Living in the ‘muddie’.

Once the mud brick walls were finished, the frames for the gables were nailed in place and the process of measuring, cutting and screwing down the second hand corro began.





Chris and Holly spent quite a while on this ladder adjusting the framing for the skylights. Two builders on a single ladder is still legal in Araluen.IMG_7611


Skilled crafts-people were engaged to fill cavities with wet earth i.e. mud was slapped into holes.WEHF1268

Trenches were dug for rain water pipes to the tank.IMG_7630

Shovels were used at critical places to avoid breaking the existing pipes – usually.  Hmmm!IMG_7649

The final piece in the jigsaw was glued into place. It had been kept in a ‘special place’ from when the posts were notched a little too vigorously resulting in the dislodgement of a tiny but nonetheless visually important wedge of timber. Only those who climb a ladder will ever notice but Chris would know if it wasn’t there – and would not sleep well.IMG_7670

And then began the Big Move….IMG_7703

Still a bit of a work site.IMG_7704

The only real way to transport a fridge in Araluen. Thanks, Red!IMG_7713

Good friends to help and Rob’s painting fits perfectly. Well done, Lorraine!IMG_7714

Chris insisted on putting my loom up. He was right. It would have sat in its boxes if he hadn’t done it….bit like the whole house really.IMG_7788

Trees were planted and the first guests arrived. Thanks Kathleen and Anna!IMG_7876

Dear friends of 37 years! Was great to have you Ken and Shelley!

Greg has the office / reading room he has always wanted,IMG_7994

and he has a beautiful view.IMG_8308

A bathroom.IMG_8003

The only wall big enough to fit another of Rob’s paintings. Eventually it will be on the wall!IMG_8004


A kitchen. Small but very efficient.IMG_7996

Our first House Concert. The builders at their ‘proper jobs’.IMG_8138

Mother’s day. Family and friends.IMG_8425


Aunty Holly!RREC0367

Billie is happy and so are we!IMG_E8592

Its winter now and we have been in the house for five months. It is a delightful space. Warm and cosy, light and airy with views from every window and door.






Details still to finish include trim around doors and windows, painting, lots of gaps to fill and eventually a verandah on the south, paving and pergolas.

Now for the garden……


Nearly there…

Although we had deliberately not set a deadline for completion, there was talk of ‘moving in by the end of January’. The first month of 2019 therefore saw an increase in activity and the phrases “We just have to do this…” and “We only have to do that…” were frequently uttered.

The open space of the house began to be partitioned into rooms as the internal walls arose under Holly’s supervision.


The small walls on either side of the wide opening into Margaret’s studio required quite a deal of cutting, shaping and notching – and a certain amount of faffing about (above). Holly can faff with the best of them, and was able to provide a grand entrance to Margaret’s World of Wool (below).


Not to be outdone, Chris got started on similar walls around the pantry opening (below).


With Chris suitably occupied, Holly took on the Great Wall of Araluen. Specialist assistance was required for the task, and Robin was called upon to lend his expertise i.e. working like a machine and keeping everyone on the work site amused (below).


Although a great worker, Robin is high maintenance and requires constant monitoring. Holly and Chris were responsible for checking his vital signs every 30 minutes or so and keep him hydrated (below).


A couple of young interns were also engaged to assist with the placement of mortar (below).


Although neither Chris nor Holly are at all competitive when it comes to building, there was certain jolly banter between the two as to which wall was superior, which required more skill, and which was likely to be completed first (below). There was also some healthy and respectful discussion as to the correct technique to be used.


The wall, situated between the hearth and wood stove, and the main bedroom was finally done by Team Holly and Robin (below).

IMG_7407.JPGChris however, working solo, had the distinction of laying the Last Brick in the house (below). About 1,200 bricks were laid in total. Fortunately no-one was counting at the time.


With walls in place, it was time to turn to details. The concrete floors required washing and sealing (below).



The pile of bricks adjoining the eastern side of the house of the house had almost become a permanent feature. Throughout winter there were numerous emergency dashes to the block in the dark to re-cover these bricks with the infamous black plastic sheets blown off by arctic winds during a storm that was certain to bring rain. Margaret and I will treasure those moments.

When the time came to move to these bricks to allow for trenching work, we considered numerous mechanical time and energy-saving methods – but eventually got Robin to do it (below).


Although we plan on having an open home, we have decided that doors will be useful on most rooms.


One of the many outside jobs to be completed included the downpipes, which Chris assembled (below).




With the Great Wall of Araluen completed, the wood stove could be installed (below).



Next the task of installing the internal linings of corrugated iron commenced. This involved hours of painstaking measuring, angle-grinding, pushing and screwing in awkward situations – but we think the final effect is worth the effort. Mind you, it was Holly and Chris who put in all the effort…(below).




Outside, the solar hot water system was hoisted aloft and attached to the roof (below). It’s obvious and Holly and Chris love working up there.



We’re nearly there! One more Council inspection and (if approved) we can start moving in! There will be plenty more to see in our next blog post.

Until then, here’s the view across the valley from our western windows.




The Builders Return

20181219_152358.jpgTo help speed up the progress of the build, we arranged for another Chris to help out for a few days. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on several details, and one of the them departed soon after.


Overhead fans have been installed in the living area and in the main bedroom. Roof windows have been installed to allow more light into the kitchen and Margaret’s studio, and to provide for additional ventilation when required in the warmer months.


The pantry ceiling goes up. Insulation has been used internally to help maintain an even temperature for food storage. The loft can be seen above the pantry, and the entrance to the bathroom at left.


While Chris prepared to tile the pantry floor, Holly attended to the lining. Chris usually wears ear protectors when working to avoid hearing himself think. Holly wears them for exactly the same reason.


Chris waterproofed the non-mudbrick walls of the bathroom with villaboard in preparation to being covered with corrugated iron.

Next came the bathroom ceiling, which provided a few challenges.img_6872

Holly’s ballet lessons finally paid off,


as did Greg’s weight-lifting sessions in the gym.

With the bathroom ceiling and wall linings under control, Chris turned his attention to tiling the floor with slate. Or slating the floor with tiles. Or both.


Several internal walls were awaiting completion, so Holly was back at her favourite brick saw to whip up some noise and dust. Note the use of appropriate safety gear from the neck upwards.


Holly instructed Phoebe in the art of mudbrick laying. Having an eight-foot tall girl from Lancashire to help out for a few weeks was very useful as we did not need to hire additional scaffolding.


The completed wall between Margaret’s studio and Greg’s reading room / library / study.


Chris installs the top plate on the internal wall and the door frame for the reading room / library / study



Chris lays the floor of the loft over the bathroom and pantry.


The loft will be accessible from the main bedroom (at left). Another louvered window will be installed in the end wall for light and ventilation. The black pipe is for the solar water heater.


Outside, the guttering has been installed – soon to be attached to the main tank


Meanwhile, deep-ripping has been undertaken outside in preparation for planting the Autumn garden. Thanks to neighbour Jimmy for the tractor and ripper.



Handy hint for owner builders: These hardwood height-extenders are extremely useful. Holly prefers a Size 10A Ironbark, but see your local sawmiller to get what’s right for you.


While musicians are away….

Chris and Holly (and Graham the third member of The String Contingent) headed off into the wilds of Australia on the 4th August to play music, compose music and explore our great land.


While they were away we bagged mud brick walls which was a dirty, wet and cold job necessitating the use of Bill the Farmer’s cast off overalls!



We organised for ‘Pat the Amazing’ to return and make the driveway and finish the earthworks in preparation for gardening.






And installed our little kitchen! Peter built the kitchen in his workshop and transported it to the valley. We decided to use hardwood for all the cupboards and he chose a beautiful Queensland spotted gum for the bench tops. All the cupboards will be painted but the bench top and the island top will be oiled and waxed.








Appropriately the swallows took up residence on one of our posts. Mud brick builders recognise kindred spirits.


Next post the Musicians return and things happen!


For some reason I omitted to post on the work Chris and Ivan did on the rafters. So, a retrospective post is in order.

Chris spent many hours calculating, with the help of a computer program, the position of the rafters and where all the notches would go in each beam.

He then measured and cut the beams and rafters on the ground, in exactly the right place for each rafter to slide into the cut notch of the side beams and the notches in the three huge central ridge poles.



With Ivan’s help the beams were placed in position one after the other. A few adjustments were made and things went along quite smoothly.





The eastern bedroom had been extended to allow for extra space and that proved a bit of a headache with the calculations. Chris and Ivan spent a few hours shaking their heads as nothing seemed to be working but finally put the beams in place and proceeded to question when and how it had caused so many issues. A perfectionist musician with a touch of ‘dog with a bone’ mentality and a former physics/maths/problem solver IT/teacher are quite happy to spend hours thinking and talking about angles and calculations.






Job done!

On their next visit the council inspectors wandered around looking up at the beams and rafters and finally asked,

‘Did you hand notch all of these?’

I know I have used this photo before but it deserves a second showing.


Great work Chris and Ivan!


And so to Lock Up.

The weeks of July sped by with a concentrated effort to reach lock up by the 3rd August when Chris and Holly would cease to be builders and once again become musicians. Each morning saw them, fueled by coffee, practise for half an hour, attend to the myriad of administrative duties that a travelling musician deals with and then head to the block. My main job was the keep the caffeine flowing, the morning and afternoon tea supplied and be the general dogs body around the work site. Greg spent a fair amount of his time holding things, being generally tall and useful, cooking most dinners and keeping the workers laughing.

I even got to lay some bricks….and a few small people came to play in the mud and ‘help’ by making mortar, nailing random bits of timber together and painting with mud.

Rob’s spent a few days with us, along with the small people, to cut more bricks and build two walls.

Days were spent alternating between bricking and roofing depending on if the wind was blowing or not. And it was very fierce at times!

There were some spectacular sunsets. But no rain. good for us builders but not for the farmers.

Chris found free insulation on Gumtree and we ended up with 36 bags of paper insulation to put in the roof. How to get it up there was the next question. One of my sleepless nights provided the answer and 3 old doona covers were called into service.

The method was very high tech. Pour the bag of paper into the doona cover, secure the end and then beat the living daylights out of it with whatever method worked best, kicking with boots or bashing with rakes!

Velux windows were installed on the south facing roof. These were to add light to the back of the house but also to draw the hot air out of the house in the summer and hopefully let a few cooler breezes in. Then the roof was screwed down securely.

On the western wall it was decided to have made two windows that were narrower than the ones we had. Once Chris and Holly had built the wall to height to accommodate the windows they stood looking at it trying to ascertain my height and if I would actually see out the window. They asked me to stand in front of the wall and tell them what I could see.


So, a layer of bricks were removed amidst much maligning of those of us vertically challenge. We now have two windows that both Greg and I can enjoy looking at the western mountains no matter what our height!


Peter returned to frame windows, put up door frames and hang doors and help get the windows into position. The south wall had two pieces of glazing that went in very smoothly along with the bi-fold kitchen window.


Then came the move of the HUGE northern windows to their final resting place. Four tall people, two short people, cardboard, a trailer and some strapping saw them in place by mid afternoon on a pretty windy day!

After years of storing them and moving them several times it was truly amazing to see them in place. They are enormous and will require quite a lot of cleaning. Should have thought about that one more carefully.

The next job was cladding the south wall with the second hand corrogated iron. Another Chris gumtree find. Once done there were several references to shearing sheds and such like but my plan for scarlet window frames should change that image a little.

And then a rather spectacular sky behind the little shearing shed.


And so we came to the final push. Bricking was finished, gable ends were built and covered with corro. The design allowed for the corrogated iron to slip in place beneath the fascia boards thus eliminating any need for trimming. Another great Ray Trappel idea.

Ash arrived on the last weekend and built half a wall of bricks while Chris and Greg put up the beams for the bathroom ceiling and loft floor.

The last things to go in were the two little louvres windows above the north windows to allow for the warm air to escape and maybe let a little breeze in too.

While all of this was happening in the last week I was bagging the mudbrick walls and filling gaps with mud and working on finishing techniques.

So… we have a house. Locked up and with plenty more to do but a house none the less.

None of which would have happened without Chris’ dedication and willingness to build a house for his parents. Nor would it have happened without the combined skill, commitment and  perseverance of Chris and Holly.

Rob, Lucy and Annie all helped at various times and it will stand as the family home built by the family for the family.

Thank you will never be enough…..

More to come!

Walls and windows…and a bit of roofing

Blog 01

With the ceiling in place – and more-or-less water tight – the end of June was time to get moving on the walls. Render was prepared, and trowels lined up in wait for the bricklayers.

Blog 02.jpg

Having previously contributed to the raising of the storage shed, Robin returned to lay some bricks and take over the Great Brick Saw.

Blog 03.jpg

Claudia also called in for a few days to help with the walls. Wire-mesh re-enforcing was laid between several courses of bricks.

Blog 04.jpg

Serious teamwork and attention to detail from everyone saw the walls rise quickly.

Blog 05.jpg

It was also time to start planning colour schemes for doors and window-frames. Artist-in-Residence Claudia was able to provide Margaret with some advice.

Blog 06.jpg

Meanwhile Lorraine took on the exciting task of preparing doors for future painting. Someone had to do it.

Blog 07.jpg

Although the region is in need of rain, the fine, sunny Winter days enabled building to progress quickly. Peter came to construct window frames and help install windows.



July was time for Chris and Holly to get back onto the roof to install the paper insulation, sisalation and corrugated zincalume roofing.

Blog 09

Blog 10

Blog 11

Windy days forced the abandonment of roofing and a return to the installation of the first windows, which began to define the internal spaces. Chris and Holly also got to work on the door frames, which were being painted in readiness.

Blog 12

Blog 13


Blog 14


Once the wind receded, the roofers ascended to compete the southern roof, which included the installation of skylights.

Blog 15

With Chris and Holly due to drop tools and resume their lives as musicians from 1st August, the pace of worked stepped up from mid-July. Mischa and Lucy came to contribute to the house by bagging the walls.

Blog 16.jpg

Next post we hope to report on work commencing inside the house!

















As the days grow longer….

The pace of building has picked up through the second half of June. The roofing layers of rafters, ceiling boards, water-proofing, battens, and fascia boards have been added, while down below the first trial courses of mudbricks have been laid.

Up on the roof



Electrical wiring was roughed-in, allowing Holly and Chris to move on to the next roofing phase. Fascia boards were installed around the house.


After spending countless hours clambering up and down ladders and scaffolding, and balancing precariously on beams and rafters, the intrepid roofers finally put the last piece of hardwood timber into the frame. The installation of the fascias on the front gable was a cause for celebration – especially as the measurement revealed that the frame was only 2mm higher than had been planned. Not bad for a couple of musicians building with bush poles and green hardwood! But then, those who know Chris would not be surprised.

The battens have been nailed down, and all is now readiness for the shredded-paper roof insulation to be inserted and the corrugated iron roofing to go on. If the weather stays fine, this should be completed within the next week.

Down below


Meanwhile, a single course of fired bricks has been placed in readiness for the mudbrick walls. Full-sized mudbricks (above) will be used for external walls, and half-sized bricks for the internal walls. The easiest way to make a half-sized brick is to apply a brick-cutter to a full-sized brick. Thanks to friend Joh for the use of this archaic but very effective piece of the machinery!


Using mortar made from the same material as the mudbricks – with about 3% cement and additional sand – several trial courses have been laid.



The next few days will see the arrival of various friends and locals to help with some serious brick-laying, roofing and painting. All being well, the next blog should reveal some significant changes!

In closing…


The sight of these two perched on the roof has greeted our arrival the house site almost every day for the last few weeks. As soon as the sun hits the block each morning and melts the frost, they’re back up there – usually staying until it’s cold and dark, and the wine and cheese calls them home again.




The beginning of June saw the departure of Uncle Ivan. He and Chris celebrated their achievement by shaking hands over the beams and rafters and performing the obligatory ‘Y’ landing.   DSC_0236

DSC_0237Ivan’s help has been invaluable and made a job Chris thought he would do alone so much easier. Work shared is always better.

June saw the return of Holly after a successful tour with Lucy Wise and Mischa Herman. Unfortunately Holly missed all the hard wood work which she much prefers to roofing. Can’t understand why…..

However, being the good sport that she is, ceilings, plastic and battens were part of Holly’s return to the work site.


june 18f


Based on Ray Trapell’s design Chris and Holly nailed the ceiling boards directly onto the exposed rafters from the top down. This means the finished look is neat and tidy without the need to finish off anywhere. Plastic is tacked and secured under more rafters, then insulation, then the roofing iron.

Greg and I, along with a couple of helpers, painted the pine ceiling boards with whitewash. The effect is subtle and adds a lightness to the heavier timbers.

It is amazing how the perception of space changes with each new stage of the build. The slab was the first piece in the puzzle, then the frame began to define the spaces a bit more. Now the ceiling is up the whole house has taken on a new demeanor.



Then came the plastic….. Hmm.

Plastic, wind, even a slight breeze, the ‘aliens’ (Holly’s name for the nasty sharp little fasteners designed to do fingers and feet damage) and working into the night tested the patience and endurance of everyone. And then Holly and Chris were hit by the dreaded flu bug.




june 18c

But it is all done now. Phew!

On the following windless day, Chris was able to stand aloft to survey their handiwork.

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Two special people enjoying a well earned cup of tea. Without their dedication and commitment we would not have a house!

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Meanwhile the valley continues to delight.


Next up: mud brick walls, insulation and a roof.

Can’t wait!


Posts and Beams

May 17 B

May 17 C

May 17

May 20 build

The middle of May saw huge changes to the work site. I vacated the valley for a quick trip to Brisbane to help Lucy move for her new job at The Brisbane Times.

When I came back posts had been notched, scaffolding erected and everything was ready to head skywards. Rafters and beams needed bleaching and ceiling boards needed white washing so I had work to do.

Chris made brackets and drilled holes in concrete. The big beams were in position.

Early one morning I waited for the truck from Braidwood with more timbers to arrive. It was quiet and cold and beautiful.






Friday the 18th May saw the arrival of half of ‘Team Uncle’ (see Chris and Holly Build a House) and in no time the southern frame had been built and raised.




Posts were next. Ivan spent a good deal of his time ‘post holding’. The traditional ‘Y’ landing was adopted when the first post stood alone and steady. Lucy was a bit critical of Uncle Ivan’s ‘Y’ landing but we forgave him as he had never attended Gym classes as a child so was lacking in that particular skill set.




The next day Peter arrived. Having already built his rammed earth home and being a skilled carpenter we now had added skills and knowledge for the all important beam raising.

Friday was a big day in more ways than one. The central post was the first to go up.









Next was the first ridge beam. After some adjusting of the height of the endless chain and three attempts (better to be safe than sorry) the beam was in place.




Ivan was the chain operator. Better than a gym work out!


The second beam required a little adjustment….



I needed to go to town and came back to all three beams up and in place.



With thanks to Peter for being with us on such a crucial day.


Two more posts went up, everything was secured and tied down and the weather continued to smile on us.




The Beards have it.


We can now walk around the spaces in our house defined by posts and beams and understand better how it all works. Ivan has been a wonderful addition to our building team (Chris) and we really appreciate the steady, calm and cheerful manner he brings to the build.

Greg and I continue to bleach timbers in readiness for this coming weeks job of  putting the rafters up.

So much change in such a short space of time.