Like most life-changing experiences, jeweller Jill Dyer’s introduction to the creative world was totally unexpected and utterly all-consuming. The young admin assistant had left school with little notion of what she wanted from life except a break from formal study. She hit the road and for a dyed-in-the-wool city slicker who couldn’t imagine living more than a few hundred metres from the nearest cafés, boutiques and restaurants, surprised herself by taking a job in the north-western Queensland town of Cloncurry.
The “bolt from the blue” came when she and a group of girlfriends signed up for a weekend silversmithing course for a bit of a lark. “We went along laden with chocolate slice, sandwiches and a few bottles of wine,” Jill recalls. “The attitude was pretty much ‘who cares if we don’t make anything, we’ll have fun’. But for me, it was like a light going on. I just ‘got it’. I can still remember banging away at my first bangle well after knock-off time, while the tutor and my friends chatted away, wine in hand. I still wear that bangle and regard it as a tribute to that first tutor, Jill Taylor, herself a wonderful silversmith, who had travelled all the way from Blackall to present that workshop.”
While most of Jill’s fellow workshoppers went home and never picked up tools again, Jill scoured the papers and managed to buy a secondhand box of tools and a couple of beginner’s handbooks. She set up a little space in a shed at the back of her home and spent whatever hours her work and social life allowed exploring the craft, refining her technique and learning from countless mistakes. Along the way, she met and married her husband, property valuer and bush lad Chris, and the couple moved to Emerald in central western Queensland. It was about this time that Jill took the huge step of leaving full-time employment to devote herself to her craft and fulfilling the increasing number of commissions that were coming her way.
“I was scared that the orders would stop, so I threw myself into attending shows and fairs, women’s forums, committees … whatever would get my name and my jewellery out there and in the public eye,” she says. “Then Chris asked if I would move to one of his family’s properties 70 kilometres east of Aramac. I knew I could work anywhere, so in 1998 I found myself living in a new district where I didn’t know a soul, where my closest neighbour was 32km away and even our mailbox was 24km from the house. We didn’t even have mains power and the house had basically been a shelter for the local wildlife and we had to shoo the ’roos out before we could move in.”
This story was originally published in Australian Country issue 15.2. Subscribe to the magazine here.
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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass