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GSBN:An Australian "Odd"essy

Hello GSBNers,

As many of you generously donated funds toward my flight costs for going to
Australia, I thought I'd give you a quick report on the conference. Much
more detailed coverage is forthcoming in TLS#41, but I didn't want you all
to have to wait that long...

As you've doubtlessly heard, the conference was quite a success. There were
over 100 participants, with about 40 of those being international guests.
The Aussie contingent was a good mix of seasoned pros, owner-builders, and
hopeful owner-builders.

The Spirit of John Glassford set the tone for the entire affair, which
means it managed to be laid back and "No worries, mate" and yet still have
a positive forward momentum.

Our conference days were split, with the mornings involving a bus ride from
the Charles Sturt campus in Wagga Wagga to glorious Ganmain (home of the
infamous Ganmain pies (have you digested yours yet, Lars?)) and a 3-hour
flurry of building activity on the Hall of Conciliation. It was quite
something to see a building set upon by 100+ eager workers! What could have
been pure chaotic mess managed to be pure chaotic accomplishment. In the
mere 20 hours available to work on the building, we managed to go from an
unprepared gravel bed to a finished structure (well, pretty darn close to
finished... there are carvings on the doors!). The idea of creating a
building during a conference was a stroke of pure genius. As we all know,
there is no better way to creat an immediate and strong community spirit
than to build with one another, and this was certainly the case in Ganmain.

Upon arriving back in Wagga, the Straw Wolf gave the tired and dirty
participants no time for rest. We dove right into the presentation of
papers, which extended over three sessions from mid-afternoon until
mid-evening. The presentations were grouped according to loose themes,
including Owner/builders, Engineering, Materials, Architectural, and
Sustainability. A full list of speakers and summaries will be in TLS#41.
Keynote speakers included David Eisenberg and Bruce King who, as usual,
wowed the crowd with their trademark insights and humility!

Joyce Coppinger and I spent a lot of our time promoting The Last Straw via
a table in the refreshments area. It was encouraging to see how well-known
and highly regarded The Last Straw is among bale enthusiasts from all over
the world. At the same time, it was a bit discouraging to note how few
people are actually subscribers! I think this is a common problem TLS needs
to address, and Joyce and I spent a lot of time discussing strategies for
increasing our subscriber base with potential subscribers. As a result, we
are putting a lot of effort into offering electronic subscriptions as soon
as possible (with the help of Bill on the technical front). The cost of
overseas subscriptions was the most frequently-cited reason for people not
subscribing, so we hope that eliminating printing and mailing costs will
mean we can offer the same content at a lower price (and save a bunch of
trees, too!).

As with any conference, the main highlight is the opportunity to meet
people and network, and this was certainly the case in Oz. For me,
personally, it was an opportunity to connect with many regular contributors
to TLS and put a face to a name, as well as an opportunity to cajole and
harrass a whole new contingent of potential TLS contributors. In order to
maximize my time at the conference, I made the mistake of trying to stay up
at night at least as late as David Eisenberg, which meant I was averaging
about 3 hours of sleep, but it was all for a good cause!

To feel like a member of a thriving, exciting international community meant
I came home rejuvenated and excited about all this bale stuff, and I think
most of the participants felt the same way. I'm glad I got the opportunity
to go, and I'd like to offer a deep and heartfelt tip of the hat to John
and Susan, whose efforts and personalities made the whole thing "click".




Chris Magwood / Camel's Back Straw Bale Construction

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