You would sooner catch Lorraine Ott perusing her local tip shop than a dress shop. When her neighbours strip the weathered tin roofs off their shearing sheds or replace the old wooden palings of their fences, she and her husband Duncan welcome the scrap metal and wood – and folks are all too happy to divert it from landfill.
They know in the hands of the Otts, it will turn into something beautiful and enjoy a cherished second life.
As part of their business, Bird Song Tweats, Lorraine and Duncan have become adept at up-cycling discarded materials into items they sell at Hartley Hall Markets.
It started as a hobby with picture frames made from recycled Australian hardwood when Duncan worked in real estate and Lorraine worked for Canberra’s Fire Commission. Over time, they branched into birdhouses made from old fence palings. Eventually, it evolved to include metal garden arches and art.
Some of their most memorable works came from metal salvaged from the ruins of the notorious Dunns Road fire that ravaged the NSW Southwest Slopes.
“There was a lot of tin from old shearing sheds and whatnot,” Lorraine says. “Those items had sentimental value for some people.”
Lorraine has now added an assortment of delectable homemade jams, relishes, pickles, and sauces from raspberries, mulberries, strawberries, and anything else they can grow on their acreage.
She reckons she’s cracked the secret to a good condiment.
“It’s having a good book beside you when you have to stand there stirring,” she says. “Especially quince paste – you have to stand there stirring for about three hours!”
Duncan and Lorraine’s first Hartley Hall Markets was on 1 March 1998. They have barely missed one in the 25 years since.
Since its inception in 1987 when it kicked off with 36 stalls and a 20-cent entry fee, the Hartley Hall Markets has grown to one of Australia’s largest homegrown and handmade markets with over 200 stalls selling unique wares by local artisans. Some of the original stallholders are still going strong today.
Organised by disability service organisation Hartley Lifecare on the first Sunday of every month, the markets have a rural theme and are held at the picturesque Hall Village Showground, just 10 km north of Canberra.
During the festive season, these markets become the perfect hunting grounds for those looking for gifts with a story behind them.
At the upcoming markets, Bird Song Tweats will be joined by the likes of Grind to Ground, a social enterprise that resulted in a ground-breaking (so to speak) product that home gardeners swear by.
The product originated as an assignment by Canberra woman Lisa Pozzato and five of her fellow CIT Community Development students.
At the height of COVID-19, the students were able to launch a volunteer program where people living with disability could collect coffee grounds from coffee shops all over Canberra.
They began with 12 volunteers living with disability, picking up coffee grounds from 10 coffee shops a couple of days a week.
This was combined with sawdust from CIT’s carpentry department, which was producing about 2 tonnes of the unwanted waste product a week.
“It was actually costing CIT to properly dispose of it,” Lisa explains.
“So we partnered with them, organisations that support people with disability like Hartley Lifecare and local coffee shops, to find a solution that solved multiple problems. That’s how Grind to Ground started.”
By the time the assignment was done and dusted, new people had come on board with the project, and they decided to keep it going. Grind to Ground became a registered not-for-profit in February 2021. Now, a purpose-built location near CIT’s community development and services section, it stands as an example of what can come of innovative community development work.
The company’s volunteer base has swelled to about 60 people living with disability, who collect from about 20 coffee shops. The work gives them invaluable opportunities to socialise and build capacity in a safe and appropriate environment.
The product itself has been proven to attract worms, speed up the composting process and enhance garden soil.
“Our regular customers tell us it works for everything from nourishing roses to removing bugs from citrus trees and vegetable gardens,” Lisa says.
“One customer last month said he had spread it over one spot and not the other and had to come back to get more because the section where he had put our soil enhancer had grown inches higher than the rest!”