A waller and writer share their passion for stone

When social historian, Marje Prior, decided to call her publishing house, On The Stone in 1995, it had a double meaning for her Canberra based business.

The first related to her early years as a journalist when hot metal type was still assembled ‘on the stone’ by some printers. The other was the challenge she faced in developing her bush block on a rugged, steep ridge of volcanic rock at Killongbutta.

She says attending an early dry stone walling workshop run by Master Craftsman, Geoff Duggan of  Geogenic Landscapes, in 1999, gave her an understanding of how to work with stone when excavating her building sites.

“The basic engineering principles that I learnt from the workshop helped us choose and place the right shaped rocks, unearthed by the excavator, to strengthen and support the foundations for a pad that now provides access to a viewing platform with spectacular views over Killongbutta valley.”

Marje says dry stone construction is such a narrow field in civil engineering that it barely exists in Australia – unlike Europe where professional wallers regularly undertake large scale contract work and assists engineers in designing safe sections.

Geoff Duggan gained his qualifications through the Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) of Great Britain and is the only internationally accredited examiner and advanced instructor of this craft in Australia. Geoff, who is a board member of the Dry Stone Walls Association of Australia (DSWA), is advocating that the organisation adopt best practice to develop this ancient craft in Australia.

“At the moment anyone wishing to call themselves a professional dry stone waller can so long as they pay an annual membership fee to the organisation,” says Geoff.

“This puts the onus back on the client to assess the standard of the waller’s work, when in fact most clients and even some wallers cannot tell the difference between good and poor structural work.”

Geoff says overseas experience shows that a certification scheme is a proven way for wallers to demonstrate their skill and to aspire to even higher standards. Equally, it gives potential clients some certainty when looking to commission work from a professional waller. He says the scheme adopted by many countries is that of the DSWA of Great Britain.

Next month, Marje is hosting a weekend dry stone wall workshop with Geoff on her property at Killongbutta located between Bathurst and Orange. Workshop numbers are limited to 12 participants who will learn how to engineer and construct a small section of a retaining wall to the standards of the first level of a DSWA examination. On completion they will receive a certificate of attendance from Geoff and printed instructions on how to design and construct different types of dry stone walls. In addition, On The Stone is providing a wall plaque to recognise the group’s achievement.

Marje says she has an abundance of local volcanic rock, in particular basalt, on her property which has to be collected and placed at the workshop site. “These stones are ideal to work with because they have flat tops and bottoms which is something I always look out for. When I was trained we had to work with round stones to build a retaining wall which meant a lot of chipping to create a flat surface because these walls use no mortar and rely solely on the force of gravity and friction.”

“I have always been passionate about this craft and when I come across a beautifully constructed wall in the country it just takes my breath away, or I see the remnants of the retaining wall of an old bridle track built by the convicts, early miners or settlers. However, we don’t preserve these historic structures in our region and many of these walls have disappeared because of roadworks.”

On The Stone, which has now relocated to Bathurst, is providing each participant with a 20% discount gift voucher for staying at its river retreat following the workshop. The course includes all refreshments and meals, including a Greek feast on the Saturday night and free bush camping on site for those who want to bring their swag or van.

The workshop is being held on the 28 and 29 October and has already sold tickets to participants from as far afield as Albury. To book a place visit www.onthestone.com.au.

Contact:

Geoff Duggan ,  Mobile: 0409 122951 www.geogenic.com.au

Marje Prior,  Mobile: 0409 200616