Restoring Heritage Properties is a dying Art but Graham is determined to pass on the Tradition

Interesting but also alarming with so much property now owned by foreigners particularly in Tasmania do

-any of the new owners have any appreciation of the value of Australian Heritage?

-any of the new owners have any intentions of continuing to preserve the historic heritage of their properties?

DO any of the new owners intend to remove past references, and place upon the landscape their identity … after all they say …

-we all but obliterated the Aboriginal Heritage
-we in the west have for the last 500 years done this, and now it’s their turn!

WILL they do what they like?

We (that is our governments) have allowed them to buy just about anything and everything!

Restoring heritage properties is a dying art but Graham is determined to pass on the tradition

By Edith Bevin

23 NOVEMBER 2019

Builder Graham Green standing in front of a heritage cottage under renovation

PHOTO: Graham Green is working on the restoration of the miller’s cottage in the historic Tasmanian town of Oatlands. (ABC News: Edith Bevin)

There is a growing market in historic building restoration across the country, but very few people know the heritage techniques needed to do the work — and those who have the skills are retiring.

Key points:

  • There is strong market in restoring heritage buildings across Tasmania
  • The number of tradespeople with the skills needed to do the restorations is decreasing
  • A new project in Tasmania is aiming to convince young apprentices to learn heritage techniques

Graham Green said he sometimes, “feels like the last man standing”.

“Particularly in terms of taking on the bigger heritage jobs,” the Tasmanian said.

Mr Green is a bushman, and one of only a handful of tradespeople left in the country who know how to select the right timber and craft it into roof shingles to maintain the grandeur of Tasmania’s oldest buildings.

Heritage builder Graham Green using old tools to chop wood for roof shingles

PHOTO: Graham Green is keen to pass his skills on to others. (ABC News: Edith Bevin)

“There is probably more work than you’d expect, and I can never fulfil the orders that I get,” Mr Green said.

“It’s very niche for sure, but nonetheless there will always be a call for it.

Even if it just comes down to keeping a few iconic buildings in the state in their original sort of character.

“I feel some sort of responsibility in that I’ve been taught by a Tasmanian bushman to pass those skills on, and hence I thought the time is right, as I’m getting older, to pass the skills on and do some training.”

Skilled heritage tradespeople ‘getting fewer and fewer’

It is not just shingles where the demand for heritage skills is growing.

Making and applying lime mortar and washes, replacing and repairing skirting boards and dado — the lower part of a wall that is given a decorative treatment — and applying heritage wallpaper are among the other skills identified as being in danger of dying out.

The Heritage Trade Skills project hopes to stop the extinction of the dying skills by providing opportunities for young tradespeople to learn from the masters.

It is the brainchild of the Tasmanian Building and Construction Industry Training Board and has the backing of the Southern Midlands Council.

The Callington flour mill at Oatlands

PHOTO: Oatlands has the largest number of sandstone building of any town in Australia. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)

Heritage projects officer Alan Townsend said the Council had first become concerned about disappearing skills a decade ago.

“Council identified there was a real need within Tasmania and Australia generally to identify heritage skills that were on the wane and find a way to maintain those skills and pass them on to the next generation,” he said.

“You can find the people but they are getting fewer and fewer as time goes by and the real issue these days is that its very hard to find a way that those people can pass those skills on to the next generation.”

Hometown provides inspiration for young tradie

The project’s facilitator, Andrew Jones, said “untold damage” could be caused to the state’s heritage buildings if people were not skilled up.

But he said while there was plenty of work for those who know heritage techniques, interesting young tradies in the area was still a challenge.

“If you can’t work on heritage properties there are so many jobs that you have to turn down,” he said.

“So we’re really [wanting] tradespeople to say, ‘Yes, I’ll come along and do this course and I can just do so much more work in this state’.”

Heritage construction apprentice Jai Webber making roof shingles with builder Graham Green

PHOTO: Tradie Jai Webber says it’s a bit different using old fashioned tools. (ABC News: Rob Reibel)

Jai Webber, 22, is a second-year carpentry apprentice and one of those the Heritage Trade Skills project is targeting.

Jai grew up in Oatlands — a historical village in Tasmania’s midlands with the largest number of colonial sandstone buildings of any town in Australia — so he already has an awareness of the demand for heritage trades.

“Some of these buildings I grew up looking at … and to keep the history going with them would be the main thing, to preserve them as much as we can,” he said.

He is one of six young tradespeople from around the country who spent a week learning the art of making wooden shingles to repair the roof of the old miller’s cottage in Oatlands.

Old Miller's Cottage under renovation and windmill in Oatlands, Tasmania

PHOTO: The old miller’s cottage at Oatlands is part of the town’s historic windmill complex. (ABC News: Edith Bevin)

After long hours splitting shingles the old way with a wooden mallet and froe — an L-shaped, axe-like tool — Jai has a new appreciation for just how skilled the work is.

“I suppose I’m used to using newer tools that run by machine, so it does make it a bit harder that way, using old tools like the froe,” he said.

But it is still an area he is keen to keep working in.

The Council and training board hope not only will Tasmania, and specifically the midlands, become a cultural hub of tradespeople skilled in the heritage techniques, but also a centre of excellence where people come from around Australia and the world to learn the old ways.