Fence Talks: Simon + Josh
by Wilhelm Philipp·
Simon and Josh are a fence making duo from Melbourne, working out of Oakleigh. Simon is the true definition of a gentleman and a scholar and a man who shows great respect to those around him, with a masterful skill of storytelling and a great sense of humour. At his older age, Simon doesn't seem to have slowed down in the slightest and I'm not sure if he ever will. Josh is his young apprentice from across the pond in England, who follows in Simon's footsteps of having a dedicated and admirable work ethic. Josh is the fly on the wall, taking in all of his surroundings and Simon's words of wizardry.
We spoke to Simon about: fencing, his apprentice Josh, his niche skillset, Melbourne and his choice of clothing.
Enjoy an in-depth look into the mind of Simon.
I grew up in suburbia but did my time in Carlton/Fitzroy as a youngin’ and plenty of time in West Melb, which is actually still a good place to live. When I clawed my way up the greasy pole I had a late Victorian house on large block in Oakleigh and as you do, I said...gotta have me one of those imposing 'fuck off' type fences to intimidate / impress the impressionable. I couldn't get what I wanted so 'made it myself' - unfortunately karma kicked…our business failed and I returned to the more familiar working class struggle and living in a caravan.
I learnt that in business if you can only compete on price only the hardest pricks do well - just wasn’t able to cut it. I was brought up to believe that the only unforgivable sin was the exploitation of labour. Even in the relatively precarious financial situation I’m in now, there is still the psychological security of knowing I haven’t sinned.So fencing? Well it's an opportunity to eek a living from supplying a relatively high quality product, which is itself satisfying, to a cohort who are usually good to work for and who respond positively to what I offer. Clientele are usually medical specialists, in the law or sometimes self made business types - rarely bankers as they know 'the price of everything and the value of nothing'.Josh:
What can you say - still idealistic and seems to recognise the value of dignity of work over financial reward. He understands that discomfort and pain is all part of the reward for effort. Sadly these virtues are increasingly inconsistent with financial success in a fully monetised world - Josh has all requisite skills and aptitude to make a go of whatever he does in life.
Skills and The Niche:
Most skilled tradesmen have a relatively insular world view, or so I think, but that is the collateral required to focus, to master their medium - the very best of them are happy to be true to their craft and therefore susceptible to exploitation. Interlopers like myself insert themselves into the 'myth of the artisan' to capitalise on the 'clients' search for authenticity in an increasingly fake existence. Maintaining this charade requires buy in - you just have to do the work, like a method actor - 'be the blacksmith/stonemason', and produce something that passes inspection. It’s a win win - the punter gets a very good quality product and I pretend to be a skilled artisan replete with subsistence income.
Field of work is: giving tactile form to a yearning for the authentic and…umm surviving in an enterprise characterised by, in order of priority:
1. Dignity of work.
2. Minimal risk of high financial success.
3. Dealing with wealthy and extremely wealthy clients on something like equal footing.
4. Not being forcibly retired from employment.
5. Keeping hope alive in a better future.Melbourne:
Born Melbourne, been overseas couple of times (Tasmania). Most of my travel is in time, vicariously through reading.
The city was put on the map by opportunists and spiv adventurers from the time of John Batman through to the glut of gold diggers - I suspect not much has changed. You can pick a Melbournite over a NSWelshman and certainly over a Q'lander and a 2 header. Melbournites tend to be proselytes of the mondain gods, more commonly known as wankers.
Melbourne has historically been a distillation of diverse world views from the anti conscription campaign of Daniel Mannix of 1915 to the split in the Labour party of 1955. Melbourne has always been a hotbed of divergent opinion and passions…and yet, although having affectations of high culture, it could never really match it with the raw energy of the Sydney push of the 60s which, like a black hole, pulled in the creators and disruptors from all over the place. Melbournites were light weights by comparison and the inferiority complex is finding new forms and the weeds are bloody everywhere.The Melbourne of my childhood was pretty lay back and cool - very high standard of live music was just bloody everywhere - now harder to find. It was actually the central hub of the best of Aus music scene of the 70s to 90s until progress, carpet baggers and higher rents did for it. On the other hand its a place of money and a plentiful stock of very good quality Mid to late Victorian architecture, not found in many other places in the world apart from the UK.
Melbourne’s lamentable recent attempts to create its own Opera House is...let's see - Federation Square -- says it all I think. I suppose I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds - Melbourne is replete with 2 bob and actual millionaires who, having acquired impeccable tastes, are inclined to want period style fences to differentiate themselves from the CUBS in Sydney. Melbs really came of age - got lots of crap modern architecture, a colosseum of sport, plenty of rough sleepers, a casino…whats not to like? I know this hasn't addressed your question very well, but that's very Melbourne isn’t it?Clothing:
I have tried a range of work garb’s (clothes) but nothing's a stand out. Bib and brace have their place but haven't used them for a few years, so the last few years I’ve gone with the heavier cotton twill shirts and strides (trousers): King Gee because the outlet I use supplies them embroidered for @ $40.
I used to buy King Gee from an old dude at Vic Market but he retired so now I find the Aldi work wear works for me. I regret passing up the opportunity to get a very good quality solid leather blacksmiths apron - made in Europe, some years ago and they are now not available.
I have often searched for an equivalent and would jump at one if available. My wife bought me something like it a few years ago but it was a bloody barristers leather apron and flew to bits 1st strike with an angle grinder. We now make do with crappy welders aprons made from leather splits.
I would pay up to $200.00 for genuine heavy weight denim that would take some punishment, but I suspect daks at that price are made for form not function. There was a time when best quality WAS fashion but I suppose that makes it hard to sell a new wardrobe to the punter every year.Final Thoughts:
Any opportunity to down load head space is always very welcome. You have to go backwards to go forwards.
I think I’ve said enough but remember, it’s only through confusion that things can become clear.
I hope your curiosity of the human condition is maintained - it’s a worthwhile pursuit.