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Tradie Justin Lampe turns his hand to metal art sculptures

By Donal Sheil, Monday November 4, 2019 - 15:31 EDT
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The Praying Jack is named after Mr Lampe's late father, a farmer from Coonamble. - ABC

After Justin Lampe's fencing business folded more than a year ago, the self-taught artist turned to metal art to make a living and looked to his family for inspiration.

Mr Lampe is now finding success with The Praying Jack, a tribute to his late father's perseverance through dry times.

Work dried up due to the drought, and Mr Lampe was forced to let four full-time workers go and put the business on the backburner.

He and his family were quickly running out of options to stay afloat.

But after fully transitioning his fencing business into a metal art workshop, he's found a new use for his treasure trove of tools and discovered an outlet to tell stories of the big dry.

And it was on a quiet afternoon in his workshop in the central west New South Wales town of Molong where he drew up a design for what is now his signature piece.

Named after his late father, the Praying Jack silhouette rests on the ground with a parched rain gauge between its palms.

"I try to use my family because it's something I love, so I try to bring that into my work sometimes," he said.

"I'd like my family to be proud of what I do, because I love doing it."

'I don't have to drag myself out of bed'

Now spending his days crafting native animals, flora and fire pits, Mr Lampe said he was determined to find new creative uses for his gadgets.

"It was a big load off our minds, because when we did decide to shut down the fencing [business] we had a lot of machinery and tools," he said.

After The Praying Jack became popular on social media, the self-taught artist's orders steadily increased and he's now taking commissions for custom pieces.

Mr Lampe said his father's perseverance through drought taught him to have a fluent approach to business when it stopped raining.

"He instilled into me just keep looking at what you're doing and, if something's not quite working right, is there a way to try and think outside of the square to bring it back in line?" he said.

Mr Lampe said making the move to metal work had been life-changing.

"I quite enjoy working here now and I don't have to drag myself out of bed."

'It's OK to not be OK'

After early signs of success with Mr Lampe's metal work, the family opened a shopfront in the small town of 2,500 at a time when businesses were routinely folding.

His life and business partner Tania said nothing demoralised a community more than empty shopfronts, and she said the situation got desperate once they closed the fencing business.

"We originally thought 'This is it, we're going to go broke'," she said.

But Ms Lampe said The Praying Jack quickly became a lightning rod of touching stories from across the country.

"So many people messaged our Facebook page saying this is exactly how we feel, or this depicts my dad, or this is how my husband feels," she said.

"It was really emotional reading all these people's heartbreaking stories.

"But on the flipside of that it was kind of nice to think that maybe you were putting it out there for people to say 'it's OK to not be OK'."

Ms Lampe said the business was recently nominated in the Business That Has Thrived Through Adversity category of the local Cabonne council business awards.

She said receiving such an accolade in the same year her family closed another business was a source of pride, and hoped their hard work would have a big impact on their three children.

"Our kids obviously know things have been really tough … they know lots of local people who are doing it tough, they're very aware of what's going on," she said.

"So we're teaching them to think outside the square and make sure you are diverse enough and not dependent on any one thing."

Vital for workers to remain career-flexible

NSW Drought Taskforce chairman Wayne Dunford said obtaining transferable skill sets was vital for farm and farm-reliant workers.

He said older farmers were less likely to be willing to pivot careers, but younger generations were encouraged to keep this in mind when they completed higher education.

"They realise that now when they go to school it's probably worth going that extra bit and coming out with an extra qualification at the other end," he said.

Mr Dunford said families who left small communities in search of work had a profound effect on the future viability of the town's essential services.

"Generally when that happens they don't come back — that's the sad reality," he said.


© ABC 2019

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