Building a Bark Hut

Using bark from a tree to build a house is a craft not seen in these days of manufactured building materials and modern tools. It was not long ago, however, that Aboriginals in the Upper Clarence region were still using bark, saplings and vines, the only available materials. to build their houses.

The type of bark used almost universally was obtained from the stringy bark tree. Stringy bark was the best suited because of its straight grain: it was easy to remove from the tree and when treated was supple and could be bent into whatever shape required.

Removing the bark from the tree was an easy process. First the builder selected the trees whose bark was suited to his needs, He then would cut around the tree in two places, at an easy height and at the base. He sliced down the bark between the first two cuts and slipping his arm inside the bark eased it from the tree.

The next step in getting the bark was to cure it. By building a small fire from the outer 'woolly' part of the bark he had a means to cure the rest of the sheet. The curved piece was stood on its end over' and around the fire and a[[owed to dry out by the smoke and the heat of the fire. This would begin to straighten out the bark and would prevent it splitting. The sheet. once dried out. was then laid flat on the ground with a log on it and the builder had a flat sheet of usable bark.

When he had enough bark sheets to build his house, the Aborigine carried them to the site of the hut. Sometimes this site was prepared beforehand by laying down a 'cement' floor made by mixing clay and the dirt from a white ant's nest.

The framework of the hut was made from saplings. These were driven into the ground in pairs so that the sheets of bark could be placed between them to form the walls. This was the same for the interior. room dividing walls. No fastenings other than vines or the string from the sheets of bark itself were used, yet the bark hut was a sturdy construction.

The most sturdy part of the hut was, however. the roof. The roof was made also of bark sheets but was not joined in any way to the rest of the framework. The bark sheets were placed on the sapling frame and the roof was kept on by an ingenious system of weights. Two large saplings, the size of a man's thigh in diameter and as long as the roof were placed on either side of the roofs peak. These two logs were joined by vines, or in later times, wire and this brought the weight evenly onto the whole roof. Not even a gale could lift the roof from the rest of the hut.

Most bark huts also had a fireplace. The fireplace was important both for heat and for cooking, as many Aboriginals had camp ovens, or if not, large iron boilers and wire grates for grilling. The fire area was made from clay and across it ran a sapling from which they hung their boilers and billies, The chimney was like an inverted "Y" shape over the top of the fire and like the rest of the house was also made from bark.

The house was almost entirely made from stringy bark, a very important natural resource to the Aborigine. However, other materials such as saplings and wires were . indeed useful. In fact saplings supplied a lot of the household furniture.

For instance beds were made entirely from saplings. To make a bed, the Aborigine placed four forked pieces at the corners and ran smaller saplings. from fork to fork. Across this frame still smaller saplings were placed crosswise and completed the frame. The addition of a mattress made this a very serviceable cheap place for the Aborigine to sleep after the hard work of building his hut.