A series of coincidences allowed me to catch up last week with long-time blackwood legend Murray Kidman. Murray has been harvesting blackwood from the Otway Ranges in Victoria for the past 30 years. He started out salvaging stumps and other “waste” wood from commercially harvested areas of State forest. Word gradually spread that Murray had a very impressive collection of figured blackwood, which attracted the attention of a few local luthiers. Eventually Maton Guitars heard about Murray and a long-term partnership was formed. Murray now only supplies the tonewood market, including Maton Guitars, a number of custom luthiers and the occasional commercial order, such as the recent limited edition blackwood guitars by Cort and it’s subsidiary Parkwood, one of the largest guitar manufacturers in the world.
When commercial native forest harvesting ceased in the Otway Ranges in about 2008, with the help of Maton guitars Murray managed to get a license to continue small-scale selective logging of blackwood. Murray’s only tool is his chainsaw. All the timber harvested is carried out of the forest by hand, with all operations controlled and managed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries. Murray has just had his license renewed allowing him to harvest a total of 100 cubic metres of blackwood over the next 3 years. This is a small boutique business that just manages to provide Murray with a very basic living. But the man loves his work and is passionate about blackwood. Here is a video about Murray from the Maton Guitar website.
And yes, Murray does have a very impressive collection of figured blackwood timber some of which can be seen on his website. He also has a very impressive dog! You can read more about Murray’s story on his website:
But what about the future? Murray is a sole operator approaching the end of his working life. His son James might take over the business, but it is a labour of love more than fortune. And what about the resource? The management of public native forest will always be contentious. In terms of regulation and politics Murray walks a tightrope every day in his accessing a public resource. Continuing access to the public resource is not guaranteed. There is a relatively active farm-forestry group in the Otway region, but so far there hasn’t been any collaboration with this group. There will certainly be blackwood growing on private land in the Otway Ranges, and opportunity to plant more. Can these various opportunities come together for everyone’s benefit to help build a more commercially, socially and politically sustainable blackwood industry in Victoria?
What Murray does may be inspiring and results in the creation of high-value products, but we need to get to the point where growing blackwood is a profitable commercial activity that attracts the attention of farmers. This can only happen if the market provides sufficient interest and attraction to farmers by way of price signals and communication. Only then will Maton and the other luthiers have a sustainable future supply of Otway blackwood.
Thanks Murray for a very enjoyable and informative afternoon.