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Bam! Right in the kisser! – session one recap 1/2

Bam! Right in the kisser! – session one recap 1/2

It is times like these that make us really appreciate what it is that we contribute to the world. To be able to complete a two week course having made new friends, shared quality education in a nurturing environment with tangible results at the end of it all. It all began only a fortnight ago. Five participants threw themselves into the belly of the fire that is the Regenerative Biotecture Course. Unaware of the exact location and what exactly was going to take place, it made for an exciting adventure ahead.

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nimbin street scene

We met the students at the world renowned Rainbow Cafe in Nimbin, amongst all the colour and things that make Nimbin such a wonderful place to live. From there we all gathered around the hemp masonry throne, built by us at the previous Mardigrass festival. While there we had a chance to brief everyone about the coming fortnight and to find out from what area of passion everyone was coming from. It set a wonderful tone for what was to come.

It was then time for us to head off to the first secret location! The vehicles were lined up and ready to embark on a modern viking-like voyage off to the site. Six cars strong we set off through roads lined with rainforest, rocky cliffs and waterways. We finally made it to the foot of the property and we were heading for the mouth. Five kilometres through rocky, clay scrub to a welcoming dam, the size of a small suburb. The hill of abundance! That’s what they call it. A quick glance around will bring visions of free range chickens, sheep, cell grazing cattle, timber mills, large scale biochar set-up, timber plantations, large scale forestry and a morning mist that could turn a mining CEO’s heart to mush.

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morning mist on the hill of abundance

We were lucky enough to have been gifted use of this magical land as a canvas of earth-care education for these upcoming courses. We had a few goals that we wanted to achieve with the building of this structure:

  1. Build something that would be easy enough for people to replicate with minimal skills once they complete the course.
  2. Adapt the Earthship design concept not only for the subtropics, but for this particular situation.
  3. Make it affordable enough for someone with low funds to be able to build.
  4. Build it in a low pressure environment that prioritises learning over timeframe restrictions.
  5. Make it fun!
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crew having fun with bamboo

It was decided to make considerable material changes from the typical Earthship design. Instead of using rammed earth tyres and a concrete domed roof, we went for materials that are more breathable and user friendly. The building is going to have a superadobe base with load bearing straw bale walls and a living roof. This will allow for excellent breathability, thermal consistency and the overall longevity of the building.

It isnt the best idea to lock up moisture in a sub-tropical climate. The building has been costed at under $5000 for completion. That includes all systems and finishes. This makes it doable for many people who arent extremely financial. We loaded the course with onsite and offsite tutors. This allows for different forms of information processing. People who are more hands on in their learning enjoy the onsite tutoring. People who thrive on theory and exploring concepts benefit from the offsite lessons and discussions. This provides a big picture learning experience. Every morning began with a wholesome breakfast with meat, vegetarian and vegan options. From there Duuvy and Ian would brief the class on what the tasks for the day were.

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the fellas getting the site laser perfect

The first thing that needed to happen was preparing the site for the festivities ahead. For a building like this to last the distance, it needs to built on a solid, level site with good drainage. The first day was filled with digging and scratching the perfect pad, building a communal shower and setting up the campsite.

After a wold class feed, the crew got together for their first class which covered building with natural and recycled materials. This lesson was held by Duuvy Jester who has built homes all the way from Australia to New Mexico. The talk was held outside, beneath a giant hoop pine. the crew learned about the properties of different natural materials, the benefits of time, tricks in harvesting recycled materials as well as going on a drive around the property to do soil tests.

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duuvy explaining how the bond beam works

The following day brought sunshine and more productivity.

Now that we have a level pad, it is now time to dig the footings and lay the drainage. First of all we marked out and orientated the site so it is facing roughly 45 degrees east of north to make the most out of our winter sun. Then, using pins, a string-line and basic mathematics, we got ourself a perfect rectangle.

We used second hand army tarps and cut them to size to make a water proof membrane to channel the water. Then the crew scratched out the footings by hand using mattock and shovel. Ian had the laser level to ensure that we had perfect slope and depth. We then lined the footing with the tarps and filled them with gravel for drainage and stability.

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scratching out the footing

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foundation complete. (note the afternoon sun on the north/westerly side of the house)

The afternoon permaculture session featured Caroline and Sal introducing the class to phenology, world climate, humanity and the planets path through the galaxy. A wealth of information which lead into lengthy discussions about sustainability and life in general.

The following day marked the birth of the superadobe component of the course! After briefing everyone in the morning, half the crew went down the hill to harvest the fill for the bags. We found from our soil tests that the fill was made up of 40% clay, 2% silt and 58% sand. There was also some charcoal mixed through it too just by chance! The theory in that is that the charcoal will help stabilise the rammed earth as well as shorten the drying time.

The mixture was then wheel-barrowed over to the loading station where it gets shovelled into buckets and sent to the bag fillers. The bag fillers then fill and lay the bags before tamping them solid. the perfect solution to a cheap, natural, load bearing foundation.

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Ian showing Jamie-Lee how to lay the bags onto the barbed wire

Night times were great. They were usually around the campfire, laughing, carrying on, sharing ideas and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned soul food (Caroline and Rachi are wizards in the kitchen!). Dolph and Gilly are great hosts and make people feel most at home. Us Nimbin crew can be a little rough around the edges but when it comes down to it, you will leave with a smily tale to share.

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Jo and Jose enjoying a cloudless night around the fire

To be continued…

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