I caught up with Peter Phasey of Blue Scooter to find out more about his business and the wonderful old building he and his wife Tania work out of. Blue Scooter is more than a gift store, it’s celebration of cultural and worship art from around the world. You can tell that it’s something special as soon as you walk through the doors. You can feel a sense of meaning that’s absent from a standard gift or specialty store.
The reason you get that feeling, is that the items in the shop have been curated based on skill, beauty and symbolism. There aren’t any corners of the shop where go that you don’t get a connection with the items you find there.
If you talk to Peter you also find out that he is passionate about the people and the cultures that produce much of the art that is on display. I could see the enthusiasm pouring out of his face while he described the stone and paddle techniques that Indonesian women use to make the beautiful pots he was showing me.
Peter and Tania have been into Fair Trade since “before it was a thing,” and theirs and other like-minded people’s support of traditional cultural art is crucial for its very survival. Like so many occupations and skills, local potters in places like Indonesia are facing tough competition from mass produced replicas and cheap durable alternatives to traditional pottery.
Peter’s journey began over 20 years ago when he learned how to create garden art using molding and other techniques as a landscape designer and nurseryman. Buddhas and other zen styling were becoming part of popular culture at the time and Peter thought “no one is doing this in garden art”. He’d always had a fascination for worship art of all kinds and at the time he was right into Buddhist art so he started making Buddhist style garden art.
It took off and Warburton Artifacts as it was known, was shipping locally made garden art all over Victoria. Peter was offered the opportunity to set up in a room in the old Martyr’s Bus Depot building so he moved his workshop there from the nursery in town. It was there that a friend who was importing traditional artifacts came to buy some Buddhist garden art and suggested that Peter get into importing.
Peter and lacked the capital to buy stock at the time, but over a coffee he and his friend put together a plan where he would provide some of his surplus stock to sell in their shop and that’s how they got started in the importing business.
This gave Peter and Tania the opportunity to start to do more, which was when they started to look for art made by crafts people in villages around the world. Warburton Artifacts became a significant wholesaler of garden art to the landscaping industry and has now evolved into the popular Blue Scooter, attracting visitors from far and wide.
Blue Scooter focuses on sourcing items either directly from the makers, or from suppliers that are ethically connected to the communities that produce them. “We always try to pick other Fair Trade dealers that have some kind of connection to the area that they are dealing with.” There are hand-made and ethically sourced items in the store from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala and the Himalayas all arranged into galleries that showcase them beautifully.
“It’s like a theatrical production and the things that hit the stage are just the tip of the iceberg.” Peter says only half jokingly when describing the way it all comes together. I think that’s part of what creates such a great energy that you feel when you walk into the shop. You can sense the love and care that goes into selecting the items that are on show.
Peter is proud of that feeling the shop creates. “People say to me that I feel like I’m on holiday and that’s the biggest compliment we can get. We want it to be like a holiday or a journey.” And that’s exactly what they’ve achieved.
The old building itself has had a long and colourful history, Peter was unsure of the exact history of the place, but towns people have told him that in addition to being a bus depot that it had been used as a stable for the pub, a blacksmiths site, tourist information, bocci and bowling for WWII re-pats, Sunday markets and even had town dances held there.
Peter and Tania have been “Loving the place back to life” for the past few years. “We don’t like to use the word renovate, it’s more of a really intense maintenance, rather than a renovation.” He says with a smile. “We want to celebrate everything about the building that’s great.” And that’s what they’ve done. The building is part of what makes a trip to Blue Scooter so special. The super heavy-duty old floorboards and exposed rafters ring with authenticity and sit comfortably with the restorations that have been made to make the building usable.
The name Blue Scooter came from the iconic scooter design that became popular after WWII. It was after the full effects of the GFC had hit Australia and Peter had read a story about the aftermath of the war in Europe. Peter felt that there were some parallels between the mood of post war Europe and post GFC Australia. The story talked about how the scooter had become so popular after the war because they were cheap and small enough to negotiate the damaged roads and Peter thought that the now iconic design would be a good mascot for the business.
A new chapter is opening in the life of the business and the building as a new part of the ongoing restoration opens next week. Peter and his family have been tirelessly working on a new area of the building that will provide more space for beautiful things and it’s another example of their desire to breath new life into the historic building.
Rather than being a simple renovation the new area has been “loved back to life” using a variety of techniques and materials that enhance the character of the building as well as highlight its historical value. The new area also has some old restored windows that look out onto the river adding to the feel-good vibe of the place.
Creating Blue Scooter and all the restoration work on the building has taken Peter away from the thing that got it all started, making garden art. I took a peek in his workshop which is part of the building hidden behind a curtain, still in original condition. Now that the new section of the shop is finished Peter plans to turn his focus back to the workshop and to making garden art locally. The workshop will get the same treatment as the other parts of the building that have been restored. It will be turned into a creative space that is also a celebration of the character of the old building.
If you haven’t been into Blue Scooter then I would highly recommend that you check it out. If you’ve been there before, then you should come back and check out the newly restored area and new range of items on display. Blue Scooter is located at 3335 Warburton Hwy, Warburton and is open everyday from 10 am to 5pm.