Crescent Head couple James Galletly and Alicia Fox are building their dream home – out of straw.
The construction is a labour of love that has taken the couple on state-wide adventures sourcing recycled materials and the perfect straw bales.
James, a self-educated carpenter and cabinet maker, attended workshops to learn straw bale construction, which he describes as “the most mainstream of the alternative building methods”.
“Straw bale is actually one of the most common of the alternative house options,” he said. “I’ve learned that it has amazing insulation – both sound and temperature. It also has an extremely low environmental impact because it’s chemical free and is a bi-product of the agricultural industry. We are able to use an earthen render inside, which will actually improve the air quality.”
The couple’s home is built around a recycled timber post and beam frame. Straw bales will be stitched into the timber frame using fencing wire and rendered with clay and sand from the Goolawah property.
Gathering the right building materials has been more challenging than James and Alicia anticipated.
“We tried to source local straw but the bales turned up and, when we tested them, the moisture content was too high,” James said. “We’re now waiting on some bales from Woodburn in the Northern Rivers. The farmer bales up rice straw specifically for building with – it’s the best straw you can get.”
James runs a business building furniture out of recycled materials – a venture that has come in handy during his own building project.
“We’ve been trying to source everything locally and all materials are recycled except for two pieces of timber,” he said. “I’m on a first name basis with the local demolition crews and they just give me a call when they’re on a job. Many of the materials have cool stories behind them – the top floor joist came out of an old apartment in Port Macquarie and the ceiling is made out of the timber pallets we used as guest seating at our wedding.
“You start out with your ideals and you learn what you need to compromise on. We’d like to have earth on the exterior but we’re having lime because it ensures ensure longevity against rain.”
Alicia, a photographer, and James first conceived their dream of building an alternative house while travelling and observing the traditional building methods of South and Central America. They have also been inspired by stints of volunteering and working in Japan, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Indonesia.
“While we were travelling we looked at all the different traditional building methods we saw in the villages and drew them in our scrapbook,” Alicia said. “It’s amazing to watch it coming together all these years later.”
The building process has been made easier for James and Alicia by the expertise and assistance of their fellow Goolawah community members.
“When we were putting our roof on we sent out a text letting our neighbours know,” Alicia said. “The next day we had a roofing party of 12 show up to help us. Roofing parties are pretty common here – we just put on a lunch for the workers and they’re happy to give us a hand.
“Everything is a community problem-solving exercise,” James said. “My dad came up with the an idea to make our steel brackets, then we figured out how to actually create them before calling on our neighbour to weld them. We can also borrow things from each other like scaffolding, which really cuts down costs.”
Alicia said she had enjoyed rendering the earthen materials in the past and felt it was a way for women to be physically involved in the building process.
“I love the tactile nature of rendering the bales and getting dirty,” she said. “It’s a really creative process.”
“There are many aspects of straw bale building that make it accessible to everyone, even kids,” she said. Straw bale building is great for us. We have plenty of people coming to lend a hand because the building method is so appealing.”
James and Alicia plan to have their house completed in April next year – just in time for their honeymoon.
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