WON­DER WALLS

RE­NAIS­SANCE MAN JOSH BOWES HAS BEEN BUILD­ING DRY-STONE WALLS IN CEN­TRAL VIC­TO­RIA SINCE HE WAS A TEENAGER.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS VIR­GINIA IMHOFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARK ROPER

Dayles­ford stone­ma­son and sculp­tor, Josh Bowes, is help­ing to re­build the old art of dry-stone walling in cen­tral Vic­to­ria, one stone at a time.

JOSH BOWES HAS LOVED WORK­ING with stone from a very young age — and the more weath­ered, and lichen en­crusted that stone is, the more he likes it. Josh is a sculp­tor, stone­ma­son and dry-stone waller from Dayles­ford in Cen­tral Vic­to­ria, and se­lect­ing just the right stone when build­ing a tra­di­tional dry-stone wall is not only his craft, but his life­long pas­sion. “My dad had a prop­erty at Kor­wein­gu­boora that backed on to the Wom­bat For­est and when he was build­ing a house up here, I came with him most week­ends from when I was about eight,” says Josh, now 35. “My dad was a builder, a ce­ram­i­cist, artist and fur­ni­ture maker, and he had done dry-stone walling on the prop­erty. I loved the look of dry-stone walls, so my dad got me in­volved and I started do­ing them my­self.” Dry-stone walling — a way of build­ing a rock wall with­out mor­tar — is an old craft. In Aus­tralia it emerged in the mid 1800s as set­tler farm­ers cleared their land of rocks, and then used them to make enclosures for their an­i­mals. It was the com­bi­na­tion of age-old tra­di­tion, ar­ti­san skill, prac­ti­cal­ity and the pic­turesque aes­thetic of dry-stone walls that all ap­pealed to Josh. “I am at­tracted to the orig­i­nal farm­ing peer­age, when it was a skill that most farm­ers had,” says Josh. “It’s the only form of ma­sonry that leaves the stone in its orig­i­nal form.” Josh grew up in outer Mel­bourne but moved to Dayles­ford to com­plete high school. He then went to RMIT to study land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture. “While I was do­ing that, I was driv­ing trucks to earn money, and started my dry-stone walling busi­ness.” Along the way he had a change of heart about his ca­reer di­rec­tion. “I dropped out of univer­sity. I didn’t want to end up do­ing con­cep­tual stuff; land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture wasn’t vis­ceral enough for me. I’m very hands-on and I like to be the one fol­low­ing through with the phys­i­cal­ity of it.” Josh has trav­elled in the South of France look­ing at walls, and re­searched the his­tory and cul­tural as­pects of dry-stone walls and re­gards them as a form of her­itage in the land­scape. “You can tell from the style of wall whether it’s been built by an English or Ir­ish builder, who have a cours­ing style of build­ing like brick­work.” At Yan­doit, a district near Dayles­ford that was set­tled by Swiss-ital­ian im­mi­grants in the mid 1800s, Josh has re­cently helped re­build an old stone barn, where, he says “you can see the dry-stone is more peas­ant, rus­tic-built in char­ac­ter, and a very dif­fer­ent for­mat”. The lo­cal stone can also de­ter­mine the char­ac­ter of the wall, and that’s where Josh chooses his ma­te­rial care­fully. “I of­ten like to col­lect stone re­claimed from a min­ing area,

“I’m very hands-on and I like to be the one fol­low­ing through with the phys­i­cal­ity of it.”

as it’s aged, and I al­ways look at the land­scape, and the house, and the trees that go with it, and pick a stone that is aged with moss and lichen — and that in­spires me.” His favourite stone is gran­ite. “I love its shape — it has a lot of facets, and is quite or­ganic and cre­ates a dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion in the wall.” Fol­low­ing tra­di­tion, Josh tries to work mostly with hand tools such as ham­mers and chis­els, and does a “lot of lift­ing”. Con­struc­tion starts with big stones at the base for sta­bil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity, he ex­plains. “The wall base is as wide as half the height. Then it’s a for­mula of over­lap­ping joins, with through-stones to bind both sides, and cop­ing on top to stop the weather from get­ting into the cen­tre of the wall, and to give weight to hold it down. I’m al­ways con­cen­trat­ing on com­po­si­tion, colour and the size of the stone.” Josh holds reg­u­lar dry-stone wall work­shops with Natasha Mor­gan at Oak and Mon­key Puz­zle at Spargo Creek, and has vol­un­teered his time and ex­per­tise to help re­build one of the re­gion’s many her­itage walls at Shep­herd’s Flat. “I’m try­ing to or­gan­ise ev­ery Thurs­day to work there, to cre­ate an ex­am­ple of dry-stone walls in the re­gion. It’s an idea we had years ago to have a sort of adopt-a-wall pro­gram and we’ve had kids from Wes­ley Col­lege in Clunes help­ing us re­build for the com­mu­nity. Natasha has of­fered a work­shop of three or four days where peo­ple can come for a long week­end and get lunch, and a ham­mer and chisel.” Josh also does stone carv­ing and paint­ing. Sum­mer or win­ter, most days you’ll find him out in the land­scape or in some­one’s garden, with a pile of stones and his trusty com­pan­ion, short-haired Bor­der Col­lie, Boots — “She trav­els ev­ery­where with me,” he says. “I love to cre­ate dry-stone walls more than any­thing else. They show a nice re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and na­ture, and it’s that thread of har­mony that I like the most.” For de­tails about Josh’s dry-stone wall work­shops, visit natashamor­gan.com.au. For more in­for­ma­tion, tele­phone 0403 591 042, or fol­low @dry­s­tone­jack­son on In­sta­gram.

ABOVE, FROM LEFT Josh care­fully se­lects each stone for a dry-stone wall at Oak and Mon­key Puz­zle; Boots, a short-haired Bor­der Col­lie, has a dip in Spargo Creek. FAC­ING PAGE, CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Josh carves a head­stone for a friend’s pet; weath­ered field stones are per­fect for this dry-stone wall in progress; split­ting a stone for a bet­ter fit; a stone be­ing put in place; Josh and Boots at Spargo Creek Mineral Spring re­serve, where he’s re­built a dry-stone wall around the spring.

Us­ing tra­di­tional hand tools is Josh’s pre­ferred method of build­ing.

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