those dry-stone walls, stories from South Australia's stone age

those dry-stone walls

Stories from South Australia's stone age

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those dry-stone walls,
Stories from south australia's stone age

by Bruce Munday
photographs by Kristin Munday

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Dry stone walls are made from stones which are interlocked without the use of any mud or cement as mortar. Their quality and durability depends for a large part on the skills of the tradesmen, known as wallers, who built them.

The building of dry stone walls and other structures goes back a long way. Prior to European settlement of Australia, Dutch and French maritime explorers built them. Even the most simple man-made forms which have survived the ravages of time give a glimpse of Aboriginal or early European need and use for this kind of structure. Even so, these structures are not very old compared with those built by the Chinese, Romans, Khmer or the Incas.

However when it comes to stone walls made by nature we have the oldest examples on earth. Some of the most spectacular can be seen at Bunyip Gorge in the Gammon Ranges, Alligator Gorge near Wilmington, Glass Gorge near Blinman or Tourilie Gorge at Caroona Conservation Park.

Whereas the Aborigines used dry stone walls to catch fish, European settlers used them for the constructing of fences, stables, shearing sheds, retaining walls, sheep-dips, flooring, stone-lined water channels, wells, stairways, railway platforms, bridges and many other structures.

Getting historical data on dry stone walling in South Australia has been one of Bruce Munday’s biggest problems. Hundreds of kilometres of stone walls were put up for different purposes in different styles and of different materials. Most of the walls, particularly the dry stone type, have survived for some 150 years and according to Bruce Munday, will probably last for another 150 years.

Whereas pastoralists employed tradesmen to build the long dry stone walls, many of the shorter walls were built by farming families including the women and sometimes their children. After the great drought of the 1860s it was George W. Goyder who recommended to the South Australian Parliament that pastoral runs should be fenced. It would improve the conditions of both sheep and the land.

To write the book, Bruce and his wife Kristin traversed South Australia in search of these historic masterpieces, seeking answers and documenting their adventure. Their travels took them from the South-East and Mount Lofty Ranges to the Mid North, Flinders Ranges and the West Coast. During their journey they gained not only insights into rural life and its history, they also visited hundreds of walls, noted the different materials used in their construction and learned something about the early wallers.

Some of the early stone wallers they learned about were Johann August Staude, Levi Cooper, Levi Meakins and Patrick O’Grady. Staude arrived on the Skjold from Prussia in 1841 as a four year old orphan. Just before the ship left Hamburg both his mother and grandmother died. During the voyage his father and brother were among the fifty-two migrants who died at sea. Johann and his surviving brother were taken in by the German community at Angaston until, as a youth he moved to Keyneton Station.

He eventually married and had a family of his own which he took to Keith. It was here and at other places in the South East where he and his son Frederick built kilometres of stone fencing. Many of the walls are still in quite good condition and worthy of protection and perhaps rehabilitation. They are also prized by the Staude descendants.

Classic examples of dry stone walling were discovered, and photographed, at Old Canowie Station, Kanyaka Station, which contains some 50 kilometres of them, and the 60 kilometre Camel’s Hump Range wall. This last one runs from Farrell Flat north to Old Canowie making it the longest stone wall in South Australia and probably also in Australia.

Examples of other materials used in the construction of walls were found at the Willunga and Mintaro quarries where use was made of the abundant local slate for architectural and structural uses such as paving steps, roofing slates and other special items. Burra and Pekina provided good examples of mortared stone whereas nodular flint was used in the Lower South East.

Limestone walls are abundant on both Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas with more recent examples on Kangaroo Island at Six Mile Lagoon. What all these walls have in common is beautiful stone, craftsmanship and a story about South Australia in the early days of settlement.

The Mundays noted how in almost all cases dry stone fencing walls erected in South Australia were built from surface stone, as close as possible to the job. This meant less cartage and therefor a cheaper final product. Fences, which became added assets, also increased the value of the property and had to be paid for by new owners. Clearing the land at the same time made it possible to bring more land into production.

Today most materials used for dry stone walling come from South Australian quarries such as Kanmantoo and Wistow.

Far from being a dying craft, dry stone walling is enjoying a renaissance, continuing to make a statement across the Australian landscape. those dry-stone walls: Stories from South Australia’s Stone Age is rich with beautiful imagery of these walls and the stories behind them. It also includes some inspiring advice to follow in the footsteps of early settlers if planning to start building your own. The characters who built these walls and the enterprises they supported come to life in this remarkable and interesting account of the Mundays’ journey, as do the present day custodians who shared their stories with them. It also features South Australia’s remarkable ‘natural walls’, the quarries from which the stone was won, and wallers past and present who have demonstrated their craft. A truly remarkable story.

Review by Nic Klaassen

those dry-stone walls by Bruce Munday,
includes numerous colour photographs, glossary, end notes, bibliography and index.
It is available at $39.95 from
Wakefield Press

Telephone 08 8352 4455

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