If you haven’t met Kath Swansbra, you’ve probably seen her work. The talented cake decorator’s incredible edible creations are the pride of Parkes. Two of her sugar craft pieces are currently on public display. The Henry Parkes Museum is home to a sugar-art piece that Kath created as a tribute to our soldiers. The three-tier Anzac memorial is part of the museum’s World War I collection, and is even featured on the new sign.
Yvonne Hutton, President of the Parkes & District Historical society said that thousands of people have photographed the exhibit, and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has expressed interest in preserving it. “I think it’s one of the best pieces Kath’s ever done,” Yvonne said. Kath’s Elvis Festival Silver Jubilee cake is currently on display at the Craft Corner.
It’s an amazingly detailed design, topped with a vinyl record and surrounded by a festival of sugar figures, and even a candy pink Cadillac. “I think that cake used up all my ideas,” she joked. It is made on a fruitcake base, so the entire piece is edible, though cutting it would seem like an act of vandalism.
Kath got her first taste of sugar craft many years ago when she decided to decorate a cake for her daughter’s 21st. She enrolled in a cake decorating course at TAFE the following year, as she wanted to learn more techniques. “I just changed from making dresses to making cakes,” she said. “All the arts are related, if you’ve got skills in one field you can transfer those skills to another.”
She has been honing those skills for 32 years, and it’s fair to say she is now a master of her craft. The eight-time national champion won first prize in a cake decorating category at last year’s Royal Easter Show, with her Leather and Lace wedding cake. She has just delivered her entries for this year’s judging; a Christmas cake with a nativity scene celebrating the first Christmas, and a decorated hand-moulded sugar-egg that opens to reveal a ballerina.
Her cakes are works of art that represent hours of effort and meticulous attention to detail. Each creation takes anywhere from three weeks to three months – or longer – to complete. “You can’t always throw everything together” she said “there is a lot of drying time in between each stage.” Kath makes her own modelling paste, and uses a mixture of moulds and freehand designs. Her work is so detailed and delicate it requires a steady hand and the kind of patience that not many of us possess.
By Raen Fraser