It’s raining. Hard, freezing, Ashburton rain, but that’s a good day for Matthew Bird. It’s too wet to be at work so he’s home, with no interruptions, no chores, and his workshop is calling.

It’s hard to believe that Matthew has only recently picked up the art of woodwork, such is the quality of his work. He’s still amazed at how it all began. “I was going through a tough personal situation and happened to be visiting a friend who had just bought a beautiful rimu serving board. I loved it, but there was no way I could afford one, so I thought I’d make one.” It was a cathartic experience. He posted a picture of the finished item on Facebook and before he knew it, he had requests from people to make personalised signs and more serving boards. Nga Manu Wood Design was born.

Today, he has a steady stream of customers from all over the country, all Facebook generated. “As soon as I put a photo up, the orders flow in, but I still have to keep it under control. I need to be able to manage supply, and also be a dad. That’s my first job.”

Matthew grew up on his father’s property, Nga Manu Orchid, just out of Hastings – Nga Manu meaning ‘The Birds.’ “That’s us – the Birds,” he grins, “I wanted to continue the name for the next generation.”  Surprisingly, he says woodwork was not his forte when he was a kid. “I made things when I had to, but I was pretty rip, shit and bust. There was definitely no finesse about my work.”

On a larger scale, Matthew is also renovating his home, built in 1884, which has been a source of recycled rimu.  “The timber in this place is amazing – there’s so much history in it, you can feel it. To be able to recycle it and create something beautiful again is a great feeling.”

He collects wood whenever he can; macrocarpa, rimu, jarrah, blue gum and more. Nothing is thrown away; Friends and family let him know when they hear of a demolition, and often contribute timber. He currently has a number of old totara fenceposts from his brother’s farm in South Canterbury. “They were all hand-milled back in the 1890’s – imagine that! It’s such beautiful wood with an incredible history.”

His home and workshop are the ‘gallery’ where many of his pieces are displayed or are in everyday use. The 10-seater dining table was his first project working with recycled rimu, a bookcase followed, coat racks, a chessboard, a backing board for a hunting trophy and so it goes. Continued on our flipbook below….

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.