A new artisan workshop in Marrickville focuses on creating household items without the modern impurities of plastic molding, mechanized equipment, or workers’ dignity. Aaron Wendt, from ‘The Manufactory’, grew up fascinated with the furniture and gadgets in his grandparents’ house. “To think they were made without electricity, or computer design, or safety regulations. Just a saw, and wood, and expendable teenaged apprentices. That’s the dream”.
His partner and co-founder, Evelyn Perry, explains the name: “That’s the original word, manufactory – ‘manus’ is Latin for ‘hand’. With today’s robots and assembly lines, craftsmanship has really lost the hands. I mean it’s not hands on. Far fewer people lose their hands in horrific steam-powered accidents nowadays. And that’s something we’re trying to get back to.”
An old garage on Addison Rd has been converted into a shopfront and workshop. On a Saturday morning, the front is buzzing with customers inspecting a broad array of items, while the back is crowded with workers of all ages, working to the light of gas-lamps. In addition to the usual tables, kettles, and coffee-grinders, The Manufactory makes old-fashioned appliances, so people can bring the same spirit of hands-on work into their daily lives. Evelyn shows me an incredible wood-and-iron mangle, which the couple still dry and press their laundry with. “You only get that subtle shine from real lead paint. And this hardwood comes from protected old-growth forests, so it has hundreds of years of character”.
‘Rustic’ and ‘artisan’ are more than just buzzwords for Aaron and Evelyn – and it seems they’re part of a rapidly growing movement. Worldwide, people are turning to traditional methods of agriculture, cooking, and manufacturing. In Marrickville, people are forming a community around it, and turning their interest into employment. The Manufactory’s workers, many of them orphans, have turned their love of the old ways into a way to make a living, unfettered by modern unionism or labour laws.
“People are tired of today’s cheap, disposable living,” says Aaron, “I think there’s a real urge in each of us to return to a simpler way of life, from a time when things were better, at least superficially, and for white people.”