Bush Toys (2008)

Bush Toys is a whimsical and historical journey into the art of Bush Toy making in the Central Desert of Australia.

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Bush Toys are made from scraps of metal, copper, tobacco and powdered milk tins, old horse shoes, small fragments of fabric and salvaged materials, stripped from car bodies found at rubbish tips. The copper wire is taken from wrecks (wiper, air conditioner motors) and stuffed with mattress foam, covered with surgical tape painted, lacquered and sold.

24 minute documentary
Nganampa Anwernekenhe Series 20
Writer/Director:  Sonya Dare
Producer:  Trisha Morton-Thomas

Chris Wallace from Santa Teresa (also a lead member in the Ltyentye Apurte Band) creates and sells Bush Toys through Keringke Art Centre – mainly horses and riders but he’s also created helicopters and other stuff with motors.

The Bush Toys are traditionally made by the male members of the Eastern Arrente tribe of Central Australia and a lot of the techniques used in making the toys have been handed down from father to son.  The Arrente, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara clans have been making bush toys and playing games from whatever is available in the desert for centuries. Before the arrival of Europeans they used to throw piles of flaming spinifex tussocks at each other. Later, old treacle tins brought by missionaries were filled with sand or gravel and pulled along by wire, depicting a sort of horse-drawn wagon. The toys made by Chris Wallace recall the era when Aboriginal people played a major role in the pastoral industry as drovers, saddlers, station hands and cooks. Aboriginal people were the backbone of the pastoral industry, as stockmen and horse trainers. There are miniature horses and riders, windmills and stockyards, helicopters and wooden ‘cars’ for children to push along or ride in. The toys are a source of great pride for the men who make them.  Chris says of his work, “We grew up with horses and cattle and later on, started working with them. When we make these toys, it reminds us of those old days.”

Chris had his toys exhibited in New York in 2004; the toys are unique and incredibly pretty and detailed.  Wallace said he had been making handmade toys for as long as he can remember. He often sits in the middle of a car dump and builds toys depicting stockyards from anything he can salvage. Experts say his strength is in the detail, which can be seen in the finely sewn canvas pack-saddles on his horses.

Bush Toys offers a whimsical insight into the passions and past times of those who live and work at the Santa Teresa, Maryvale and Alcoota Stations. Not surprisingly in the desert communities, whitefella toys from the big city stores are hard to find, so the children make their own. They’ve drawn on materials salvaged from TVs and wire and materials from swags and buttons and pretty much everything they could lay their hands on.

The film takes us through the whole process of producing Bush Toys.

1. Getting raw materials from rubbish dump and old car wreaks and whatever is lying around.
2. Making Bush Toys explaining process plus offering pieces of history and why Chris started making the toys.
3. We will explore the history of Aboriginal Bush Toys from olden times to modern.
4. The finished products and inserts of kids playing with Bush Toys plus Exhibition space at Keringke Arts at Santa Teresa.


Copies of this film are available from Ronin Films.