Those Dry Stone Walls Revisited by Bruce Munday

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

In December 2012 Bruce Munday first published the book Those Dry Stone Walls. It sold out four times and was reprinted with revisions. Those Dry Stone Walls is now out of print again. Wakefield Press and the author decided that rather than go to a fourth reprint a second edition should be written because a lot has happened since 2012 and there is much more to say about this otherwise obscure topic. Bruce and his wife Kristin, who is the photographer for both of these productions, set out on more journeys of discovery to find the history behind the various dry stone walls in South Australia and compare the construction of these with others around the world. Sometimes this was done by pedal power. The result of this is Munday’s latest publication, Those Dry Stone Walls Revisited.

The Foreword for this latest book is provided by the President of the National Trust of South Australia, Paul Leadbeter. In the Preface the reader learns that although the common belief is that these walls were built by convicts, most were, in fact, constructed or crafted by Scottish, Irish and English tradesmen often brought to South Australia specifically to do the job.

For this second edition the duo ventured further afield, but still within the state. A map of South Australia is provided showing their destinations. This book is not just a picture book. It contains text which reveals the early history of South Australia and the prevalence of stone naturally found here which became the major building material for most structures in the early days. The pictures provided are all of very high quality, presented on glossy white paper and though they attest to a functional purpose they also become works of art under the practiced eye of Kristin Munday.

In this 272-page book the photos of various sizes help break up the text which is full of interesting information. There are fourteen chapters which highlight the stone walls they have discovered. Within the first nine chapters are titles which give some indication of the locations visited. These include The other side of the Hills, Heading north, A long way from anywhere and The deep south. The title for chapter six intrigued me as it was called Why SA beer is best. I later discovered that this chapter is about the York Peninsula, and it appears that this part of South Australia can lay claim to growing the best malting barley in Australia. This area had many kilometres of dry stone walls prior to the 2019 bushfire.

Chapters 10 – 14 address the more practical issues of stone wall construction with titles like Walls across ages and stages, Getting stone, Doing walls, Follies and the more personal title So, you want to build a wall!

In chapter One, Munday reminds the reader that the first dry stone walls in Australia were not built by Europeans but by the Aboriginal people when constructing fish traps. They had no concept of using such structures to mark boundaries of ownership. He also clarifies his definition of the term ‘dry stone walls’.  For the purpose of this book, he sets out to discuss walls that spend their life untouched by mortar (7). It was enlightening to read that according to the writer, South Australia has a wonderful heritage of stone as a building material, yet little is mentioned of it in Australian history because that documentation was largely written in the Eastern States.

The reader discovers that in South Australia even though surface rocks were cleared away and used, with every pass of the plough fresh stones are exposed (122) and that some of the crumbling walls were recycled and the lime from crushed stones used in the making of silos (124). It is hard to imagine that some of the old walls were over a metre in height and some were one and a half metres across. It had also been said that you could drive along the top of these structures. Not something I would be prepared to try.

This book also contains some fascinating statements pertaining to dry stone walls. On a shearing shed wall were the words ‘God created this place in 6 days. On the 7th day he threw rocks at it (133). Elsewhere were messages like, Should the fire come up the hill from that likely direction, we will fight it on the wall (Barbara Wall – an interesting name considering the topic – reflecting on Ash Wednesday 1983.) and a quote from a settler’s Handbook in 1861, ‘They should be built by someone who understands such work, or they would be liable to totter down’ (208).

The reader can learn many facts about aspects of South Australia such as the origin of place names like Vatican Valley and the significance of the Goyders Line and the Pichi Richi railway track.

This book contains so much interesting information, and not just about dry rock walls, that it is a valuable resource to help while away many, many hours.

Have you ever wondered how many men it takes to build a wall in a day? Well, I found the answer in this book. According to this information it takes 800 (158).

The Epilogue of this informative publication begins with words from the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (255) and is probably an appropriate ending to my review.

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

Till it’s gone.

Those Dry Stone Walls Revisited


by Bruce Munday

Photographs by Kristin Munday

Wakefield Press


$49.99; 272pp

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