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