O'Connell earth building project wins National Trust heritage award

RESTORATION: O'Connell earth building workshop co-ordinator Angus McKibbin and Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz receive their National Trust Heritage Awards from Bathurst branch chairman Iain McPherson. Photo: SAM BOLT
RESTORATION: O'Connell earth building workshop co-ordinator Angus McKibbin and Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz receive their National Trust Heritage Awards from Bathurst branch chairman Iain McPherson. Photo: SAM BOLT

A JOINT Oberon/O'Connell project aiming to restore the region's historic buildings has received a heritage award.

Bathurst and District Branch of the National Trust presented its monthly heritage award for July to the project.

Oberon Council allocated a $110,000 grant from the NSW Government's Office of Environment and Heritage towards a series of workshops teaching O'Connell residents how to maintain and repair earth buildings.

O'Connell is believed to have one of the highest surviving concentrations of earth buildings in Australia, with some structures dating back to the early 1800s.

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For workshop co-ordinator Angus McKibbin, fond memories of playing in the state heritage-listed Lindlegreen Barn (built in 1827) as a child encouraged him to kick-start the project.

"I've watched the barn deteriorate over the last 50 years and after discussions with the current owners, we decided to resurrect the building before it was too late," Mr McKibbin said.

"There are a lot of earth buildings around O'Connell that have been demolished over the years because the owners had no idea how to repair them."

In late May and early June, Mr McKibbin ran three workshops for the O'Connell community, attracting an average of 20 people to each.

Mr McKibbin said restoring earth buildings is a process that uses traditional construction skills.

"We mix the dirt with clay, straw and sand to create cob - a natural material that is continuously piled on top of each other to mould and reinforce a structure," he said.

"Modern building materials such as concrete are unsuitable for these structures because the build-up of moisture causes the foundations to rapidly deteriorate."

Mr McKibbin and his team are currently working on four buildings in the O'Connell area.

"We've now got a great group of people around O'Connell with traditional building knowledge, and we hope to continue this project," he said.

Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz said Oberon Council was "in the process of developing a village plan with the O'Connell community, which will encompass a variety of heritage projects".