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Mr Harry Hipwell,who is believed to be the oldest working blacksmith in Australia,began shoeing horses when he was 16 years old.He will be 81 on December 4. His father before him was a blacksmith,and all his life he has watched the warm red glow of the forge;heard the ringing of the hammer and anvol; smelt the burning horn from horses' hooves as shoes are fitted;and made sparks fly from pliable iron. These things have been Harry Hipwell's life,and he loves his shop,forge,tools and toil. Although his father was a blacksmith and wheelwright he has no knowledge of being taught the trade.
The tools were available to him always, and he used them. At 16 he could shoe a horse,and although he came from a large family of brothers,neither they nor his father would interfere with him while he was working. All his life Mr Hipwell has been his own boss,and although he has worked in many shops other than his own,he has used them as plant only. Hhe developed this spirit of independence from his childhood,as a member of a family of 13 children-8 boys and 5 girls.His father not only worked as a blacksmith,but,with the pioneer spirit of his time,tried hard and often to make a home on the land.He selected a block in the Paterson River district,where,after back-breaking work cleaning and burning off,and making his home,found another life suited his large family better.Bush children of 70 years ago were at an even greater educational disadvantage than they are today.Mr Hipwell learnt his "three years"at Eccleston,near Gresford,and in spite of his poor opinion of the education he received,is able to read and discuss the news of the day without difficulty.
He uses reading glasses which he says,are not altogether necessary and is able to read the paper almost as well without them. During his youth he was a keen cricketer,being a left hand slow bowler.On one occasion he took five wickets for five balls,playing with Eccleston against Gresford. Ggresford had required six runs only to win the match. At another match,when playing with Gresford against Northerland - a Maitland team- he took ten wickets.Recalling difficult horses he has shod,Mr Hipwell said the worst he had met was owned by Mr J.Thomas,who bought it at Singleton saleyard.This was 40 years ago,when blacksmith shops filled the same duty in the community as garages do today. Mr Thomas took the horsr to three Singleton men who were unable to shoe it. Anxious to have it shod before he took it home,Mr Thomas called at Mr Hipwell's Glennies Creek smithy,and outlined the big horse's unsavoury history.Harry Reid,a fellow blacksmith,who had a blacksmith shop on Bridgman Road was passing at the time,and at Mr Hipwell's request agreed to give a hand.With great difficulty they managed to shoe the front feet, but found it impossible to get at the horsr after that. Harry Reid told Mr Hipwell that no blacksmith in Australia would shoe the horse,and with those words he went on his way.Forced to admitt defeat,Mr Hipwell told Mr Thomas that the horse had beaten him and suggested that the owner take it to Harry Skaines at Dungog,a very tall man,who,he was sure,could do the job.However just as the horse was being taken away,he changed his mind and decided to have another go.With Mr Thomas holding the horses' head,he went in again determined this time to give the beast blow for blow. After a few hard blows with the shocking hammer the draught horse toad the line and gave no further trouble!
"He was all bluff and had bluffed us all," Mr Hipwell said. Mr Hipwell's shops were never at the big towns, but he has had as many as 24 horses lined up out side waiting to be shod.He went to Ravensworth and shod 10 horses before dark with out a holder. He spent some time pit sawing on the Allen River,when cedar beech and hardwood was plentiful. He worked in the pit and wore goggles to keep the saw dust from getting in his eyes. He also worked as a minor in the Nundan mine, when it was owned by Mr W. Longworth. Mr and Mrs Hipwell were married 53 years ago, and from the marriage they had 7 children.Thier oldest son Kenneth died 10 years ago. None of his sons are black smith. Mr Hipwell for many years had the post office at Glennies Creek, and while not actively engaged is still living on the premises. His smithy adjoins. At present he is a patient at Danger Cottage Hospital, where he was admitted three weeks ago, following a fall from a milk lorry! He sustained head injuries, but is now almost recovered,and is looking forward to returning to work in the near future!!