Salt and Patience

Making Rope to Last a Century

Thomas Nichols of Bonshaw, a small town on the border of NSW and Queensland, must have been a patient man. Crafted in 1917, this rope required a process that took him several weeks. 

Made from the skin of a bullock owned by Len Mott of Llangothlin, a town 150km south of Bonshaw, the first step for Nichols was to cut the hide from the slaughtered beast and wrap it in salt. Rather than tanning the hide to preserve it, green hide was preserved with salt. 

After leaving the hide to cure for a few days, Nichols shook off the salt, trimmed off the remaining flesh and moved on to removing the hair. Scraping off the hair with a knife was one option, but he may have instead opted to soak the hide in a bath of hardwood ash and water, or a lime bath. After a few days of soaking, the hair would start to ‘slip’ from the skin so it could be easily removed using a flat stick. A skin that was de-haired in a lime bath would also need to be carefully washed.  

Nichols then stretched the hide on a frame for about ten days before he could, very carefully, slice it into one long continuous strand. Staring in the centre, he worked out in a spiral until the greenhide was finally ready to be used. 

To form the rope itself, Nichols fed two strips of greenhide through a metal ring which he attached to something solid, like a tree or rail. From here, he could begin braiding four strands. It likely took him two days to braid this 13.4m rope.  

Len Mott and his son, Hector, would go on to use this beautiful rope for many years of cattle work before donating it to the Glen Innes Historical Society. It is now kept as a model of quality rope making in a style that is now very rare.