Restoring An Australian Timber Slab Hut
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
During the restoration of Oldbury Cottage, we came to truly appreciate the exceptional construction skills of Australia’s early settlers. As we peeled back the layers of history, the versatility and clever techniques used by our pioneers became gradually more clear.
Berrima’s locals tended to use the closest materials at hand when constructing their homes. As such, Oldbury Cottage was built from Eucalyptus trees, felled on site using traditional timber slab hut techniques.
It’s not immediately clear, when viewing the cottage from the street, that it is in fact a timber slab hut. The vertically placed slabs have been concealed behind horizontal timber boards - a sign of the increasing wealth and improved conditions of the inhabitants of the time. This embellishment was possibly added by the Walkers, who owned the property between 1890 and 1960.
There was considerable debate about whether this cladding should be removed so the beauty of the original timbers could once again be seen, but it was ultimately decided best to retain this important element of the cottage’s history.
At some point, a 'Journeyman's' room was added to the western side of the original two room hut, but over the past 150 years it had been destroyed by the ingress of a Wisteria vine. All but collapsed, this shambolic addition afforded protection from weather to the western side of the cottage and became the source of much needed hardwood shingles and beams. These were used elsewhere during the restoration process.
With the lean-to removed, the western side of the cottage now clearly shows its beautiful original timber slabs. Interestingly, one inch thickness of timber slab is said to afford the same amount of insulation as four inches of brick or cement.
While researching construction techniques and materials, we came across this 1984 Film Australia production, which shows two Aussie axemen restoring Coolamine Homestead in the Kosciuszko National Park. It shows the artistry of the labour-intensive process whereby trees were felled, squared, then split into slabs.
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