The sweet rewards of patience

ARTIST Martin Scuffins' sanctuary isn't the easiest to find.

The dusty, 4x3 metre stone studio is tucked away on his Garibaldi property, guarded by two black kelpies and a group of screaming children on bikes.

Well, this was the reception we received while visiting one Tuesday afternoon.

"Come along the garden path," Martin says, holding up the branches of low-hanging fruit trees, before leading us to his stone studio.

"My wife's a hobbit, only short people make it down here."

Welcome to the Mews- a place where the "jack of all trades" has begun a new venture- restoring Norwegian Hardanger fiddles.

If you weren't already familiar with the Ballarat identity, you could learn a thing or two about Martin in that confined workshop.

It has a carpenter’s bench- scattered with the skeletons of half-completed fiddles and frayed strings.

A music book, channeling his part time music gigs at Sovereign Hill, sits upright on the bench.

An illustration by German artist Hans Heysen is pinned to the wall, providing insight into his career as an artist.

Dozens of leather handling gloves used when Martin cares for injured birds of prey can also be found hanging around the studio.

And a copy of the Woodworker's Handbook by Roger Horwood rests on top of the rustic fireplace- hinting that maybe Martin is only a rookie when it comes to constructing Hardanger fiddles.

But, it seems, he's willing to give anything a go.

The Hardanger fiddle is the distant Norwegian cousin to the violin. It has produces different sounds, feels and looks different and has more strings.

"They all have their own personalities," Martin says.

"Fiddles always sound best when played slowly; there are about 20 different sounds,"

"Violins are quite restrictive with the sounds they produce," he says.

Martin says while some fiddles are warm, others are not as responsive.

The strings also play an important part in the sound, with Hardanger fiddles having two decks of string instead of one like violins.

"The second set of strings aren't played, but vibrate in harmony," Martin says.

He has constructed four Hardanger fiddles, and also owns a standard French violin that he uses when performing at Sovereign Hill.

Martin says his first fiddle was "a rushed job and very experimental," and quite heavy to play.

The second Hardanger fiddle Martin made was sold in the US. He also plays his third and fourth creations.

Five years ago Martin began restoring Norway's national instrument.

And while he doesn't make them from scratch, he's enjoys constructing pre-loved fiddles.

"I haven't been able to afford one, so I had to make one myself," Martin says.

"When you don't have a lot of money, you tend to fix things yourself,"

"They cost a fraction [of the retail price] to build," he said.

eBay has quickly become a reliable source for finding the aged, wood-instruments, with some new fiddles retailing at $5000.

"They're not cheap, I can't afford to pay the price antique shops ask," Martin says.

"eBay is useful though."

When he's not nursing injured birds of prey back to health or performing, Martin is in the Mews.

Most mornings, Martin brews himself a cup of tea, "not coffee", and begins the tedious task of constructing the antique instruments.

"I could spend about 30 hours over a three month period to make one," he says.

The process, at times, can be complicated. Martin deconstructs pre-purchased fiddle bodies, carves out the insides and varnishes the structure.

Martin makes his own finishes from scratch, with the fiddle varnish and stains all homemade.

Sometimes Martin even listens to audio books and music to inspire his craft.

"I've just finished listening Artemis Fowl, which I'm pretty sure is a teenage series," Martin says.

"Or I listen to Shakespeare, it's about the beauty of language."


Much like the 20-acre property he now shares with his wife Talia and son Patrick, 7, Martin grew up on a property in Ross Creek.

He lived alongside his TV personality father Arthur Scuffins and nurse mother Bev and three older sisters who were "mad about horses".

From an early age, Martin had an interest in wildlife.

At 18 he was operating a wildlife shelter and was becoming recognised for his work with injured birds of prey.

In 1991 he studied a science degree at the University of Ballarat to expand his knowledge in the area.

"I did a science degree, because I was interested in wildlife," Martin says.

"It was hard work, but now I'm happy to use those skills to help birds."

Today Martin has one of the few specialised shelters in Australia that rehabilitates injured and orphaned birds of prey.

"It's a very specialised field. They are athletes by nature, fitness is absolutely vital," Martin says.

"If they are not fit, they can't return to the wild. Getting them fit requires a lot of training."

Martin also spent more time overseas, living in Tamil Nadu, India for ten months and spending two years in Java, Indonesia.

But it was at the departure gates to Java when Martin met his wife Talia.

The pair were participating in the Australian Volunteers Abroad program.

"We stayed in touch and I visited her a few times overseas," Martin says.

As well as a traveler, Talia is also musically gifted.

"She plays the viola and is really keen to play the bag pipes...she is eager to get lessons," Martin says.

In his 30s, Martin decided to learn more about his father's heritage and spent a couple of months in Ireland.

"I went to a lot of festivals and drank way too much Guinness," he jokes.

It was in Ireland that Martin was educated in authentic Irish music.

"I had a real passion for folk music," Martin says.

"[In Australia] we are more disconnected musically...Irish music is very commercial over here,"

"Over there [in Ireland] they are a bit more involved. Music is more involved and closer," Martin says.

In 2006 the pair welcomed their first child Patrick into the world.

The family lives with a rooster, two Kelpies named Kimba and Taya, a Chihuahua, a little eagle, a kestrel and seven trout all named Eric.

"If you can tell them apart you're doing better than me," Martin says.

This year Martin is hoping to create Hardanger fiddles from scratch.

"I'll really continue to make an income out of these strange, disconnected activities," he says.

"I would like to be performing more music, outside of the context of Sovereign Hill."

Martin's also been asked to submit four works of art in an animal and plant exhibition at the Ballarat Art Gallery in August.

"And I'm hoping to sell some art or a violin or two in the meantime," he says.

Martin Scuffins

Martin Scuffins