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Bilby craftsman Ernie hoping to pass the baton

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Jul 25, 2023

AFTER a decade of crafting wooden bilbies to raise money for children being treated for cancer at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), Ernie Hunt needs to pass the baton.

Mr Hunt is 84 and his eyesight is failing, so he needs someone to take over making the wooden toys, the sale of which has so far raised nearly $7000 for oncology patients at the RCH.

“Years ago, I was doing ducks for the kids at a lot of events we went to. The bloke from Peninsula Woodturners said ‘We do a bilby’, and he gave me one. They were selling bilbies at a sausage sizzle down there and he told me to try them so that’s when I started,” Ernie said.

The bilbies are very popular items, with more than 680 having been sold at various stores and markets in and around Alexandra over the years, but now they are all sold out.

After a life’s work as a joiner and cabinet maker, which included training five apprentices to follow in his footsteps, Ernie has issues with his lungs and his eyes. “I’m 84 now and I’m not too well,” Ernie said.

Mr Hunt has been ably assisted by his friend Barry Cleary in the production of the bilbies. Barry has been known to cheekily refer to himself as Ernie’s “oldest apprentice.”

Ernie said “Now my eyes are going on me, and Barry my mate he was giving me a hand, but now with my eyes I can’t do them.”

Ernie was inspired to do the fundraising work partly because he had had cancer himself, but mostly because of what he saw at the hospital.

“The times we went down to the children’s hospital and you see the parents walking their kids along and it gives you that drive to do them. I’m very disappointed that I can’t keep it going,” he said.

Mr Hunt is a life member of the Eildon and District Woodworkers Guild and he’s hoping that the members there will step up and take over bilby production from him.

“I’ve got five boxes here with all the parts. I’ll take the boxes and show them and see if I can get them going on it.”

Mr Hunt said he felt proud of what he’d been able to achieve, but is very disappointed that he can’t continue to make bilbies for the sick children.

“It gives you a bit of pride that you’d been giving money to them. I wish I could still keep doing it,” he said.

“If my eyes were alright, I’d still be doing them like anything.”

Congratulations to Ernie on a spectacular effort.

Image 1: ‘Apprentice’ Barry Cleary with the Master, Ernie Hunt.

Image 2: Bilbies in various stages of creation.

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