Neil and Elaine were among Australia's mud brick pioneers.
Elaine's sister had joined the mud brick revolution at Eltham, and in 1951 she decided to do the same.
The couple acquired a sloping bush block 80 feet x 120 feet in Eltham.
In those days a block cost about 50 pounds, at a time when Neil earnt about 6 pounds and 10 shillings as a surveyor's assistant.
The equivalent these days would be someone on $800 a week paying $6500 for a block.
"I had worked as a builder's laborer, but wasn't sure if I could build a house,'' Neil said.
"We had to cut a track in to the block first, because we were about 200 yards from the nearest road.
"As we dug into the hill to level a building site we used the soil to make mud bricks.


"We turned over the mud in a pit and added straw, then let it "marinate" for a week or so before using it.


"As we levelled the site, we built a room at a time.
"We dug the foundations by hand and mixed our own concrete on-site.
"You were lucky to get cement in those days, let alone pre-mixed concrete from a big truck.
"It wasn't long after the war, so some restrictions were still imposed, and everything was hard to get,'' Neil remembers 50 years later.

 

"The hardware store in Heidelberg had so little cement they would only let it go if you placed a timber order at the same time,'' he said.

Neil & Elaine building their first room circa 1953

"We made our mud bricks one at  a time in a sheet metal frame with lugs at the end for handles.
"It was all back braking work,'' Neil recalls.
Getting your mud the right consistency was the trick to mud brick making.
Women played an equal part in owner building from the start.
Elaine proved the most adept at getting the mud mix right.
Neil's first few fell to bits when he removed the mould.
"The trick was to dip your trowel in a bucket of water and run it around the inside of the mould... then they came out easily,'' Elaine said.

"Our bricks were 9 x 12 x 6 inches. We used to make 120 on a good day, but that was a hard day's work.
"We let them sit for a week before laying them in a wall, and found you couldn't make bricks after Easter because they took too long to dry.

"We moved into our first room about a year after we struck the first blow.''
How long did it take to complete the house?
"Oh, 30 years,'' Neil quips.
"We lived there for 30 years and raised five children.
"I got sick of it after a while and took it pretty bloomin' easy.''
The roof was made of packing cases, with rolls of malthoid on top for waterproofing.
Malthoid was a tarred material which came in one metre wide rolls, and is still used extensively in North America.
Neil and Elaine put down about three layers, and sealed the seams with a liquid tar-based material.
The house eventually extended to three bedrooms with a skillion roof and underground garage built into the hill.
"You didn't just walk off the street and apply fora bank home loan in those days.
"What loans were available did not extend to mud brick projects.
"It was Alistair Knox who finally got the banks to lend money for mud brick houses,'' Neil said.
Neil and Elaine have no regrets about their involvement in owner building's earliest days.
"It was worth it. Living in a mud brick houses was great. They're so insulated,'' they said.
"There's a great sense of satisfaction too. You can look back and say `I achieved something.'
"It was marvellous. We did it piece by piece as we had the money.
"The people who bought it from us eventually got someone in to check it out,'' Neil said.


"The inspector told them `You wouldn't knock that down with a bulldozer.''
Neil and Elaine have happy memories of their owner building days.
"In those days there were quite a few mud brickers and they would give each other a hand,'' Elaine said.
Mainstream society took a while longer to come around.
In the early days most people associated mud with pig sties, not family homes.
Neil and Elaine's kids must have happy memories of their mud brick childhhood too.
One daughter is 36 now and is living in her own muddie.

Email: Murray Johnson (byohouse.com.au)


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