Building solidly in Queensland – Part 2
In TOB 177 June/July 2013, Phil Boué started off his article with ‘This is our ongoing saga of building and developing our block of land. It is not over yet…‘ A few months ago, Phil let me know that it was now indeed over. Unfortunately, the last issue of The Owner Builder magazine, TOB 222 June-August 2021, had already been published. So we agreed that I would share this update online, as it is a marvellous result.
Well, Jenny and I have been in our house for a couple of years now. Finally we made it – what a long journey. We are retired now and are really enjoying it all.
There are two balconies, east and west, and four spots around the verandah were we can sit and relax, protected from the hot summer sun and exposed to the warm low winter sun. The house has a few finishing touches needing attended to, and it’s slowly happening. We do veggie garden in the morning and are also setting up the low maintenance landscape. Jenny is really enjoying dressing the house up.
All the hard work is nothing but a memory – a good, very busy one. We often say to each other ‘how good is this.’ The house is nickname ‘Shabby Chick’ – Jenny is the – it’s warts and all rustic Australiana style.
We have achieved our main goal of remaining debt free. I have not done the final costing but, what I do know is, it took a lot of work from both of us over a 10 year period. We had $119,000 at start, bought the land, put on power, got a 12m shipping container and set it up living in, plus as store for all our working gear. Next we built the 12x12m barn shed and concrete water tank.
Then we finally started on the house. We both had jobs. I was a cleaner at Nanango SHS doing two full days a week in a split shift, so between shifts I did the house and building shopping, and worked on the house the other five days of the week. Jenny worked at Murgon SHS as a science technician in the science lab during the week, and then helped me on the house during weekends. So it was a very busy 10 years. Whatever we saved we put into the house; it consumed everything including our thoughts, conversations, money and activities, but that had been the plan so we stuck to it. We did not want to play the borrowing ‘game’ so we did it the old way; we worked and saved and bought the material, shaping it into our dream for the house and property. We knew that it was going to take a lot of manual labouring work, and again we were okay with it. When we moved in, we had a little left in the kitty so I bought a snooker table, to entertain ourselves with and we play nearly every day, and a wood heater to keep everyone comfortable in cold weather.
Week in, week out
The work varied. We formed concrete window frames, one a day for nine days. The 3500 mud bricks were made at a rate of around 60 a day, as I mixed them four at a time in a wheelbarrow by hand and lay them on the slab. About a week later I would flip them over and when they were dry, I stacked them up. We were under the roof so protected from wind, sun and rain and could keep busy.
The house structure is concrete posts and beams. I stood one post a day. I made one roof beam a day. When cured, the beams were lifted into position by a crane in one long 11-hour day but it all fitted like a glove. The next step was setting the roof.
The exterior walls are rammed earth to window top height and then mud brick to the top of wall, with all interior walls being mud brick. About 50 mud bricks were laid a day – I was on my own, doing scaffolding, stacking bricks, mixing mud, laying the brick and cleaning up. On weekends, Jenny would do the rendering with me.
My son, Reuben, cut the concrete slab back with a diamond cutting machine to expose the aggregate. Later, we finished it with a Livos oil; we are very happy with it, especially as it is easy to keep clean. We made the doors out of bunya pine. Jenny’s brother, Lloyd Miller, felled a tree and slabbed it for us. Along with his small crew, he also helped with the footings and slab pour, and set up the heavy timber feature in the kitchen as his ‘signature’ – we are so grateful.
The ceiling was the most difficult for me on my own up a high scaffold; I could only do two sheets a day. I’d set up the scaffold then battens, fit the insulation and then sheet of ply. My brother, Richard the stunt man, turned up for a visit and decided to paint all ceiling and wood work – what a great way to say that he was here!
Reuben always turned up at the right moment, when extra help was very welcome. Near the finish, he came again for a long visit and we started the steel work for the mezzanines, balconies and stairs. He was able to borrow a rolling machine from his mate Chris Carr and we rolled all the stair stringers and all the balustrade slats – some 400 of them. Then Reuben welded the twin spiral staircase in situ; that is his best piece of building to this day and it certainly gets noticed.
Make your dream reality
As the work went on, we took some time off for family visits and special occasions, and we did the Byron Bay Blues Fest four times as a treat to relax our weary bones. Recently retired, we are experiencing new freedom and liberties. We are happy, content and fulfilled; I am definitely older and maybe a little wiser.
A dream without a plan is only a wish. I recommend to all of you who have a dream and the capacity to fulfil it, to bring it into reality.
The original article from TOB 177 can be downloaded below. The entire back catalogue of 222 issues, plus a few compilations, is available in digital PDF format – remember to provide your email address when ordering.