What are dry stone walls and why are they protected in the City of Whittlesea?
The town of Whittlesea is home to miles of historic 19th century dry stone walls and is one of the few communities with a conservation policy.
By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
The town of Whittlesea is home to miles and miles of some of the oldest dry stone walls in the country, dating from the mid-19th century and protected under the council’s planning plan.
Of the 23 Victorian dry stone parishes, Whittlesea is one of only 12 with a Conservation Policy.
As urbanization spreads to rural areas on Melbourne’s northern fringes, historians and councilors must weigh its value against development.
Today, the stone walls are protected as a Heritage Site under Clause 52.33 of the Victorian State Planning Framework and the Whittlesea City Planning Plan.
The City of Whittlesea requires a drywall management plan to be presented as part of any drywall building permit to ensure that it is preserved and, in some cases, restored while preventing actions that damage the wall or remove stones.
Each individual stone wall is then assessed for its significance in terms of monument preservation before it is included in the planning concept as part of a monument protection requirement.
Acting President of the Dry Stone Walls Association of Australia Jim Holdsworth is an architectural historian who works with councils across Australia to assess the condition and importance of dry stone walls.
Members of the association examine the walls for length, height, style and condition through aerial photo interpretation, look at old maps and physically drive through the area. They then identify which walls are important under various criteria and give recommendations as to which ones are worth preserving.
Mr Holdsworth said dry stone walls were worth protecting because they detailed geology and colonial history.
“They really do multiply from the town of Whittlesea to South Australia to Mount Gambier, because that’s the great volcanic plain,” he said.
“They talk about geology, about European history and settlement, and they are interesting aspects of the landscape – the style of the wall tells you something about who built the walls, if you look closely.”
In the town of Whittlesea, the walls were largely built by German and Scottish immigrants, carefully constructed from rocks of various shapes and sizes found on the ground to separate land and animals.
However, as wall maintenance is a rare skill and costly endeavor, and demand for development and infrastructure in the area grows, councils face a difficult puzzle, Holdsworth said.
“I admire what Whittlesea is doing to measure its walls and identify the most representative or best examples, but that still leaves an open question, what are you doing to obtain these best examples in the face of urbanization?” He said.
“As soon as you allow urbanization, the visual context of the wall disappears.
“If you look over hilly paddocks with those old river red gums, a beautiful dry stone wall that runs over the hill, it is a beautiful landscape.
“But when you put houses and streets and the whole thing in there, you say: ‘Well, forget it, bye dry stone walls, the landscape has changed so much, they are so out of context, they have lost their historical value? ? … There is no right answer, it is a difficult one. “
Whittlesea City Chair Lydia Wilson said dry stone walls continued to add to the landscape’s rich aesthetic and the council kept the walls in public spaces.
“The council has spent many years identifying the locations and importance of dry stone walls in our city to ensure that these important cultural assets are protected and preserved,” she said.
“While many dry stone walls are visible from the street, most are on private property. These are mapped with the help of light detection and distance images and then inspected to ensure that the information is correct. “
Council has also developed a phone app that will check the location of walls and help build a database of wall size, style and condition, which Holdsworth said was a promising move.
“It’s really pretty exciting because you can’t protect every dry stone wall in the country, but when you collect data from as many as you can, you can see which are the best examples and take steps to make sure they are protected” , he said .