Written by Russ Benning
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
We’ve probably all heard this Mark Twain quote, or at least a variation of it.
This month I believe I found the exact family this quote was written about.
Meet Chris White, the third generation of Maryborough crafters, White Woodworks.
I was greeted warmly and welcomed into the factory. It was somewhat labyrinthian in nature as I would discover during the tour; the first space mostly open with an enormous work bench littered with tools and projects. There was an element of time travel as I observed some of the large, industrial looking machinery.
“I’m the grandson,” he shared as we dove straight into the family business lineages.
Chris is one of six siblings and one half of the current line-up of brothers carrying on the family business.
Established by his Grandfather Jack White back in the 1940’s, the business was originally a construction company. A spree of arson in the nineties caused damage to numerous buildings in Maryborough, including the Town Hall itself. The White’s were commissioned for a lot of this work and this was a turning point for the business. Due to the high demand, it was a transition point to becoming primarily a joinery shop.
Chris was explaining to me the dynamic shift and his father’s involvement when a burst of loud machinery interrupted our conversation. We turned to see, as if on cue, Brian (Chris’ father) had entered the area to work.
“That’ll be good for the recording,” he exclaimed.
“That’s my Dad by the way,” we laughed as Chris announced.
It was fantastic timing and as the conversation continued I was picking up that this was not just a job for these men. I was at times quite moved when Chris went into detail about one of the first memories he has of where trade meets family. Brian had built him a wooden truck that could store all of his Lego. Joking about how he was probably sick of having Lego everywhere.
“And that was pretty much it,” he said.
Once he finished I could feel that he meant every word as he told me and that it was his experience which sealed the deal for him to go full steam ahead into this trade somewhat, craft, also hobby and ultimately the business.
“If I didn’t do it Monday to Friday, I’d come out here Saturday and Sunday.
“So I always figure I’m pretty lucky to do this as a day to day job.
“It’s not really a job for me,” Chris said.
Again, I could feel how much he embodied these words. I had first-hand experience of the passion that drives this man and, could see in his eyes the story beyond his words. He shared that, like any family, there’s some head-butting that happens, and some generational disagreements.
He informed me that one example was the radio which is vehemently and perennially set to classical ABC radio.
There’s nothing wrong with that but it is a very firm understanding within the men!
Ultimately the sentiment was shared when Chris summed up working with his father.
“I appreciate every day I’ve been able to work with him. Dad’s taught me so much over the years,” he said.
As we continued the tour of the factory I got more of an idea of what these guys do. There was a section for metal work, a section for pressing doors, a section for finishing timber and so on. We spoke about how the world has changed a lot especially in the last ten years and demand is shifting. For example, flush-ply doors that used to be pressed in-house that are now available to builders cheaper from warehouses and suppliers.
There is some work that will never be replaced by big corporations and this is where I saw Chris’ eyes light up the most. I asked him what he likes to work on the most.
“The jobs that let your mind wander,” he said.
This is where I got to truly understand the creativity and art form that comes into play with joinery.
Disappearing for a few moments, Chris returned with a finely finished coffin shaped box that he sat on the workbench. He began to explode out the sections to my amazement. I was watching him transform what turned out to be a completely custom, hand-built record player.
He confessed that hidden compartments were his favourite. On a bespoke job for a customer Chris creatively set up a game.
“If you can find the hidden compartment I’ll give you a discount,” he’d said.
Clearly Chris had done a masterful job and informed me that no discount was given. The hidden compartment only revealed after the game.
Restoring vintage furniture is another favourite of the White men. I enjoyed the concept of keeping such works of art in circulation, adding new and old parts to continue their journey, so to speak.
A form of Kintsugi (the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold) of the wooden variety if you will. Strengthening them and making them more perfect in their imperfections.
As fate would have it, I really got the full family experience that day. Chris’ ten-year-old son Iggy called by the workshop while I was there and I got to meet three generations in one day.
I grinned to myself as I noticed they were both wearing the same pair of black and white Converse shoes. Little details like that make me happy.
I was curious about whether the family business would extend to four generations and Chris answered.
“I would never force it on him but would be happy if he wanted to take over. If it’s still a thing when he’s older,” he said.
My heart was warmed hearing that Chris and Iggy had built their own version of the Lego truck together solidifying the family tradition.
Right before it was time for me to leave, Brian came past on his way out and I got to meet him personally.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour. Not many people do it the way we do it,” he said.
I could feel the sense of pride in his words and I could only imagine what it must feel like to be a part of a generational legacy such as this.
I asked if Chris had any final thoughts or messages he’d like to share.
“Do a trade. If someone is thinking about it, I’d encourage them to do it. It’s been nothing but a great career for me and something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing,” he said.
For all the hard-work, blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the building and maintaining the family legacy, according to our opening quote, none of the White men have done a day’s work in their lives!