A KEANE EYE: The art of Christmas giving

Although he has not quite managed to lose his Cockney accent despite spending virtually all of his working life in Australia, Ron Clarke (Clarkie) is as Aussie in his outlook as anyone reading this article.What makes him “fair dinkum” to the construction industry is that he has spent much of his working life operating, owning or working on construction equipment and trucks, and he knows one end of a machine from the other. He even has a locally made Pacific Ace truck-mounted crane/clamshell digger in his front yard, if you are looking for more credentials.One of his crowning achievements was to build a sculpture of a mining truck and loader for former New South Wales Caterpillar dealer Gough & Gilmour, and Harcourt Gough was one of his biggest fans. Having seen a smaller-scale replica of this, I have quickly become a believer. Mack Trucks also commissions works on a regular basis.Some of his other commissions have been more personal, such as memorials to long-term operators and the machines most associated with them, but he also specialises in big bikes and rural images, and will have a go at anything.It is almost inconceivable that someone can create such intricate detail using only a blowtorch and a new lump of steel (Clarkie refuses to become a sculptor who welds pieces of junk together in the name of art, and sees steel as a blank 3D canvas). The intricate detail has also defied some people who have tried to develop programs to mass-produce his art using programmable cutters. He is teaching his sons the art of “painting with fire” but otherwise his skills seem unique, and his ability to “see” the finished image as he works is something that cannot be programmed.The art is also affordable – priced by the area of plate used for the finished product, and probably greatly undervalued, but for Clarkie the payback is that he remains his own boss. If you are ever on the Sturt Highway between Hay and Narrandera (and why wouldn’t you be?), and see a turn-off to Darlington Point and Griffith, look for a servo on the corner and look beside it for an abandoned motor inn – that is his studio. It is worth dropping in just for a yarn, but don’t do it if you are on a tight schedule.And for other gift ideas? There must be socks or undies with bulldozers on them. Scale models of earthmoving equipment are popular with many contractors – though many of them have been given to them by their suppliers. For something different, a few of the manufacturers do good retro models now, and some are quite affordable. An internet search will find plenty of them, and also show a wide variation in prices. Happy hunting!

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