Dry stone walls are sometimes a prominent feature of the Australian landscape and are found most commonly in our eastern states, the most notable areas being Kiama and Lismore in NSW, the western districts of Victoria and a few places in Tasmania.
The wall types built throughout the Kiama region most resemble those prevalent across Ireland and parts of Britain, where stone walls have been built for hundreds of years, especially in the Yorkshire Dales. Kiama is one of the few regions in Australia that used dry stone walls as rural fencing.
According to the NSW Government Heritage site, ‘it is said that Kiama's first dry stone walls were built by convicts in the 1830s and 1840s, but negligible traces of those remain.’
However, according to a letter (written by his son Thomas) published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March, 1936, it was Thomas Newing Snr. who built most of the stone walls found in the district. According to Thomas Jnr., Thomas Newing laboured on continuously for more that half a century, working for eight hours a day, six days a week.
Following is an excerpt from the letter written by Thomas Newing Jnr.:
‘In 1856 Thomas Newing arrived on the immigrant ship Anna Maria from Kent, England, and was engaged by the late W. Cook, of Kiama. Thomas worked all round the district as a ploughman and while clearing a very stony bit of ground at Foxground for the late Joseph Pike, he had to pack the stones in heaps. From these heaps the first stone wall in the district was built to fence a paddock. The fence proved such a success that the landholder had him build another line of fence. Seeing a good line, Newing determined to master the secrets of this trade and he soon became an expert'
‘My father died in September (August?), 1927, aged 95 and during the 60 years he was engaged in this work he built walls at Shellharbour, Dunmore, Woodstock, Jamberoo, Jerrara, Kiama, Gerringong, Foxground and Berry. It can safely be claimed for my father and myself that we build 95 per cent of these walls in the Kiama District'
‘No man in Australia, perhaps, has more stone monuments to his memory than my father.’
According to Thomas Newing Snr.:
'Stones are like people. Some are good to work with, they fit in anywhere, but others are cranky, you’ve got to humour ‘em. Leave them to one side a bit, and you’ll get a place for them all right.'
Nearly 400 stone walls have been listed as heritage items in the Kiama municipality. The walls that occur along the Saddleback Mountain Road have been repaired or reconstructed by volunteers using the traditional methods.
Books on dry wall construction, repair and preservation can be found at Kiama Library.
An image gallery of the Stone Walls is available.