows by Leigh Schellekens featuring sock monkeys and surrealist foetus artwork. Normally an art form reserved for the ecclesiastical, it’s been turned on its head with contemporary images.

It’s this contrast that makes the Lost Trades fair even more interesting. Beyond showcasing rare art forms, the fair also features a prevalent reverence of time as experienced pre-industrialisation. It’s a reverence of taking time to do something the long way, of doing it well rather than venerating efficiency as the core aim of creating. It’s a reverence of a different time, of different eras, and of a different ideology to a production-driven economy.

At the Lost Trades fair, this ethos is simultaneously mashed up with contemporary ideas, images and applications. Our digital insta-era’s appeal still makes itself known as many of the traders have social media handles on signage next to their stalls, or otherwise in the form of medieval armourers on mobile phones.

But this certainly doesn’t mean that this very unique event will cease to question and challenge the convenience of modern-day technology. As I overhear the medal mounter say from his stall: “People make life too difficult. Why would you buy a $2,000 computer to cut a straight line?”


Photo credit: All images by Elly Freer.