A Tree Change – Life Change Part 3 – Building work begins

We’ve been following Chris O’Connor and his family as they extend an 1860’s cottage and build another house for his parents on the same block. In the previous two articles Chris describes his decision to have a ” gap year” in later life and move to Victoria to pursue his dream. It’s a beautiful story of how vision and possibility become reality. Let’s pick up this inspiring story………….

It had taken us almost two years to finally get the building permit we needed to begin the ‘Grand Design’ work on our little cottage in the Victorian Goldfields. Naively, I had hoped that it would have been just a few months. I had seen Kevin McLeod enough times to know that this was never going to happen but hope springs eternal.

It had been two years punctuated by the old adage of hurry up and wait! During the first year, a back injury and grappling with side effects of medications filled most days. As the fog lifted, I decided to join an art class to indulge a personal passion of mine. One cold morning, while studiously drawing two wine goblets, I overheard a fellow class member pleading for help with her small vineyard. She had a holiday planned but needed help to finish pruning before winter ended and the buds of the next vintage appeared. Having plenty of spare time, I put my hand up.

This would lead me to a new vocation as a vineyard worker, employed a couple of days a week. Whilst the money was very much needed, this meant that the building project’s time frame was going to blow out. However, with Mum and Dad now happily settled into a comfortable unit close by, maybe this was not such a bad thing.

So, after the long gestation period, the project finally got underway with excavation works starting in spring 2017. Again delays in excavation took place .My gap year was in danger of become a gap decade! The priority was to build the second house so that my elderly parents could come and live with us. Additions to the original 1860’s miner’s cottage would be stage 2 of the build.

By February 2018, I was preparing for the concrete slabs, from which the buildings would spring. I was fortunate to meet up with Tom, another ex-mine worker, who had skills and heavy equipment. Together we finished retaining walls, formed up the slabs ready for the concrete, supervised the concrete pours and dug trenches for the plumbing and electrical services. Things were moving along!

One element of the new buildings was the use of mud bricks. They would make up about a quarter of the exterior walls with the balance being timber weatherboards. Since we had to dig out a new courtyard behind the existing cottage we decided to use the dirt rather than cart it away. We like the organic feel of earth walls. Hopefully they would give the building a sense of place. It did provide a way for all the family to become invested in the project. Everyone can say that they made some of the bricks!

It was a cold, late autumn day when the first timber wall frame was lifted into place on the granny flat. It’s interesting how there seem to be a few significant, “milestone” days in any building project with the rest of the time seemingly passing in slow motion. As I was doing most of the work myself I have relied on family and friends to lend a helping hand with the larger construction work. Thanks guys!

It is now April 2019. A year since we stood that first wall frame for the granny flat. The building is getting quite close to being finished and the hope is that Mum and Dad will be moving in over the next month or two. There is still the cottage extension and the garage/studio to be built, but they will happen. I have watched other building projects start and finish while I plod along. I do have those moments of frustration about how long this is taking but generally I just feel joy in seeing the building take shape. This gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction.


28 April 2019 | Life-Style


  1. Nice story, thanks. Looks like it’s going to be a quite sustainable building Chris. Maybe in the next chapter…

    1. Hi Markie
      Thanks for your comment and engagement with Viva. A Great response to Chris’s articles so hopefully there will be many more chapters!

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