Busst House

Client: Busst
Address: 71 Silver St cnr Kerrie Court, Eltham. VIC 3095

The building of the Busst House, which followed the completion of the Periwinkle, was, I believe, the most mature mud brick house designed at that period. It related with true understanding to its steep site and expressed the flexibility of earth building with sincerity and authority. It was a positive alternative to architectural thinking that was based on the T -square, the pitched roof and the stud wall. It exploited the flexible nature of earth to develop a new sense of flowing form and shape.

It consisted of two large main rooms, a living room and a kitchen area downstairs and a studio and bedroom upstairs. The entry to the house was made at an intermediate level; the bathroom and laundry were placed one above the other in a curved section of the house related to the entry. As it was a steep site, it was decided to bifurcate or split the house along the middle. This made it possible to walk out of the studio bedroom onto the bitumen and creek gravel roofing that covered the timbered ceilings and heavy beams of the living area.

At a time when standard building materials were at their lowest ebb, he [Horrie Judd] contrived to use what was available with character and direction. The problem of fascias, which curved sideways and downwards at the one time, was solved by lapping the double widths of six-inch by one-inch hardwood together in short lengths and butting them to each other, then trimming the curving lines with his tomahawk.

The curving sweeps of the upper ceilings were achieved by combining rafters that ran from side to side of the building and laying two-inch thick 'Solomit' on top of it. This flexible material was again weatherproofed with bitumen and creek gravel. Further rigidity was given to this packed straw ceiling decking by stapling eight-gauge fencing wire at right angles to the rafters. The building has been standing for 30 years and is as sound today as it was when it was erected.

Drawing Location: Unknown
Busst house showing the entryBusst house showing the entry

In Chapter 8 of We Are What We Stand On, Alistair describes the buiulding of Phyl Busst's house.

The two-level site was quite complicated because most earth moving was then in its infancy. It was the first time we were able to hire a crawler tractor to do the work and even this highly technological instrument finally had to stand back and await blasting operations in certain parts.

The drilling for explosives was done by hand, Les Punch came into his own on such occasions. He would start drilling into stone to a depth of three or four feet by simply bouncing a type of crowbar called a jumper bar, which he twisted a half-turn every time he hit into the stone. From time to time he would stop and insert a thin rod onto which a small spoon was attached at one end into the hole to ladle out the powdered stone his drilling had produced. It was a slow and painful process which could produce a callous on each hand for every foot of depth that was won. Finally, the dynamite charges would be laid and fired with varying results. Not infrequently, Les had to spit on his hands, laugh philosophically, and start again.

The explosions would echo around the quiet hillside and in a few minutes time odd-looking characters would emerge from the bush. They would look knowingly at the results, pass a few words about the next shot with Les as they sniffed up the lingering fumes of the blast, and dreamt about the day when they worked on the gold mines further up towards the mountains. Horrie Judd was now firmly established as foreman, and he and Gordon Ford, who prided himself on his sun-tanned body and fine physique, would toil side by side to get the site ready for pouring the new-fangled concrete slab.

Others gathered for making bricks. On the first occasion we discussed brickmaking, it was quite late on a cool evening. Neil Douglas, who was one of the volunteers, surveyed the stony-looking soil for a while and then announced he was going up the hill to where he knew there were some mushrooms growing. Neil was the true nature man of the group and the others watched him set off with athletic strides with a quiet, admiring attitude. They felt instinctively, rather than expressed, that if things really got bad he would be able to help them survive in the natural landscape. Neil disappeared over the hill and was forgotten as they discussed the contract price of the bricks to be made. It eventuated that he never returned. He indeed had a very good idea of survival. It had become clear to him that making mud bricks in that place could prove to be beyond the realms of sanity. His survival capacity consisted of knowing when to leave.

Earth building had always contained a strong physical labour content, particularly prior to 1950 before mechanical equipment of all kinds become a daily practice. The pinnacle was reached at the Busst House the day Horrie Judd and Gordon Ford poured the concrete slab. They mixed 52 bags of cement, with the appropriate screenings and coarse sand, into concrete, placed it in position and screened it to a reasonable finish in the one day. They scorned using a mechanical concrete mixer and concrete trucks were not yet available. The method was effective, but when it is remembered that this weight of material to be mixed and placed would be more than 20 tons, i.t gives some gauge of their physical strength and endurance. They first placed the materials in a dry state at the top of the slope and stood opposite each other with the heap between them. They drove their shovels into it and turned it over twice in a dry condition. As it rolled down the hill, the process was repeated after it had been wet down. By the time it reached the edge it was ready for placing. Underlying this vast physical effort were the inflexible wills of two strong men who would have died rather than admitted to each other that they could not have continued.

Keywords: mud brick

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