Weekly Times  Newspaper

Olivia changes mounts.

At first glance, it would seem a career where fairytales come true. As a prop maker, Olivia O’Connor worked on movie sets for films like Wolverine and Mad Max and for stage productions including War Horse.

‘I was very luck to never be out of work after graduating.’ says they 26-year-old, who studied prop making at NIDA.

‘I loved working with a range of materials – one week polystyrene and the next leather or wood.’

But Olivia says as glamorous as her career was, it’s her new role where the magic happens and her skills sparkle.

In 2013, Olivia turned her back on the world of film and theatre, and moving to the South Gippsland town of Berrys Creek where, with a workshop on her parent’s farm, she makes rocking horses.

‘Prop making sounds glamorous but the truth is I was working in 35C heat in a tin shed painting sets for 12 hours a day with breathing respirators. It was really hard dirty work.’ she says.

‘Something I always hated about props was that you work so hard on stuff to such a high finish but, because of legal obligations, it’s all destroyed. It’s such a huge waste that never sat easily with me.’

‘I get much more satisfaction from making rocking horses now. An adult can be thrilled to get new furniture but there’s something about a child who is super excited to get a rocking horse, realising how lucky they are and how precious this is. It’s lovely to watch that.’

‘With rocking horses people don’t buy them to throw them out. They buy them thinking they’ll have them for their children and grandchildren. These are quality products that will stand the test of time.’

Olivia – who also makes a small amount of furniture and home wares – takes one month to make a single rocking horse, which can cost up to $3750.

She also restores old horses.

Olivia uses Australian radiata clear wood, free of knots of defects. Starting with a hollow body, she carves, then sands, to create the horse, before applying handmade eyes and real horse hair.

She welds the swinging arms and hand sews the leather saddle.

‘I make proper girths and buckles. They are like miniature saddles and sometimes I think why do I do this when some other rocking horse makers take shortcuts.’ she says.

Olivia grew up on the Mornington Peninsula where her father was a steeple horse trainer and Olivia a keen rider.

‘As a kid I had always wanted one and NIDA gave me the materials and workshop space to explore the skill. After I made my first one I realised this was something I could do for longer.’

‘I just really enjoyed it. I think it’s a combination of growing up with horses and my dad’s work, and the fact I love working with natural materials of wood and leather.’

‘And I really like knowing they will be appreciated.’

Olivia and her rocking horses will appear at the Lost Trades Fair at Kyneton March 7 and 8.