Firstly, could you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Bob Leeson. I’ve lived in Casino about 60 years but was born in Tunglebung near Bonalbo. I make outdoor cookers from discarded gas cylinders. The cookers can be large or small, and have adjustable racks. Mostly they are used as camp ovens but also fire pits, heaters and barbeques. Some people use them as smokers. I don’t need much equipment – basic metal working tools like angle grinders, welders and cutting discs.
Have you always been a maker?No, my only hobby, really, is fishing. But when I retired in 2000 I needed a project. Bev and I needed a camp oven for our caravan trips and that’s where it all started. I made one, people saw it and inquired about it, and one thing led to another.
All my life I’ve been a hands-on person. I had the metal working skills, and the tools. I just needed the project. I Have gas bottles supplied by a gas company in Toowoomba via my son. Other people save them for me too, but they are getting harder to come by. I get all sorts of shapes and sizes, so I can cater to many customer demands.
So what draws you to this project?
In particular, it is very satisfying to take something destined for scrap metal or the rubbish heap and transform it into something useful, unique and interesting. My cookers are a little off the beaten path and I really have no competition.
It has been really rewarding to see my cookers go across the country, even to America and Norfolk Island. I have sold the cookers at various markets and special events like Millmerran Camp Oven Festival (near Toowoomba) held annually until COVID interfered. Events like that attract visitors from all parts. I remember having 24 people gathered around our fire pit at the Tara Camel Races in Queensland.
How would you describe your product in three words?Multipurpose portable cookers
How long does it take you to make a piece?
If you could do it all in one go it really doesn’t take more than an hour and a half. First I just remove the tap from the top. Then I just need to drill some holes for the bars and airflow, cut the cylinders in two, burnish them, rub them back and paint them. There is time involved though in the cutting as that is done off site.
Can you describe your workspace?
I’m lucky to have an enormous Colorbond shed in my backyard. It houses everything I need. The first thing you notice is a big stack of sawed-off cylinders near my workbench.
Is there anything in it that is precious?
Nothing I couldn’t live without but my Dad’s tools are there and it is nice to have them.
What’s the best thing for you about being creative for a living?There is satisfaction in the making itself, but also in producing a successful product. In the end, it is the people at all parts of the process that is the most rewarding for me. The interactions.
How does it feel to be part of the Rotary Kyogle Bazaar community?
It is such a pleasant place to be. I see it as a morning out where I have made some good friends, where I am supporting local endeavours, and where I have established community connections. It has been an excellent event for word of mouth promotion of my product. I believe I am among the original stallholders at the Bazaar and have been attending since 2015.
Do you have any comments about your work and sustainability?
Not one bit of the gas bottles I use goes to waste. The taps I remove go back to suppliers for scrap metal. The cookers themselves do not use electricity or gas – just wood that you scavenge most of the time.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
In my case, I am happy just to cover my costs, although I usually do better than that and end up with some spending money. (I have always covered my costs at Kyogle.) But if you have a good product, something a little different then the product will sell itself. You don’t have to do any hard sell. And you are giving others a chance to enjoy your wares.
What have been your biggest challenges and achievements?The biggest challenge is actually transporting these cookers to the markets! They are bulky and a little heavy. So I just take a limited range, then take orders.
Another challenge is meeting the diverse needs of customers, some wanting cookers for camping in tents, for their backyard or to take along with their motorhome. I started with the smaller ones but soon had demand for larger cookers. So customising has been a challenge but keeps it interesting.
My proudest achievement is supporting Scouts Australia with donations, and families in need.
Any last words?
Give it a go. If I can do this so can you!