Claire Bennett

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Custom for a Cause

Self–sufficiency is a shared family value amongst the Johnston family in Billinudgel, New South Wales. Living in a small community outside of Byron Bay, father Bruce Johnston and son Martin Johnston worked together for 13 years as a two–man team, crafting a range of hand–built furniture and fittings for a variety of high–end architectural projects in the area. Employing only traditional methods to create each piece, no detail was overlooked due to the pride, dedication and sense of responsibility Bruce Johnston had for each project. Now crafting pieces solo, Martin Johnston has carved a new way forward, expanding his production to an international market where his pieces are highly sought after. Upon receiving the devastating news two years ago that his father had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, Martin’s sense of self–sufficiency was deeply challenged as he felt hopeless in the fight to help his father. Now, challenging defeat, Martin is using his talents to draw funds and awareness to help put a stop to this insidious disease.

Custom Sideboard to be raffled off

Crafting one of his signature pieces the ‘Custom Sideboard’, made entirely from local and sustainably sourced Tasmanian Oak, Martin will be selling raffle tickets for a lucky winner to be the owner of this pristine example of superior craftsmanship. The timber, donated by the Tasmanian Timber Campaign, will be shaped and designed applying the techniques taught to Martin by his father. Using the green cast iron jointer, thicknesser and moulder that have been used by the family for over half a century, Martin hopes the sideboard can help spread awareness for Motor Neurone Disease.

“Before my father was diagnosed, I was disappointed in myself that I had never heard of the disease before. You hear about different cancers and other more common diseases but never about this condition and how fast and vicious it is.

“I’ve felt completely helpless since his diagnosis, but this is my small way of helping my Dad and to try and help raise money for research for Motor Neurone Disease,” says Martin.

Life lessons learned

While the techniques and expert craftsmanship Martin’s father passed to him have been a crucial part to Martin’s own attention to detail and success, Martin says much of what he has learned from his father, isn’t often taught on an apprenticeship.

“I can’t say that while working together for 13 years we didn’t have times where our opinions clashed but what my father taught me above and beyond anything else was how to be a class act gentleman.

 “Observing his dealings with clients, I saw how he would put them first, every single time. He would fall on his own sword to make customers happy. Despite our big generational gap, these old school values that my father taught me are invaluable,” says Martin.

Tasmanian Oak shines

Having used Tasmanian species on projects before, Martin explains his excitement to work with Tasmanian Oak to create the Custom Sideboard.

“I was really happy to get my hands on these quarter sawn Tasmanian Oak boards. I specified the boards to have some variegation as I like to see the impurities in Eucalyptus. The vein that’s in the timber is just beautiful. As an Australian designer–maker, we need to embrace this timber and I’d love to see it used more in our industry,” says Martin.

Beauty and aesthetics aside, Martin also shares his fondness for the workability of Tasmanian Oak.

“Before making this sideboard, it has been a little while since I’ve used Tas Oak. I forgot how light but durable it is and how well it behaves. As a furniture–maker, worrying about timber movement can keep you up at night, but this performs as expected. Even living with the humidity on the New South Wales coast, the boards have stayed strong and haven’t cupped at all. It machines really well with no chip outs and sands, oils and lacquers well,” says Johnston.

Offering some light amidst the darkness

Working on the sideboard in between his already demanding schedule of projects, Johnston is putting his heart and soul into this piece and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I hope that this piece will generate a fair bit of exposure for Motor Neurone Disease research and also some excitement. Unfortunately, the Motor Neurone Disease Association of NSW has been greatly affected by COVID–19. It would be great to see this raffle bring them some funds and happiness during this hard time we’re all going through.”

The funds Martin generates from the raffle of the Tasmanian Oak sideboard will be donated directly to two organizations that have directly been helping Martin and his family since his father’s diagnosis, MND New South Wales and the MND and Me Foundation.

“The funds Martin raises will go to education and support of people living with Motor Neurone Disease. As a small charity, we only receive 15% of our funding from the New South Wales government so every little bit it really does make a difference, especially at this time,” says Kym Nielsen, Fundraising Manager for MND New South Wales.

“We normally have nine big fundraising events per year and because of COVID–19, we’ve had to cancel every single one.

“Martin doing this for us is showing people that are living with this disease, that there are good people out there that really do care,” she says.

Jane Milne from the MND and Me Foundation echoes the excitement for this raffle and reiterates the importance of the funds that will be raised from the raffle for families affected by the disease.

“We are really excited about the raffle and can’t wait to see the piece that Martin is creating! This is a very unique raffle item as not only will it be a beautiful piece of furniture but there is a very special story behind the making of it,” says Jane Milne, Acting CEO of the MND and Me Foundation.

“At this time, fundraising is at a standstill for us at the MND and Me Foundation so these funds will really help us to continue to ensure that no one has to face MND alone.

“The MND and Me Foundation provides the right solutions at the right time throughout the cycle of pre–diagnosis, diagnosis, living with MND and following a loved ones’ passing,”

To stay up to date on Martin Johnston’s raffle and creation of the Tasmanian Oak Custom Sideboard, follow Martin on Instagram at @martin_johnston and the Tasmanian Timber Campaign at @tasmaniantimber.