“People are drawn to places. We have a natural connection with some and not others, a bit like friends. Some of us are born in the places we are meant to be. From these places the things we do, the things we create, make a difference around the world.”
"I’m proud of what we make in Tasmania. I’m so very proud to know what we make is used across the world. I find it amazing where things we make end up, to be part of this supply chain."
Ethan was born on the North West Coast, in family with a history in the region. Like most kids around him, he spent a lot of time on the beach. He camped.
“I lived outside,” he says, “and I want to give this opportunity to my kids. Living here on the coast I can do that. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Not long ago, the North West Coast was one of Australia’s industrial heartlands. We mined, grew, processed, and made a lot of commodities and commercial products and shipped them to the mainland and the world. Then, something changed. Globalisation made it easy for international companies to relocate to more affordable labour markets. Distribution added a cost to Tasmanian exports.
Companies relocated and closed their operations on the North West Coast. This had a profound effect on the region, its economy, and its culture.
But something else was happening, in parallel with these changes. In 1975 Dale Elphinstone, a young diesel mechanic, began tinkering in his father’s shed in Burnie. “We did it,” Dale often says, “because we didn’t know we couldn’t.”
What did Dale do? Rather than manufacture something to compete with the world on price, he invented and manufactured equipment only he could make: underground, precision mining vehicles. Companies operating in Tasmania and around the world needed it, and Elphinstone grew into a global company. Dale’s daughter, Kelly Elphinstone, still refers to what they do as “hand-crafted.”
This hand-crafted approach to quality has infiltrated North West Tasmanian, and all Tasmanian, manufacturing. It’s become a special feature of the education system and it was an invitation to Ethan.
“At school I didn’t know what I would do,” he says. “I tried a couple of things. One of my teachers suggested I give a trade a go – welding. This helped me notice the opportunities on the coast. This encouraged me to stay.”
Another West Coast entrepreneur, Diane Edgerton, CEO of Direct Edge, often says she doesn’t need welders. She needs artisan welders. This is what called to Ethan, an invitation to do precise and meaningful work in a place he loves.
“As a young bloke I saw an opportunity here. I took it, I ran with it. Some of my mates stayed and some did not.”
The spirit of creating and making special things is at the heart of why Ethan chose to stay on the North West Coast. But there’s another spirit, of cooperation and togetherness. This is a place where a teacher can encourage you to become an artisan welder, where your friends are for life.
“My mates mean a lot to me,” says Ethan. “Mateship is important in my community. We look out for each other. It’s supportive. It always has been.”
Tasmania is not for everyone. But for ambitious and enterprising people who love nature it’s often exactly what they are looking for.
“There are new people who’ve moved here, lots with young families and they are welcomed, many are my friends.”
Artisan manufacturing is a growth industry in Tasmania. Our clients and customers know they can buy from anywhere. When they choose Tasmanian, they choose high quality, precision, and safety. They also choose to have a relationship with real people who are devoted to these outcomes. We have made a strength of our isolation, by becoming a workshop – a place of invention. This is how we compete with the world: with our hard work, our ingenuity, with products and solutions you can only find here.
“I’m proud of what we make in Tasmania,” says Ethan. “I’m so very proud to know what we make is used across the world. I find it amazing where things we make end up, to be part of this supply chain. One day I may want to start something of my own – maybe. I feel like there is community support for doing something. There is opportunity here.”
Ethan Bligh is one of 18 Tasmanians featured in our short film about the Tasmanian story. Ethan's scene was filmed at the Elphinstone factory in Burnie.