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1 January 2009

Dry Stone Waller

ALISTAIR TUNE: We're in the western district of Victoria and it's an area significant for its dry stone walls which is a form of wall that's built out of the stone, the field stone in the paddocks. It's built using just the stone and no other bonding agents like mud or cement.

And I'm a dry stone waller and there's quite a lot of repairs in this area. I'm fixing up all the old walls, some of which are over 150 years old.

BERNADETTE NUNN: And what are the tools of a stonewaller?

ALISTAIR TUNE: Pretty basic tools: just a mattock or a pick just to clean up the area and dig out any stones that are in the ground; a couple of string lines that are strung up between the gap just to give you the line of the wall; and just what is called a mauling hammer or a mash hammer. I guess your hands are another tool, getting an eye for it and a feel for the stone.

I think this wall is late 1890s. It's probably one of the best kept walls in the area. It's only for small gaps like this which as you look around there's very few of.

BERNADETTE NUNN: How heavy would some of those stones be?

ALISTAIR TUNE: Possibly about 50 kilos I suppose, yeah, 40 or 50 kilos.

I'm just sort of putting the bigger building stones slightly closer to the wall, leave a bit of space to move about, and then just throwing the smaller stone to the back and rolling out the capping stones right to the back because they're the last ones that go on.

You have to build the wall from both sides just so you can see the face of each side, just to make sure you don't get any big holes or what is known as a running join which is one stone stacked on the other where the join runs up the middle. It's all about getting a feel for the stone and knowing which stone might go in where.

It's basically two walls leaning in on each other. It's wider at the bottom and it angles in to the top and through the middle it's filled with rubble to hold all the stones tightly together, and then on top is the copestone. The weight of it helps hold the wall together and stops it crumbling apart.

There's no modern technology that can repair a stone wall. It's all just basically hands, hands and head and time. To repair a section of two or three metres may take up to a day.

Back in the days there was probably six or seven wallers and they may get up to chain a day which I think is 22 yards or 20 metres so it's a fairly big effort.

Each stone is sort of just as important as the other., this is the hearting stone. You're just basically trying to fill up any voids between the rocks and wedge in between each rock so that if the ground does happen to move there's not so much movement in the walls.

And just to make sure each stone's firm and they're tightly packed in, so if you just drop them in there's a chance there's still a fair bit of movement so a couple of taps with the hammer sort of helps pack the whole thing in.

WOMAN: We were afraid that the craft and the art of dry stone walling was about to die in our country because the wallers that had been working in the region were getting old.

But now we see almost a renaissance in the art of dry stone walling.

ALISTAIR TUNE: I started off learning with an old waller in the area and doing repairs similar to what I'm doing today and that gave me the skills and the eye for the stone and started from there.

I guess I think of it sometimes as my job so to me maybe it's just a trade but I like to think I'm also a bit of an artist. No one wall's the same.

To think that it may be still there in 100 years' time is a good thing.

WOMAN: And you know if Alister mends your wall or builds a new wall it will last. It will be like the walls that were built 130 years ago. They'll be still standing in 100 years' time.

ALISTAIR TUNE: Lifetime guarantee so I hopefully won't be back to fix it up.