Bespoke craftswoman, Olivia O’Connor, hand carves a toy that has been around for hundreds of years: the humble rocking horse. Olivia grew up around horses in country Victoria - her father is a horse trainer. She enjoyed woodwork at school, so she set out to study furniture design and construction at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and went on to study prop making and scenic art at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art. It was there she learned to make massive sculptures, do leatherwork, and also where she made her very first rocking horse. Determined to work in carpentry in some way, she thought it would be a fun business to make and sell rocking horses.

Olivia had experience in woodwork, but hand-making a rocking horse from scratch is a complicated business and there were heaps of extra skills she needed to learn. So she turned to the source of all wisdom, YouTube, and watched a ton of video tutorials to teach herself the intricate skills she needed.

Olivia now teaches other people woodworking skills in her masterclasses. She also has her own devout Instagram following where she asks her followers to name the horses, which they can track from start to finish - a process which can take over a month!

What makes Olivia’s rocking horses so special? Making her horses the old fashioned way means that they’ll last a lifetime. Knowing this, Olivia makes sure to find out about the family her horses are going to. She hand carves each horse to the clients’ specifications, which means you can get a horse that looks exactly like your old pony, or custom made to your own colour and size choices, so no one else in the world will have the same one. These lovingly crafted horses go on to become family heirlooms; if you look after your horse, it could easily last five or six generations. You can also rest in peace knowing your rocking horse is made using sustainably sourced wood and ethical real horse hair.

 

Olivia is part of a community of people who keep old techniques of making things alive. The Lost Trades Fair is on a few times a year, showcasing these skilled makers and celebrating traditional trades, like wood carving, blacksmithing and printing.

 

As well as being a hive of creativity, The Lost Trades Fair allows people like Olivia to share technical skills with makers in similar positions, as well as share stories and tips on owning a small business. Although Olivia was initially nervous about starting her business, she got plenty of support from the people she met through the fair; “if you’re passionate about something, then other people will follow through on that”.

 

Are you an Enterprising Australian? Tell us your story.

 

Questacon Maker ProjectQuestacon Smart SkillsQuestacon Invention ConventionEnterprising Australians, Developed by Questacon