Last week I attended my friend Alan Parkes funeral. Alan was a good mentor, a stonemason and sculptor. He taught me how to cut and dress stone, so that I could create all the sandstone features for my home, when I built it way back in the early seventies. I still have those stone masons tools that I forged all those years ago. I have Allano’s pitching tool, that he gave to me, I am forever grateful for his kindness and support. All the other tools I have forged myself.
I have been slowly building stone retaining walls for the new pottery workshop Pavillion building. It’s been a slow process, because I have had to dig nearly all the stones out of the ground myself over the years that we have been living and gardening here. When even I make a new garden bed or make a new orchard area, I have to dig some enormous sandstone floaters out of the ground. I pile them up down at the bottom of our land, until the time is right for some more stone work.
That time is now. It’s time to have some fun and in memory of Alano I get out my skutch, point and bucket of gads. I originally made myself 10 gads, back in the seventies, but when I get my bucket of stone working tools out from the workshop, I find that I only have 5 left, I’ve lost one at a time over the intervening period, so now I only have a bare minimum of them left. The first thing that I do is make another set of 10 more. That should see me out for another 40 years of quarrying and masonry work! Just like the last lot.
I set about breaking up the big floater that I cut in half a while ago, so that I could put the citrus grove fence right through the middle of that space. The rock just happened to be smack-bang in the way, so I cut it in half and cut up the piece that was now in the way and used it to make the lower part of the stone retaining wall that I plan to finish off this weekend. Using just my small 4 lb hammer and a dozen gads, I cut it up into 4 large blocks and another half-dozen, smaller blocks. They are really enormous lumps of stone and I need to use the tractor to move them to the site. The largest is about 200 kilos. It’s longer than the 1200 mm bucket on my tractor. I have to secure it with heavy snigging chains, to make sure that it doesn’t fall out of the bucket during the bumpy ride over to the building site on the other side of the kiln shed and pottery.
It is amazing what one man can achieve with just a 2kg hammer, a dozen small gads – and a few hours!
Using crow bars, levers, rollers, the tractor and the help of my good friend and faithful retainer, Warren, we build the retaining wall. In two days, we cut and lay 20 metres of stone wall and two sets of stone stairs. It’s great fun and ever so rewarding. We get so much done working together and we manage to laugh a lot while we are at it, even though the work is physically very demanding. The Lovely Janine is here too, supporting, passing, carrying, sorting stones, getting gravel and lime in the ute, raking up, finishing the details and finally sparging and cleaning our messy lime mortar work in the afternoons, once the mortar has started to set a little. The weekend goes so fast. It’s been really tiring but also energizing to be so productive in a free and creative way. We don’t really know what we are doing, but we enjoy doing it all the same. It all goes so well. Mostly because I spent the last two days before-hand splitting up the stones and cutting and dressing those blocks, then carting then onto the site in preparation. The largest stone is 450 mm high x 300 mm deep and 1500mm. long. It takes a bit of maneuvering to get it into place, but it can’t resist the hydraulics of the tractor and two crow bars.
Even though I have used, the tractor, chain blocks, crow bars. levers, wedges and rollers and a mate to help me. My back is still telling me that I have done too much. But if I don’t do too much, then I don’t get enough done.
We finish the job and are all cleaned up, well before dark. The Lovely had picked the 2nd picking of the early pink cherries. Yum! We need to be vigilant, as the birds soon realise that they are ripening and will clean out the lot if we don’t net them. But netting will have to wait for another day. Today we are being masons, not orchardists! The Gorgeous One manages to find time during the days hectic work, to bag a good deal of the crop, so as to allow it to ripen in its own good time and mature, before the pesky birds get them all.
As it is getting dark, we come inside for hot showers, a change of clothes and a well earned beer. For dinner we have a simple light meal of cubed silken tofu with todays fresh picked, early season garlic, some finely diced spring onion fresh from the garden, finely diced fresh ginger and a drizzle of light soy sauce. This has to be one of my favourite light meals.
I am someone who benefitted greatly from the generosity and good will of Allano Parkes. He left his mark on me, and inadvertently on this small piece of land of ours. I am really quite taken by the concept of self-reliance. So being taught to be able to dig up stones and turn them into a visually pleasing and environmentally sensitive, carbon-neatral, building material is a real thrill. Apart from the occasional use of the tractor to do the heavy lifting, there were no power tools used on this job. All the cutting was done using the small 2kg hammer and gads, while all the fine dressing was done using the bitch-pick and pups as well as the skutch hammer. We ache all over from the exertion and the use of muscles that don’t get used like this very often, but when we take the time to stand back and admire our achievement at the end of the day, they are all good aches!
fond regards from the part-time mason and his masonette