Tim Skyrme has made two unlikely transitions in the past few years.
The first was moving from north Queensland to Dimboola. The second was moving from making shoes to making cigar box guitars.
His backyard shed is filled with ornate instruments with three strings, ornate square bodies and chunky necks, that drive their tone from the home-made pickups, spare drawer handles and kitchen sink strainers attached. Every surface is covered in sawdust or wood shavings.
"I was a shoemaker for 25 years, and then I got crook so I stopped," he said.
"I went up to Queensland and wrote a book on how to make shoes, so I could still be involved in the trade. It explains everything you need to know to make a pair of shoes, and you can follow it without having any previous knowledge and made a pair of shoes. I've had people from odd parts of the world who can't get tuition use it because there aren't too many teachers around.
He will tell you himself there are no techniques common to crafting shoes and guitars. Instead, it is his interest in how things are put together that has led him to luthiership.
Mr Skyrme used to live in Kuranda, just out of Cairns on Queensland's far north coast, where his children still are and from where he sources some of his materials.
"I've always had an interest in strange instruments I guess," he said. "I love going to WOMADelaide, and that put me in touch with lots of really weird instruments and sounds.
"I saw a guy at Eumundi markets (in Queensland) and someone there sold guitar box guitars, but I didn't take much of an interest other than liking the sound, because I couldn't play. Then I saw a cheap one in ALDI, and I figured that would be a good start to learning to play.
"After I bought that and put it together, and got started trying to learn to play, it fell to pieces, because it was only made of cardboard. I was thinking 'I've got to get a luthier to fix this'.
"Then I thought, 'No, I'm sure I've seen things about people making their own'. So I took it apart and discovered how to put it back together again and realised I could probably do it. I found a couple of cigar boxes, and it's just snowballed from there."
Mr Skyrme sells his instruments at the Dimboola Imaginarium and makes them to order. He has friends in Dubbo, Sydney and Atherton that supply him with the body parts, and customers in the Wimmera and as far away as Queensland. It takes him several days to put one instrument together.
"Mostly I just make cigar box guitars. I've started on a lyre because it's a nice piece of timber, so I've got to scoop it out and figure out how to make it, because I don't have a clue!", he said.
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Despite his former livelihood, Mr Skyrme doesn't normally wear shoes. It's this irony that gifted him the brand name for his creations: Barefoot guitars.
Mr Skyrme and his partner chose to resettle in Dimboola four years ago, after being seduced by the Wimmera River.
"We lived on an acreage (in Queensland) which had kangaroos and trees, and that was it, nothing else, and it wasn't suitable for anything else," he said.
"And so we sold up to become mortgage-free, and we had to look for a place to live, and we'd been through here a few times because I used to go to Melbourne to the shoemaking school there. We'd camped here a couple of times. My partner looked online and discovered that houses were reasonably priced here.
"So we came and had a look, all over the area actually, but we camped here one night and I woke up in the morning and had a walk out the back of the van and there was a river. I didn't realise there was a river there at that stage. I wanted a river because I swim a lot in the summertime, and it was a beautiful river."
Now retired, Mr Skyrme says he hopes to keep making Barefoot guitars and sell enough to fund his hobby, for as long as he can.
"I guess I've always liked making things. The nice thing about guitars is you can pull them apart and have another go at them," he said.
"That's what I've done with the first two I've made. One you know you can change something, you want to, and everything you learn after that adds to the whole thing. As far as I'm concerned, each new batch comes out looking and sounding better, and I get better at using the materials."
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