Published on 28 July 2022

Turning wood into wonder

Charlie Burbidge is making ornate wooden toys and other creations from his workbench at the Community Shed in the Aldinga Community Centre.

Woodworker Charlie Burbidge is a familiar face around the Aldinga Community Centre. He’s happiest when he’s busy in the centre’s community shed but, as he explains, his purpose is to put his skills to use to bring smiles to other visitors, particularly local children.

Charlie has been a member of the woodturners group at the community shed since it opened in May 2009. Not long before, Charlie and his wife, Kate, moved to Aldinga from Victor Harbor in his retirement from his career as a building and health inspector for local government. Throughout Charlie’s working years, he excelled in hand craftsmanship.

“When Kate and I were in Victor Harbor, I volunteered at the Encounter Centre where I produced bigger toys such as hobby horses and foldable dolls’ prams. When I joined the shed here at Aldinga, I thought ‘what can I make that’s useful?’” Charlie says.

Over the years, he’s crafted countless ornate wooden cars, trucks, vans and other vehicles to scale, donating them to the Aldinga Children’s Centre and other local children’s services and charities.

Charlie’s design process for the toys involves enlarging a photograph of a vehicle and gluing it onto plywood to make a pattern. Then, he uses hand tools and minimal machinery to superbly construct toys that are made to last.

“I believe in doing a job once and doing it properly,” Charlie says about the quality of his work.

“I want the toys to look like the vehicles the children see on the street. I get a lot of satisfaction from making the toys. I feel that I can make the kids happy,” Charlie says.

Coralie Dutka, teacher at the Aldinga Children’s Centre, describes Charlie as a “caring and generous person”.

“At different periods over the last few years, the children have had a lovely familiarity with Charlie. The children enjoy saying hello to him when we visit the community centre. Sometimes we take him toys that need repairing, which he’s happy to do for us,” Coralie says.

Coming to the shed has helped Charlie to form connections in the community with likeminded people.

“Working here helps me use my brain and share what I’ve learnt about building and carpentry over the years.

“I enjoy the atmosphere and being among friends, who teach me a lot of things too. The woodturners have helped me learn to make wheels that are properly round, for example,” Charlie says.

Jim Jaggard joined the Community Shed about a year after Charlie and is now the shed leader.

“Charlie’s a person who loves to put back into the community.

“He’ll help anybody with their project, and he loves a challenge. His craftmanship is incredible,” Jim says. 

The wooden vehicles aren’t the only things rolling off Charlie’s workbench. He’s made mud kitchens for several of the local children’s centres and, recently, a beautiful old-fashioned cart that sits proudly in the foyer of the community centre to display locally grown fruit and vegetables.

The vegetable cart was a joint project with fellow shed members Jeff Wrigley and Allan Fettke. It has brought together groups from around the centre. Community members bring excess produce from their home gardens to share freely on the table, while produce grown by volunteers in the centre’s community garden is sold at modest prices. The funds support other programs on offer at the centre.

“The men put a lot of thought into the cart. It inspires visitors to come over and have a look at the produce, much more than the simple table we had on display before,” says the centre’s Community Development Officer Jeannie Agostini.

Council’s Community Connections Officer for the Southern District Matt Adams says it’s the shed volunteers that make the programs successful.

“The shed allows people to come together to share their skills and learn new skills from each other. Friendships are made over morning tea and problems are solved, and that’s what keeps people coming back,” Matt says.

The final word belongs to Charlie, who credits his wife for his successful career.

“A big thank you to Kate for her support over 50-odd years. Without her help, I wouldn’t have had such great work experiences,” Charlie says.


For more information about programs and services at the Aldinga Community Centre phone 8488 2075 or visit



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Community shed participants Jeff Wrigley, Charlie Burbidge and Allan Fettke