Cyril Jones - Piano Tuner, Restorer and Master Craftsman

Highly Commended - 2012 Bryan Kelleher Literary Award

In our travels around this vast country, one of the greatest pleasures has been the characters we've met. We encountered one such man in Cobar, western New South Wales. He was one of that rare breed of craftsmen whose work merited appreciation and admiration. Twenty years later we had the opportunity to meet him again, shortly before he died - still working at the craft he loved. With his kind permission, this poem tells the story our our first encounter, and is my tribute to Cyril Jones, piano man.

Piano Man
(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

It was just a small town, framed by hills red and brown
where our Outback Adventure had led,
and we thought that we might make a stop for the night
at a caravan park up ahead.
We'd no sooner turned in to escape from the din,
parked our camper beneath shady trees,
when a lively old man crawled right under our van
and said, "I used to own one of these!"

In the heartiest tones, he said, "I'm Cyril Jones
and I travel all over this land,
and this town of Cobar is the best base by far.
Come! I'll show you and you'll understand."
So he forged on ahead till we came to a shed,
and he threw the door open with pride
as we stopped and we gazed (we were simply amazed)
at the treasures residing inside.

Pianolas in parts spoke at once of the arts
of a craftsman adept at his trade,
and for many a year a distinguished career
right across this vast country he'd made.
He'd established his worth from Coffs Harbour to Perth -
a piano restorer of note.
He was often a guest at the stations out west -
didn't matter how far or remote.

And he told us right there of his great love affair
with pianos. "I would be remiss
every once in a while," added he with a smile,
"not to take on a project like this."
And the task, we were told, was restoring an old
pianola - the third he had done
for a man of renown who resided in town.
Then he showed us how he had begun.

With the greatest of care he had sourced every spare
small component he had to replace.
And he said, "I've got tales of the strangest of sales,
buying bits that I've needed to trace.
I have made many trips to find leather for strips,
and it's harder than ever before,
but the softest and best of the samples I test
comes from coats in the second-hand store!"

For my husband and me, it was easy to see
this man's talent was something quite rare,
and the work he had done, which was second to none,
bore the hallmarks of love and of care.
I have often been sure a piano is more
than a jumble of black and white keys -
as he tightened each string, you could hear its voice sing
carried out on the afternoon breeze.

He said, "Come if you can, and I'll show you my van -
it's more useful than modern-day stuff,
for it has to survive on the roads that I drive,
some of which are incredibly rough!"
and we had to applaud the old van he'd restored -
it was retro in colour and style ...
quite a functional home for a man on the roam,
tough and durable - mile after mile.

Then he said, "I began to get all spick and span
and I've got to get finished, real quick,
to be right for the wife, or I'll sure be in strife
when she visits - she's just a young chick!"
He'd established a store on the easternmost shore
and he still had connections in Perth,
and he owned a big boat, which he maintained afloat
in the north, where he rented a berth.

He could not settle down, wouldn't live in a town,
for the call of the road was too strong.
An Australian son, if there ever was one!
This is where he will always belong.
But it pains me to say we're approaching the day
when the travelling trades won't survive.
Will they vanish at last to be lost in the past?
Or will we keep their legend alive?

Now the time has moved on, several seasons have gone,
and I wonder what happened to him.
Does he still hit the track to traverse the Outback?
Does he still have his vigour and vim?
I would like to suppose he will be one of those
who will travel the road to the end,
for we'll never forget that grand day when we met
Cyril Jones - the piano's best friend!

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