A solid day’s work: the dry stone waller’s art

June 7th, 2024A solid day’s work: the dry stone waller’s art

Hepburn Springs local Jim Milesi reckons he may well be Australia’s only professional speech therapist who also works as a dry stone wall builder.
Caption: Hepburn Springs brothers Jim (at front) and Vince Milesi with the historic dry stone wall that they are restoring at Elevated Plains just out of Hepburn Springs. Photo: Eve Lamb

Hepburn Springs local Jim Milesi reckons he may well be Australia’s only professional speech therapist who also works as a dry stone wall builder.

It’s a part-time occupation that lately his brother, Vince, is also enjoying.

The Milesi brothers are currently working to restore a 30-metre stretch of an extensive historic dry stone wall on the private property of Trefor John and Tina Winzar at Elevated Plains just out of Hepburn Springs.

Running alongside the Hepburn Springs-Newstead Road, the wall is understood to be about 130-140 years old and one of many built by the area’s early Swiss-Italian immigrants who include the Milesi’s own forbearers.

 “This is a dream job,” says Jim whose love of the time-honoured art of dry stone walling started way back in childhood on the family’s Hepburn Springs property.

“We had some dry stone walling on the family property and I always liked it and started mucking around with it then,” he says.

Much later in life, while working as a speech therapist in Kyneton about six years ago Jim noticed a man building a “beautiful dry stone retaining wall”.

This observation would lead to him furthering his own dry stone walling skills by working alongside Evan Pierce, a renowned dry stone wall builder with Kyneton Dry Stone Walling.

“Every day was a master class with Evan,” says Jim who recently launched out independently as a part-time dry stone waller.

“I’ve been doing it for a long time but up until the last few years years I didn’t think I’d ever get paid to do it,” says Jim who’s also travelled to northern Italy and furthered his dry stone walling skills there as well.

For the current project Jim has been joined by brother Vince who has an equally surprising professional background for a dry stone waller – voice acting.

Many will have caught the television series Kitty Is Not A Cat for which Vince provided various cartoon cat voices, among his myriad other projects in the arts sector.

Currently taking a break from city life Vince is clearly enjoying working as a part-time dry stone waller as well.

“At the moment I’m enjoying a different pace of life and taking on new skills,” Vince says.

Jim says the stretch of wall that they’re working on at Elevated Plains continues the restoration of the wall started several years ago by accomplished dry stone waller, Josh Bowes.

“Dry stone walls are amazing,” Jim says.

“They provide a microclimate for lizards, birds, even bats. There is no mortar. They’re free-draining and, as a retaining wall, if they’re built property, they’re the best.”

 To restore the historic wall on the Elevated Plains property they’re sourcing the material – natural stone – from the site itself.

It’s physical work – pretty much a “full-body work out” – but it’s also good for the mind as well says Jim who has now built walls in locations including Yandoit, Daylesford, Buninyong and Rockbank, with local councils increasingly keen to conserve their unique heritage value.

“The concepts are simple. There’s not a lot of technical things to remember,” he says.

“I love them. In a sense this is a building form that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.”

With a fair bit more of the current wall to be restored beyond the 30-or-so metres that they’ve been engaged to work on, Jim says that if the property owners are happy for them to keep going he’d jump at the chance to take on more of this age-honoured art form that he loves.

“It will teach you patience. It will teach you humility,” Jim says.

“I appreciate that it’s almost thrusting mindfulness upon you. You can’t really be worrying about other things when you are thinking about what you’re doing on the wall.”

Property owner Trefor John says there’s probably about a kilometre of walls on the block, “some very dilapidated and some almost intact”.

“We’d love to restore it all but, realistically, time and funds are the limiting factors,” Trefor says.

“We’ll do what we can with what we’ve got. A drystone wall is a thing of beauty. A dilapidated or damaged wall is a sad thing.” 

Jim says he could talk about the art of dry stone walling all day, and is often in luck on this front as quite a few appreciative and observant passers-by have stopped for a chat.

“I’d encourage anyone who sees us to come and say G’day,” he says.

Words: Eve Lamb

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