In tune with life and land
From a concert pianist in Prague to a luthier and environmentalist in Quinninup, Tom Chvojka has made great changes in his life.
Tom learnt piano from a young age with his brother, but the reason he continued and his brother did not was because he had the patience to practice.
He showed unusual talent as a pianist in his early teens, which culminated in him winning the national piano competition in Prague in 1965 when he was 16.
“It was a special piece to me, my uncle loved that piece as well,” he said.
“It was Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor.”
He studied at the Prague Conservatorium of Music until his family immigrated to Australia for political reasons after the invasion of the Soviet Army.
Tom completed his studies at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, where he gained his Diploma of the State Conservatorium of Music and Licentiate in Music Australia.
In 1971, he won the Open Championships of the Sydney Eisteddfod, after which he became an active performer and a piano teacher.
After settling in WA more than 30 years ago, he became an Australian Music Examinations Board examiner and also joined the Western Australian Music Association, of which he became president for one year.
Tom has gifted the Lower South West with his playing on many occasions, including the annual Pemberton’s Got Talent, the official opening of the Sandra Donovan Sound Shell and the Cherry Festival Long Table Lunch. Tom’s shift to the Lower South West began with him purchasing a hobby farm in Bridgetown but it was too big.
“The main reason we bought that was really for environmental reasons,” he said.
“We were just keen to help the environment a little bit and we planted trees there. Some of those were part of a plantation, but most of them were permanent plantings and it’s still there.”
Tom and his wife put the Bridgetown property and their property in Perth both on the market at the same time and decided whichever sold first, they would live in the other house.
“But we sold them both and suddenly we had nowhere to live,” he said.
So after selling the properties about 13 years ago, they decided to move to a vacant block in Quinninup.
“We thought it would be a great place for a semi-retirement,” Tom said.
“We went straight into trees again and planted an arboretum.
“We also have about 40 acres of native forest, which also takes looking after.”
Tom takes great care in fuel reduction on his property to lessen the impact on the flora and fauna living in the forest.
“We do the fuel reduction manually here to make sure we don’t destroy anything living in the forest,” he said.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure and a lot of self-satisfaction.”
Tom said there was no money to be made on the care of the native forest but he did not mind.
One way Tom makes money is as luthier, which is a repairer of string instruments.
His path to becoming a luthier began as a teenager when he fixed up his late father’s violins to be sold. This skill was later reignited when he repaired a violin for his son after being unhappy with the quality of the store he had taken it to.
“My first big job in WA was fixing a double bass for a leader of Western Australia Symphony Orchestra, it had fallen off the stage,” Tom said.
It snowballed from that first job and Tom has now built up a steady clientele.
“I love everything about fixing instruments,” he said.
At the moment Tom is fixing a cello that had broken off its front and the neck snapped off.
It will be 50 to 70 hours of work, but like everything he is passionate about in his life, it will be done with great patience.
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