Heritage trades

Crafts and Trades

Crafts are traditionally separated from trades. The separation commonly reflects distinctions between home and work, and between women and men. Practices such as basket weaving were home based activities while ‘trades’ conducted in a separate place of work.

Trade Apprentices

Skills of a trade were usually acquired on the job through an apprentice system. An apprenticeship lasted five years, followed by two years as a journeyman tradesman. Tradesmen could be accepted by the trade guild as masters of their own workshops by submitting a ‘masterpiece’. This work displayed their best skills.

There were trade journals which would advertise to others in the industry good and bad practices being employed in workshops across the country, as guilds (that normally maintained standards for trades) were not a feature in Australia.

Types of Trades

Detail photo of Coach painting Detail photo of Coach painting

Tradesmen in timber construction were usually known as ‘wrights’, such as wheelwrights, millwrights and wainwrights who built wagons. Metal workers were generally known as smiths, including coppersmiths, tinsmiths, and blacksmiths who worked iron which was called blackmetal.


A large number of trades were associated with coach-building. Some of these trades were also important for carriage building in the railways at places like the Ipswich Railways Workshop. In larger workshops there were many specialised workers, but in smaller workshops tradesmen performed many of these tasks, including:

Coachbuilder  Wainwright, wagon builder  Cartwright, cart builder 
Wheelwright  Coach painter  Coach liner, who painted the fine lines and painted scrolls 
Coach trimmer/upholsterer  Japanner, who applied shiny black varnish  Teaser, who made the stuffing for padded seats 
Glazier, who made the windows on fancy carriages  Coach plater, who plated the nickel or silver door handles etc  Chaser, who engraved fancy metalwork 
Blacksmith  Axle turner  Spring setter 
Farrier, who shod the horses  Carriage smith, who specialised in the metalwork for carriages  Loriner, a blacksmith who made buckles for harness 
Tinsmith or whitesmith, who made lamps and other light metalwork  Collar maker, who made horse collars  Saddler 
Harness maker, who made the leather traces and straps  Whip maker   

Keeping Trades Alive

During the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries traditional crafts and skills were concentrated into larger workshops or factories. Machinery was introduced to speed up or replace traditional methods of manufacture.

Many older trades are now barely known. Some like ploughwrights who made wooden ploughs or fletchers who made arrows, have disappeared entirely.

Queensland Museum helps to keep heritage trades alive.

Heritage Trade workshops in activities like blacksmithing and saddlery are held at Cobb+Co Museum, Toowoomba.

Behind the scenes tours of the active blacksmith shop and steam shop are conducted at The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.