Rammed earth getaway

Issue 29 Words: Emily Braham Photography: Liam Byrne
  • The 300mm-thick rammed earth walls provide excellent thermal mass to help warm the home.
  • The walls are made from orange road gravel sourced less than 30 kilometres away.
  • The house is small for better energy efficiency and the interior simple to limit unnecessary finishes and products.
  • Wide eaves protect the windows from the hot summer sun. The view is to national park on three sides.

Win a weekend away!

Adventure seekers and city folk have long sought escape in the Grampians’ rugged sandstone and forested mountain vistas.

But the close proximity to nature has come at a cost for the region in Victoria’s south-west. It was a particularly devastating fire which claimed the ‘tin shack’ on Janet Stephens’ property in Moyston in its rampant destruction of 130,000 hectares of the national park.

The loss of the shack, which sat at the eastern base of the region’s highest peak, Mt William, was visceral for Janet who had grown “incredibly emotionally attached” over the 30 years she had owned it. The family agreed any rise from the ashes would pay tribute to the majestic setting, taking cues from its gentle palette and minimising the environmental and visual impact. The roofline was “to echo the old shack with two skillion roofs going out each side”, and the breathtaking view of the 90 acre bushland property, bordered on three sides by the national park, was to be captured from the master bedroom window.

The non-combustible 300 millimetre-thick rammed earth walls that give the cottage its character originate just 30 kilometres from the site, “as local as possible but also the right colour”. Further bushfire resilient measures include the spark-proof blanket insulation in the roof; the fire-retardant window sills, set at least one metre off the ground; and planned metal shutters for the western side, which will also shield the house from hot afternoon sun.

Central to their combined efforts was a commitment to a small footprint, to limiting the use of energy and waste throughout the process and the reliance on basic passive design principles, including thermal mass, wide eaves and orientation for solar access. The cottage is off-grid, relying on solar power for electricity, and a combustion stove for hot water and heating, fuelled by a ready supply of dead wood on the grounds, with plenty left for wildlife.

Janet is generously giving away a long weekend in the cottage to one lucky reader. To go into the draw for the ecoescape, visit the Sanctuary homepage and subscribe to our enewsletter by Sunday January 18 – you’ll receive regular updates on sustainable design news, house profiles, events and giveaways.

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Cover of Issue 29
You can read more about Rammed earth getaway in Issue 29 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Creations In Parallel/Tom Gittings (Drafting)

Jerrard Byrne – Creations In Parallel and David Stephens – Sustainable Structures

New build

Moyston, Grampians, VIC


House: 97.5 sqm
Land: 88 Acres (14 cleared
and 74 native vegetation)

5 Stars – Built prior to 6 Star
minimum standard.

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