Art of making cowbells is slowly fading, but some are reviving its history | Ralph-Lauren

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The tinkle, clunk, and knock of a cowbell are familiar sounds to many Australians, but the tradition of making them is a dying art.

They also make a great introduction to The Rolling Stones hit Honky Tonk Woman.

So when cowbell maker Peter Robinson told his wife, Lesley, of his newfound retirement hobby, she was surprised.

“I said to my wife over breakfast ‘I think I might start making cowbells, not a great deal of people do it anymore’,” Mr Robinson said.

“There are a few who do a good job, but I’d just like to have a go.”

A tricky craft

Man looking at camera holding a cowbell.
Cowbells were used by drovers to control stock and allow herds and flocks to roam in unfenced pasture.(

ABC Rural: Anthea Moodie


The retiree made his first cowbell just three years ago after making his own anvil and forge.

Since then, it has been trial and error to perfect the craft.

“It’s been a long, hard battle because there’s no instructional material to tell you how to follow a course of action,” Mr Robinson said.

“A couple will give you a pattern, but the pattern doesn’t show you where to bend it and how to do it.”

Cowbells were used by drovers for almost two centuries to control stock and allow herds and flocks to roam in unfenced pasture.

But now they are rarely used in the traditional form, settling as decoration or hung on the front door.

A cowbell hanging on the front door with welcome written above it.
Cowbells are now more commonly used at the front door.(

Supplied: Evelyn Moodie


Cowbell history recorded 

That is what bell historians and co-authors of Bells of the Australian Bush, Paul and Eleanor Knie, believe as well.

Originally published in 2008, their book provided an insight into the rural lifestyle of pioneering Australians.

The couple spent two to three years travelling Australia down a path of history in search of cowbell stories and learning of its past.

A couple with a cowbell and book.
Co-authors of Bells of the Australian Bush, Paul and Eleanor Knie, travelled Australia for cowbell history.(

ABC Rural: Anthea Moodie


“They had them on sheep, goats, camels, and they even had them on turkeys,” Mr Knie said.

“This was a period of time where their livelihoods depended on the bell.

Dairy cow standing on dirt with cowbell around it's neck.
Not just for cows, the bells were used on sheep, goats, camels, and turkeys.(

Supplied: Bells of the Australian Bush


Mr and Ms Knie said preserving an important piece of Australian history was what motivated them to write the book.

“We recognised if we didn’t write the book we didn’t know who was going to do it,” Ms Knie said.

“These are just artefacts of history, but I think it’s always important to remember where you came from.

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