By Sue Jones.
The final DSWAA event for 2016 focused on old dry stone walls, with particular emphasis on old farm walls. The morning wall-repair demonstration, conducted by expert wallers David Long and Alistair Tune was undoubtedly the highlight of the field day. The DSWAA thanks local farmer and Fire Brigade Chief, Terry Hedt, for lending us his home paddock wall along Rothwell Road (dating back to 1864).
An information session brought together the views of owners, wallers, planners and those with a local history or heritage perspective, followed by a ‘round table’ session to consider potential directions for the Association.
The historic Little River Mechanics’ Institute Hall and Library displayed dry stone wall related pamphlets, books and reports along with maps for self-guided walking or driving tours to view other roadside walls in the district.
With an abundance . . . over abundance . . . of volcanic field stone, the basalt boundary and paddock walls are among the oldest settler-built heritage remains in Victoria and represent some of our earliest settler families on the Western Plains. Dry stone walls were built as a means of establishing boundaries, enclosing – and excluding – stock, protecting land for cultivation and clearing field stone for cultivation or pasture. Important remnants of the extensive roadside walls that once lined the approaches to Little River township can still be seen today, as can those on the roads into Werribee and on parts of the Geelong-Bacchus Marsh Road.
Although we are uncertain exactly when most of the rugged old walls of this district were built we know that most of the land was included in sheep runs from 1835 and was alienated – released for freehold purchase – from the 1850s. Most of the farmer-wallers are unnamed, an exception being the significant orchard wall built by John Rees, MLA in the 1850s, and extended by one of his sons, on the property still farmed by their descendants.
Many of the original dry stone walls in the district have been dismantled, often as a source of road building material and more recently for sale for landscape rock work. Little River residents can remember dry stone walls along Rothwell Road but sadly these were demolished for housing sub-divisions in the 1950s. Many of our remaining walls have deteriorated from accidents, lack of maintenance, unskilled modification and sometimes because of unskilled original construction technique. Stone robbery is an occasional problem in the district.
Little River’s heritage walls are already protected. The cities of Wyndham & Geelong have both introduced planning protection for all old dry stone walls, as have the majority of Victorian Councils with old dry stone walls in their municipalities. This blanket protection (Clause 52.37 – Post Boxes and Dry Stone Walls) was introduced into the Victorian Planning Scheme in 2007 as a short term measure to allow Councils to require a planning permit for the demolition, removal or alteration of a dry stone wall constructed before 1940. Demolition or removal to install a gate and reconstruction of damaged or collapsing walls undertaken to the same specifications and using the same materials as the existing walls are both specifically excluded from the requirement for a permit.
Clause 52.37 is intended as an interim control where councils have not undertaken a comprehensive study to identify walls and analyse their significance. To date only the Shire of Melton has amended their municipal planning scheme to apply heritage overlays to protect significant dry stone walls and dry stone wall precincts on the basis of a comprehensive study of their dry stone wall heritage.
In 2015 the Wyndham City Council released a study of dry stone walls in the municipality and is now seeking planning amendment approval to apply heritage overlays for the protection of this important aspect of local heritage. The amendments are intended to ensure that planning approval is required for any proposed construction, alteration or demolition affecting old dry stone walls to which a heritage overlay has been applied. This includes dry stone walls associated with existing overlays to include dry stone walls and dry stone wall precincts of significance.
Challenges for farmer owners of dry stone walls The DSWAA field day concluded with a ‘round table’ discussion of the issues facing wall owners in general, with a special emphasis on farm walls. Conservation of heritage dry stone walls on working farms provides a very different range of challenges for owners and planners to those experienced within towns and cities, particularly in urban development zones on city fringes.
In our discussion we considered:
- The special issues facing rural wall owners, such as the extent and condition of their walls, incompatibility with some modern farming practices, cyclical farm incomes, lack of access to skilled wallers.
- The practical values of adequately maintained/well managed walls as farm fence assets.
- The need for sources of information, skilled advice and practical assistance for rural wall owners to assist them understand and manage their walls. The possibility of providing, or facilitating, a dry stone walls advisory service.
- The small dry stone waller workforce, lack of apprentices and few opportunities for formal training in Australia (DIY waller workshops excepted) and the variety of standards of walling. The need for introductory waller workshops and demonstrations in country localities.
- The need for public education to spread recognition and appreciation of the heritage value of our old stone walls, with a special emphasis on reaching and engaging country and farmer communities.
- The need for identification of existing walls throughout Australia, perhaps through a survey of local governments.
- Whether statutory protection of dry stone walls would be sufficient as a solution. Some fear that a proposal to introduce statutory protection in other parts of Australia may add to the possibility of wall demolition. Others seem to regard statutory protection as irrelevant.
- Finally we agreed that the DSWAA Committee, in consultation with members, should take these points into account in deciding policy directions for the Association in 2017 and beyond.