Cover of 'Earth Garden Building Book'


of the

Earth Garden Building Book:
Design and build your own house

Judith Gray
Murray Hollis
Kath Gannaway

Kath Gannaway

   Kath is a senior journalist with Mountain Views Mail, a paper covering a large area in my part of the world. I first met her when she was a freshly hired photographer, and attended a writing course so she could write good captions for her pics. I was there because I wanted to learn to branch out into fiction after some years of writing 'how to' articles. Both of us have grown...

   This review appeared in Mountain Views Mail, 20th September, 2005.

installing a cart wheel as a window   AS THE name suggests, Bob Rich's Earth Garden Building Book is a down to earth guide for aspiring owner builders.

   Now in its fourth and updated edition, the book which Bob describes as an 'inspirational cookbook for owner builders' was first published in 1987.

   A psychologist and book editor who lives with his wife Jolanda at the Moora Moora Co-operative on Mt Toolebewong outside Healesville, Bob is not surprised that the book is still finding an audience almost two decades after it was first written.

   "It has a strong environmental focus and there is a new generation of people who are interested in being environmentally sensitive, people who are refusing to be defined by their work.

   "There's definitely a sea-change movement, under various names, of people in high-paying, responsible jobs, giving it away to earn a lot less money, and many young people who are choosing to go that way in the first instance.

   "Growing your own food, building your own house and being self-reliant is part of that philosophy."

   Bob, in fact, was a sea-changer long before Sigrid Thornton moved to Pearl Bay, walking away from his job as a research scientist with CSIRO in 1980 to, among other things, build his mud-brick home, write articles for Earth Garden magazine and run building courses.

   The house is still a work in progress and keeping in mind Bob's theory that owner builder houses are never finished until they are about to be sold, it may never be really finished.

   "I have no intention of selling," he observes, "this is my favourite place in all the world."

   The book, co-authored by former Earth Garden editor Keith Smith and with articles from various Earth Garden contributors, covers every aspect of building from the foundations to the roof with sections on mud-bricks, stone, woodworking skills, timber, doors and windows, creative recycling, the site, rammed earth, and a new section on strawbale construction.

   Bob says anyone can build their own home.

   "I started as the most impractical person on earth, not having been born with a silver hammer in my hands," he quips.

   The book is written with the novice in mind, in plain terms, with lots of diagrams and tables.

   "For any one starting out with building, it is a vital part of the tool kit," Bob said.

   Earth Garden Building Book -- Design and Build Your Own House, costs $49.95.

   It is available direct from Bob -- visit, phone 5962 3875 or write to PO Box 214, Healesville 3777.

   It is also available through bookstores.

Kath Gannaway

Judith Gray

   Judith and her husband Alan have run Earth Garden magazine for many years now. Judith likes to do all the book reviews. Here is her opinion of the new fourth edition of the Building Book:

Judith Gray   It's back! The long-awaited, updated version of the Australian owner-building classic. This is the ultimate practical guide to low cost building. From mud and stone to straw, it's all there in a no fuss, simple format. This book was first published in 1987 and since then has been in hot demand. The strength of the book is its detailed diagrams and photographs.

   Bob and Keith set out to teach the inexperienced all the fundamentals they would need to build a truly original 'owner built house'. So, where do you start? With a chapter on staying sane as you build. All the planning in the world can't save you from owner builder stress. That read, move on to design, safety on the site and setting up. Strong foundations are essential and this book is excellent for all the different methods of establishing your roots. Learn about making mudbricks, ramming earth and straw building. The chapter More About Mud is where you will get all the information you need on rendering.

   Earth and straw is not for everyone. If stone and timber are your bag you won't be disappointed. Learn how to split bush sandstone, build with bluestone, or perhaps make two face stone work. Then there's wood working skills and timber, post and beam construction, pole houses, building stud framed walls and, of course, flooring. Your house wouldn't be complete without a roof overhead or doors and windows -- and they're all covered.

   John Glassford's chapter on strawbale is true to the book's commitment to low cost housing. John describes his rather individual tyre footings using excellent diagrams, and details how to bale up a load bearing house. John is obviously passionate about his render. He believes there are serious problems associated with cement render, so recommends three coats of earthen render finished with a lime putty. Having seen his work I can say that the walls of John and Sue's place just 'hum'.

   The glossary of this book is just wonderful and well worth a read for starters. (Just to get a bit of bloke speak under your belt.)

   I'm glad it's back after too long out of print. This book truly is an Australian reference must-have for a whole range of specific building tasks.

Murray Hollis

cover of 'Practical Straw Bale Building'   Dr Murray Hollis has a background in physics, engineering and management in the university environment, and in recent years has developed new techniques of straw bale building and held numerous workshops. He also provides writing services to a wide variety of clients. He is the author of Practical Straw Bale Building, Landlinks Press, 2005.

   The Earth Garden Building Book provides almost encyclopaedic detail for the owner-builder who wants to use any of a variety of techniques. It is particularly strong in the areas of mud brick and rammed earth construction, which is not surprising considering Bob Rich refers to himself as a "mudsmith". It is well written, easy reading, at times entertaining, sufficiently technical and the text is very well supported by excellent diagrams and photos.

   Although they deal in substantial depth with methods and materials for various alternative building methods (particularly mud brick, rammed earth, stone, and some straw bale), the real strength of the book is in the tricks of the trade, such as the essential elements of practical job layout and woodworking skills. There is a lot of detail, from timber joints, to the purpose, use and care of tools, to constructing a dry stone wall; though, to keep things in perspective, they mention, for example, that "The apprenticeship of a stonemason in Britain is twelve years."

   Every owner-builder, even those with substantial experience, should get more than enough hints from this book to pay for it many times over in mistakes avoided, effective and efficient methods, etc. Whether you are building a house or pursuing a very small construction project, you should find it useful to consult this book. For tradespeople, the details of methods outside their specialty are likely to be of value.

   The book includes contributions from numerous other people on particular subjects-building blues, ant bed floors, mud bricks (cutting, puddling, mixing), straw bale, whitewash, bottle mosaics, splitting sandstone, etc. Although the authors have had plenty of practical experience to draw upon, clearly they recognise that they are not the experts in everything. They include a good 'Access Directory', bibliography and glossary, and it is well indexed. Mostly the book is about well-tried methods, rather than new innovations, but muddies should take note of "Bob's Bonza Brickmaker".

   The book covers every part of buildings from site layout and preparation to details of roof construction, with appropriate references to building codes, but sufficient technical detail is included in the book that there should be limited need to delve into the codes themselves.

   Every owner-builder should have this book handy. You will find this book to be a valuable guide, and it should become a well-thumbed reference book before your building project is finished.

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