Remembrance of Nature's gentlemen...
By Jeff Lewry.
My first real contact with the Janetszki brothers, Les and Arthur, would have been in 1963. at that time I was in business butchering in Albury, and had just started making boomerangs. I had vaguely known of the lads, as previously owning the nearby Jones St. grocery, but had never met either personally until they came into my shop to buy a boomerang.
Perhaps I could be allowed a little digression here, and add a little background:
At this time, boomerangs were no more than a passing interest, I had no idea that they would become my life’s work, for the next thirty something years. Whilst I tried some weird and wonderful materials to fashion my creations some of which lasted only one throw, mostly I was making my boomerangs from naturally bent limbs, merely because I thought that was how they should be made! Also, it was a long time until I had a bandsaw in my workshop at home, in the meantime I used the meat-cutting bandsaw in my butcher’s shop. I could cut out a few shapes "after hours", and before the saw was washed for the day. The local Health Inspector just "happened" to be passing one evening when I was doing this, and reckoned that this shouldn’t be done on a meat saw. I pointed out to him that the piece of wood had been picked up in the same paddock as the cattle I was currently cutting up, and they had spent their time rubbing up against it, as could be seen by how shiny it was. This didn’t impress him much, so then I showed him the wooden chopping block where I cut up the meat, and asked him what was the difference? besides the saw was to be washed with very hot water. He went on his way, but I doubt I convinced him.
To return Les and Arthur bought a very pretty boomerang, made from the curvy root of a peach tree. It surely looked better than it’s flying ability, but these were early days, and it returned O.K. They always took it in turns to throw this, but about this time the Albury Boomerang Club was started, and that was a trifle tedious, so they bought a couple of plywood boomerangs from me. I had discovered that Coachwood ply was good stuff, and bought a 6’x4’ sheet. I remember I pondered for a long while, before I cut it up I wondered if I would ever use all of it! (Later I was able to buy ply by the truckload, and even have mills lay it up to my specifications, but that’s another story).
Somewhere about this time Les and Arthur really got the bug, and started making their own boomerangs. This of course led to their making some of the best-crafted boomerangs ever. Despite being in their sixties at this time, it didn’t take them long to become very proficient throwers, although they were never strong, they were always amongst the top scorers in the Accurate Return comps. They were also the first to hang a thin strand of wool from a finger, to gauge the wind, both strength and direction.
As the boomerang business developed, I sold my butcher’s shop in 1968, and moved to Bowna, in 1969. Arthur and Les were quite regular visitors, often driving out in their Hillman station wagon, where we had a few throws in my paddock, a cup of tea, and a good yarn. They always did everything together, and each had his own set of keys for the car, one would drive out, the other drive home. They smoked at this time (though not later) but would have a discussion on whether or not to have a cigarette, before they lit up.
Some people considered them to be twins, so deep was the affinity between them, indeed one would often start a sentence while the other would finish it. Yet there was a brother between them, a Baptist minister, from Canada, whom I met once. He was entirely different to our lads, my main memory of him was that he wore a big hat.
You never saw a neater place than their house in North Albury, even the split wood in the corner of their workshop cum garage had to be lined up. Their sister Ruby, who did their Housekeeping kept the inside of the house just as tidy.
Les was the boomerang maker, and Arthur did the decoration. It used to take them almost forever to make one. Les shaped each one, rubbed it down with 400 grit sandpaper, until it was as smooth as glass, then handed them to Arthur, who would French Polish each one before he started his decorations. It’s not surprising that these turned out to be valuable collector’s items.
I was in their workshop one day, marvelling as usual, at their being a place for everything, and everything in it’s place, and Les was cutting a boomerang shape from a piece of ply, clamped in a vice, with a hand-driven fret-saw. I asked him how long it took to cut out one boomerang. He said it varied from fifteen to twenty minutes. When I told him that I allowed 7 seconds for that job (by now I had a large wood-cutting bandsaw) he found it difficult to believe. Next time he was visiting my place, he asked for a demonstration, so I fired up my saw and cut one shape from my usual stack. Les’s eyes fairly bulged, as it took just one minute, with 12 thicknesses of ply, or 5 seconds per. I said that I allowed 24 seconds to mark the shape on the top sheet, so 7 seconds /boomerang was correct. After that I got the job of cutting out most of their shapes!
They had an undertaker friend who gave them the plywood boxes that his "Coffin furniture" came in, and beautiful ply it was, mostly beech, with up to 14 thin layers in a 3/8" thick sheet. So, when they had a number of these, they would make a trip out, shapes already marked, dodging the small holes in the sheets and we would nail several sheets together I’d cut them out and they would have another month’s work ahead.
Among my treasured possessions are two boomerangs, one, a natural piece of Osage Orange (one of the hardest timbers in the world) which I shaped and Arthur polished for me. No decorations, it’s too good for that, just a fine finish, on a beautiful piece of wood. The other is one of their shapes, which I shaped to suit my throwing, and again Arthur decorated it for me.
Earlier in life they were well known on the vaudeville circuit, with their duo Marimba act. They worked the "Tivoli" circuit, a famous theatre in Sydney, which did country tours. They also did a tour of New Zealand with this organization and got diddled out of some of their money. Les was the only one to marry, and they were reluctant to talk about it, apparently the marriage was a serious error, lasting but a few weeks.
I had a bright idea, to record some of their music. I left it a bit late, though, as only Arthur was available. Never mind, I set-up my reel to -reel tape deck while Arthur got the feel of his marimba, and we got a few tunes down on tape. I remember that "My Old Kentucky Home " was one. I reckoned I just about had my recording levels and balance right, and was ready to get some really good stuff, when Arthur told me that was enough, and he meant it. So, I managed only some 12 minutes of recording. I feel sure that I still have the copy on tape, but, sadly, I’ve lost track of it. As it is somewhere amongst over 100 10" spools of tape, I may be some time finding it!.