Bringing to the fore: James B. Young
History, Tradition and Cameleering in the The Simpson Desert
It's not everyday a maker so wonderful is brought to your attention that life as you know simply stops. As O.T.T as that sounds, it's how we feel about Australian maker James B. Young.
Camel Dubbin immediately grabs my attention but ill get to that in one second.
In 2004 you arrive in The Territory, what did life before this look like? Born and raised where? Ambitions as a young guy and how the heck you became a "Cameleer" ( new word for us )
Born in Sydney, Bathurst from age 10 (I am a Central West boy!). I was a design school drop out C. 1999 who left studies in Sydney to walk around NSW with pack camels and donkeys on the stock routes; made our own saddles, trained the camels and donks and spent a year on foot walking from Bathurst to Broken hill via the snowy mountains. Learnt saddle making and cameleering along the way. Commenced a science degree in the early 2000’s at Wollongong and relocated to Alice in 2004 to continue cameleering on camel farms and remote treks in the simpson desert. Completed my studies by distance and worked in Land Management until 2012 involving feral camel management.
By the sounds of it you always had that entrepreneurial streak – what was the first product/service you sold/ exchanged.
First entrepreneurial activity was roadside and door to door selling peaches from our family orchard Bathurst...
Your Bio speak of a long ling of Cordwainers. You were destined to work with your hands and with leather. Talk us through the family tree and timeline.
My mothers family were Westbrooks who made shoes in Sussex UK. My great great grandather was the son of a shoemaker and migrated to Sydney in the 1860’s. He traded as a leather merchant on George st before setting up as a bootmaker and eventually moved to Nowra where he ran a boot shop on the Main Street making and selling hand made boots. He also became Mayor of Nowra. His sons were also bootmakers and intermarried with another shoemaking family. Westbrooks continued making shoes and boots in Sydney until 1978 - the year before I was born. The family shoemaking trend was from traditional hand made shoes and boots with greater industrialisation at the time of WW1 and full blown factory production from the 1940’s onward… and then nothing with the collapse of our domestic shoemaking industry in the 1970’s…..and now traditional bespoke shoemaking!
Is there a preferred leather you like to work with ? I'm sure this depends on the final product – but which is the front runner for you ?
I use vegetable tanned kangaroo leathers for ethics, quality and provenance. Kangaroo has unique strength and character and is one of the only leathers Australia still produces to any real standard of quality. I use kangaroo in most of my shoe and boot uppers and linings, bags and watch straps.
Vegetable tanned Kangaroo leather - View the full collection here
Many of my best friends have been camels - pictured from our recent family camel trip into the Simpson Desert.
James B. Young
What is your favourite traditional Tool – and your favourite modern advancement for your field?
I have a McKay style sole stitcher in my workshop that 5 1/2 feet tall, cast iron and over 120 years old - but its too modern for my current shoemaking methods! I have consolidated my practice around traditional hand-welted constructions of shoe and boot that although excessively labour intensive remain the benchmark for quality and repairability…. I use hand-rolled and tapered linen threads that I prepare myself with three different preparations of wax along their length. they attach to flexible needles with nothing more than wax. At 10 stitched per inch it takes a whole work day to correctly prepare the outsole, threads and stitch them into a channel that becomes buried beneath the sole surface.
The process of making camel dubbin intrigues me - and why its more superior to say a more common Beeswax?
Camel tallow is an exceptionally pure compared to the other rendered animal fats that find their way into leather products and cosmetics owing to the fact that the camels hump is a single mass of fat without any connective tissue etc…. There is a long history of its use here in Central Oz. for that reason. Also compelling is the fact that feral camels are a major pest species impacting heavily on cultural sites, ephemeral waterholes and native plants and animals. The camels that find their way into my dubbin have been wild harvested from Aboriginal Land to reduce their impact and for human consumption, pet meat etc....
It is worth noting that I blend the camel tallow with a mix of other oils and beeswax to balance the need to penetrate, nourish and seal leathers both against moisture and to prevent their drying and cracking. The majority of commercially produced leather products are derived from petrochemicals, inferior to natural animal fats in maintaining leather and come from a very toxic and unsustainable industry. My ‘Fat of the Land’ camel soap was a response to continually having large drums of tallow sitting around. I made a batch last Christmas and was blown away at the response - it sold out almost immediately. (Available exclusively via Molong Stores and Elbow Workshop Alice Springs)
We love your made to order bags. The styling is contemporary and craftmanship is visible at first glance. Have you found Carry as a category has dropped off with the pandemic?
Yes - my bag sales are at an all time low owing to the pandemic and people not travelling as much. However because my business model is constrained most greatly by may labour and I have to navigate the very real scarcity that comes from my not being able to meet demand at different times there is always new opportunities to expand or develop other parts of my business. I will be re-releasing all of my belts, wallets and select bag styles in 2022 to reflect how my craftsmanship has improved over the last 5 years since first released. I will also be expanding my online accessories to include some of my favourite items that I make regularly as custom orders. So stand by for new made to order wallets, camera straps, watch straps.
Made to order ‘Carry' bag from my origins range.
Shop James B. Young's Fat of The Land Camel Dubbin right here at Molong Stores.