Claire Dunn: Targeting bliss

Jan 1, 2017


BAND OF MERRY MAKERS: Master archer Lars Richter, fourth from left, with some of his student longbow-makers.

I can hardly bear to watch as the once solid spotted gum floorboard that I have just spent two days whittling is strung up and asked to bend into tighter and tighter U shapes on a kind of stretching rack.

At the archer’s encouragement I pull down even further on the string and wince, fully expecting the death snap to come at any time. Amazingly, it doesn’t. With a few creaks and moans, the timber obliges, generously surrendering its once straight form to that of an archer’s bow.

I’m one of a dozen Robin Hood hopefuls attempting over the course of weekend to turn a floorboard into an English longbow. Made famous by the outlaw of Sherwood forest, the longbow is a powerful medieval archery bow about 1.8 metres long, traditionally used by the English and Welsh for hunting and as a weapon in warfare.

So far, it’s been both hours of elbow grease on the rasp crossed with exacting measurements in the process of ‘tillering’ – removing wood from the bow limbs to give it an even bend. Millimetre variations between sides can translate to a wobbly bow. Perhaps ‘getting your eye in’ with the arrow starts with this attention to detail, this gentle persuading of the timber’s quirks into an instrument of precision and speed.

For master archer Lars Richter, longbow making is about a lot more than hitting the physical target. A ‘wellness warrior’ and yoga instructor, Lars says longbow making for hime has been a path to good health.

“It’s a form of meditation and way to calm the mind. Many people resist taking time for themselves to meditate because they feel a need to accomplish something and have something solid to show for the time spent.”

“When you focus on creating a useful item out of a natural object, the quality and uniqueness of you is imbued in it and becomes one of the best forms of meditation.”

A figure of calm in the creative chaos, Lars also says archery is conducive to an increase in self-confidence, less stress and anxiety, better awareness of yourself and your immediate environment, and clearer communication.

It’s an unlikely scene – a German-born Australian sitting in a circle teaching grandfathers and young children, women and teenagers the ancient art of longbow making. Having guided hundreds of people around the country to make longbows, Lars says the craft connects us to ‘ancestral wisdom.’

“Little is passed down from the generations and that kind of knowledge is something that is irreplaceable.”

Eventually my bow bends to the final rung. With a nod from Lars, I head to the target with arrow in hand. The string brushes my cheek as I draw back and I pause, sensing the power in my hands, and the stillness of the moment. With an almost silent ping, the arrow releases into the air, soon after landing with a thud. Not quite on target, but there will be many more to come.

Lars will be teaching longbow making in the Hunter November 22-23. See

Claire Dunn is the author of My Year Without Matches.