A glen Innes saddler has made a remarkable transition to pastor at the Correctional Centre.
Mark Dawson whose workshop is on the side of the New England Highway in the direction of Armidale taught inmates how to work leather but found himself increasingly sharing his Christian faith.
In 2010, he was given a chaplain’s job shared between institutions in Tamworth and Glen Innes, and then one only in the Correctional Centre outside Glen Innes. He counsels inmates both spiritually and also about non-religious issues.
Because he is not an employee of the prison service, he thinks prisoners see him as being independent of it (though he is obliged to report confessions of crime or plans to break the law).
He said of both his jobs: “In both, you have to have an attention to detail, creativity, an ability to listen carefully, and value people”.
Mr Dawson’s association with Corrective Services NSW goes back over two decades, when he started teaching TAFE courses in leatherwork to inmates at Glen Innes Correctional Centre.
“I taught them how to make belts, handbags, wallets and other small items,” Mr Dawson said. “Unfortunately, leather has become far too expensive now for inmates to be able to afford.”
Mr Dawson was apprenticed at the age of 14 to a local saddler and he completed a rigorous four year apprenticeship before establishing his own saddlery in 1982, specialising in handmade Australian stock saddles.
“I was one of only two apprentices trained at the time,” Mr Dawson said. In addition to making saddles, he also turns out harnesses, bridles, belts, saddles and other leather items.
Things have changed in the past 40-odd years that Mr Dawson has been at the leatherwork bench.
“Materials have changed,” he said. “Where we once used brass for features, we now use stainless steel; where we made the tree – or main part of the saddle – from coachwood, we now use carbon fibre and foam, which is much lighter.”
A typical saddle can take between 38 to 150 hours to design and make, costing anywhere between $3,800 and $10,500, with clients in the United States and around Australia waiting for up to 12 months for one of Mr Dawson’s products.
While one of his proudest achievements as a saddler was being commissioned to make an authentic stock saddle for the Australian Stock Saddle Museum in Romsey, outside Melbourne, Mr Dawson believes his real work is with inmates.
“I love being there for people, just being a sympathetic ear to inmates and helping them find the courage to change their lives in positive ways,” Mr Dawson said.