News | 1st Aug, 2011

Workshops give kiss of life to cast-offs

Monday, 1 August 2011
Michelle Griffin, The Age

After two days stuck in a city basement, industrial designer Will Campbell was laughing like the mad scientist he sometimes claims to be. But he never lost focus.

Mr Campbell was one of eight technicians, scientists and artists who gave up their weekend for The Repair Workshops, a mini-festival devoted to reviving broken things. For two days, people made their way down to the basement of Donkey Wheel House in Bourke Street with their broken phones and iPods and lamps and play stations and garden tools and jewellery and toys – a parade of objects suffering from obsolescence either planned or unplanned.

The Repair Workshops are the brainchild of jeweller Emma Grace and environmental activist Leyla Acaroglu, and were hosted by the City of Melbourne as part of the State of Design Festival. They were inspired by the Repair Manifesto released two years ago by Dutch firm Platform 21 as a call-to-arms to tinkerers.

What was meant to be a weekend experiment now looks to have a longer life. Organiser Emma Grace is in talks to start a repair club, where people can learn to mend their own machinery, whilst environmental educator April Seymore is planning to run repair sessions at farmers markets from mid-September.

The repairs were all free, and mostly successful. ''We've had two people come in with hair straighteners,'' said Mr Campbell. ''But they're so clever inside, they're impossible to repair. It's just unnecessary complexity.''

He had better luck with an electric razor brought in by Footscray resident John Bradley, reviving its buzz by cannibalising a replacement battery from a pile of techno-junk. He also jump-started a whipper snipper by replacing a spring-loaded microswitch that had come loose.

At another bench, electrical technician Jason Bond took apart a 46-year-old toaster brought in by Barbara Olney. ''It was a wedding present in 1965,'' she told Mr Bond. ''I suppose I should get a new toaster one day.''

''You'll never get one as good,'' Mr Bond said, admiring the metal levers and hinges within.