Cumberland Vernacular report

Hession House at Rouse Hill Farm
Hession House at Rouse Hill Farm

Day 1 at Rouse Hill House, Friday 4th July 2008.

Mark Lillis, events coordinator at the Historic Houses Trust welcomed participants and wished everyone a successful symposium.

Donald Ellsmore, convenor of the APT Australasian Chapter introduced proceedings and chaired the day’s program. He reminded participants of the vulnerability of the building type and the urgency of finding ways to care for Cumberland vernacular structures.

Professor Ian Jack provided a first-rate introduction to the local vernacular forms and their functions on the Cumberland Plain. His paper provided excellent background for the papers that followed.

Professor Miles Lewis provided a contextual analysis of the principal elements of the vernacular built form and what it is that distinguishes the Australian vernacular from that of the rest of the world.  At one stage it appeared that the origins of the humble ant cap might lie in the form of the less humble hub cap but this, like the lehnwickel batt that has strong similarities with the Pluto pup, proved to be distracting illusion.

Garry Smith, who has obviously thought deep and hard on the nature of wood, provided very useful information about the properties of wood and how, today, we might source and employ hardwood in repairs.

Fergus Clunie has also spent a lot of time reflecting on the same and more as well. His paper dug deep and drew on the rich Rouse Hill Farm resources to provide a wonderful coverage of the principal jointing forms and the iron fastenings. He also covered iron roofing.

Simon Wiltshier, always the entertainer (and someone who clearly has plans to succeed Peter Cundall as the Gardening Australia presenter), provided a wide range of simple options for structural stabilization and repair.

Demonstration of traditional woodworking tools

Demonstration of traditional woodworking tools

During the long break lunch was consumed and the Rouse Hill outbuildings were examined while James Findlay and Graham Fall from country Victoria demonstrated the range of woodworking tools and their use. This practical demonstration of vernacular wooden building techniques added immensely to the enjoyment and relevance of the day.

Assorted traditional woodworking tools

Assorted traditional woodworking tools

In the afternoon two case studies, illustrated by Otto Cserhalmi and Fergus Clunie, demonstrated that there is no such thing as a lost cause whilstever the will prevails.  Their works to 1830s and 1860s buildings made the point emphatically.

Day 2 Field Excursion, Saturday 5th July 2008

The excursion to a range of vernacular building sites commenced at Rouse Hill where the precious Hession Family cottage of the early 1850s survives in a remarkably intact and authentic state. It is one the most useful examples to survive and a great place for research.

From there the group moved to Windsor to view several slab built barns and early cottages in the town and also to meet up again with James Findlay and Graham Fall whose woodworking skills and tools were being demonstrated at the new Hawkesbury Regional Museum.

In the late morning the riverside barns along Freeman’s Reach were inspected briefly.

In the afternoon more time was spent examining a number of barns in the Pitt Town, McGraths Hill and Mulgrave area. Each contributed to the greater understanding through their consistencies and their differences.

The excursion concluded at Rouse Hill House where it had started.



It was roundly agreed that the event was very useful. It should not be the last.

Assorted photographs from the two days can be viewed here, courtesy of Peter Marquis-Kyle.

Thanks to our partners for this programme, the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

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