It was almost a year since the Hills moved into the completed Strawbale house at Whiptail. We were all excited to also have had the place approved and signed off by council before Sustainable House Day. Justin, he says, would have been quite happy to kick back with a well earned beer, but in Lizz’s usual style she wanted to share it with community. What better way to say “I am so excited to have finished building a straw bale house!” Then to take to the stage with a keynote in an Arts Ablaze Festival,  a regional celebration of arts and culture staged by Scenic Rim Regional Council. With 500 delegates attending the conference from all over the state Lizz and Justin took to the stage in the “Big Pitch” tent to share the PechaKucha presentation of the community build for Whiptail. 

Introduced by Phil Smith, an architect and MC for the afternoon they were away talking against a backdrop of building slides telling their story - 

“Justin: We are going to attempt to give you an overview of a project that took us 5 and a half years, in 5 mins. Let’s see how we do.

Lizz: Once upon a time,

Justin: As many stories go…

Lizz: A couple set out to build a house, that would nourish their family and community for years to come.

Justin: She said $70 000, I said 150, It ended up being 222 . She thought 2 years, I said 4, it took 5 and a half. We both said, have babies, or build, don’t do both.

Lizz: This is a story of worldwide adventure, romance and discovery.

Conch/nepal

Justin;  Romance? Yep - who knew I would trip around the world, freeze my bum off in the Himalayas with stone, help build a house in the shape of a conch shell in Denmark, a straw bale dojo in belgium (all while learning what it meant to build a sustainable house? )

Lizz: This is a story of passion and discovery that spans over a decade. And like all good stories it’s ultimately a love story, and of how dreams come true. Build or have babies right?

Foundations

Justin: We didn’t pour a traditional slab. A concrete slab may be quick and easy. But Taking more time we were able to reduce the amount of concrete by about 40%

Lizz: how can we built a straw bale house with over 270 volunteers, 70-80 percent recycled materials, up a 4WD track, while being off grid and council approved.

People

Lizz :A  home is more than the physical walls that hold up a roof. Home to me is where you can recharge, make plans and share love with friends and family.

Straw bale walls

Justin- We had so much interest in compressed straw bale walls. We have a bottom plate, top plate, and threaded rods anchored in the footings for compression and tie down.  We choose this method over post and beam straw bale construction as it uses much less wood and more straw, -a waste product from the agricultural industry.

Beams prep

L: The small amount of timber in the external walls was New Australian Cypress, 95% of the wood in the house is recycled, here we are dressing beams, bringing them back to life. Bringing them to a former glory. We used our local family owned hardware store, local materials - Think global, Act Local.

Family -Mum mixing mud

Justin: My Mum mixed mud, My dad sanded old casement windows, which we made into triple glazed units. Our nieces, nephews and brothers all joined us on site and we are grateful.

Justin: A community build involves many people - it involves training them , feeding them, providing suitable accommodation while they help for a weekend or up to 3 months at a time.

Us on top plate

Lizz: It involves all ages, capabilities and professions. Family can be a strong place for support but my breath is taken away when I think about the new friends, the random acquaintances that shared their love for this project, shared their skill, time and hope for a different future with us.

Sanding Lizz and Emmas

Justin: so much sanding working with recycled wood - we installed new double glazed windows for thermal efficiency as well as the triple glazed windows we had made.

Floor

Justin: According to the Australian government's guide to environmentally sustainable homes, concrete is the highest embodied energy material in homes. Our earth floor takes the winter sun and stores it. I had designed the house and our architect, Emma Scragg worked to incorporate more elements of passive solar design to give us a final energy rating of 7.5 stars

Lizz: We dug back to bed rock , laid gravel, hessian, then three layers of mud mix (sand, clay and straw) then sealed it with 5 coats of Linseed oil, thinned with citrus Oil. (itself a waste product of the juice industry)

Render

Justin -Outside render was lime for weather proofing, we stayed away from cement, metal chicken wire and artificial additives. The inside render was clay and straw

Lizz: Life without celebrations it's not a life for me, grab every opportunity to celebrate your life.

Pyjama party

Justin: got vols, make beer!

Lizz: We celebrated the site being cut, the foundations being laid, the walls going up, the roof going on and continue to celebrate this ongoing collaborative vision. Rowan had asked for a PJ party, why not?

Sunroom

Justin: At three years old Rowan was always helping. In fact as soon as he could walk he was working with tools, whatever we were doing. The sunroom was an alteration to plan.

Lizz: we had been given these massive glass doors, Justin put them creatively to use…….

Quirks

Justin: you can have so much fun building with natural materials, My little Stonehenge was a cavity formed by bush beasties, I could have filled it in but this seemed like more fun. Every straw bale house has a truth window, we want you to see what we made it from.

Lizz: if time little comment

Roof

Justin: New purchase was zincalume for the roof and 80,000L worth of stainless steel water tanks from Select Water Tanks. A local company Great investment for quality water management.

Bel muddy

Lizz: As Margret Mead says “ Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Lizz: Throughout the build there were always kids on site, collective parenting, always a role for everyone. This pole came from the wharf refurbishment in Brisbane.

North Pole

Justin:  This is my north pole. Carving it by hand, raising it with community, having a connection to where the materials came from for this building feels authentic. 

Matt and Saba installing kitchen bench

Lizz: we had 4 wedding anniversaries during the build, The kitchen table was my third gift and he even put a bow on it! ….during the build we saw babies born, friends married…

Slide solar

Justin: The site is completely off-grid. We managed to get second hand inverters, New BYD batteries 20KW and 7kW second hand solar panels (pre legislation change of course.)

Lizz : We challenged the idea of owning land, we challenged the idea that only trained professionals can build, we challenged familiar norms of what people are capable of and having children help build.

Final sunset

Lizz:  What can we say about dreams?-

Justin: Don’t ask for it to be easy ask for it to be worth it."

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Both sides of the story were told in a humorous banter and received well by the crowd. Andy Grodecki, long term support and legal member of Wild Mountains, was in the audience and said it brought a tear to his eye.