European and American shelter designs in Aus.

Wentworth

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A lot of the ideas I try out with bushcraft are influenced by Europeans and what works for them in their environment. This thread is to look at what designs can be transferred to Aussie bush. Ray Mears and Lofty Wiseman got me started on feathersticks for example, which don't have as much of a following in Australia, because we have lots of match thin twigs that can be dried/ burned out easily. I still use feathersticks because they're fun, effective and are good for practicing knife control.

With shelters, all of the designs I've tried have been developed in other environments, so it's interesting to look at how well they translate to the Aussie bush.
I can only write about the ones that I have used personally. I'm sure there are lots of others that other members might be able to comment on.

I'm keen to look at traditional Aboriginal designs and try to build one too.

Lean-To

I've built (or helped build) 3 lean-to shelters, which I first saw in Ray's videos. In Europe, they seem to have an abundance of leaf litter, which is probably due to having deciduous trees and infrequent forest fires. This is great for weatherproofing a shelter, since it can be gathered quickly. Ray recommends an arm-thick pile be put on some shelters. I would have to walk a long way in our bush to gather enough leaf litter for that!

DSCN5890_zpsea1e2742.jpg

This first pics is Corin relaxing in a lean-to that we made. Unfortunately the diagonal poles we used were too flexible for the weight of the leaves, increased hugely after they had soaked up the heavy rain. Luckily enough it stayed upright and kept us dry, despite being less than an arm-length thick.

3.jpg 4.jpg

The next two pics are of a lean-to that Phrayzar and I made. We made the diagonal poles much stronger and wove horizontal ones through for reinforcement. We also gathered even more leaf litter for the roof. When the rain hit this shelter, it didn't bow like the previous lean-to. And it kept us dry as well.
My very first effort was nowhere near as good. Still, I think that the lean-to design works in Aussie (NSW) bush. There is enough leaf litter for a roof and it does keep us dry.

Kennel

I first saw the kennel design in one of Ray's books. Bushchef and I spent hours building the walls and covering it with leaves. Unfortunately the area had been burned a couple of years before, so there wasn't as much leaf litter as in other spots. The recommendation is to start covering it from the base upwards, so that the leaves don't just fall down from the roof. That works with a small shelter like this, but starting from the bottom of a lean to and working upward would mean having nearly double the amount of leaves.

shelter3.jpg shelter6.jpg shelter4.jpg

The design works quite well, even with the thin covering we gave it. I was able to sleep out in 5 degree weather on a blue foam mat with no sleeping bag or blanket. I had wind and rain that night and stayed dry inside. It wasn't toasty, but it worked. I think this design is suitable for Aussie bush if there's enough sticks and leaves.

Kochanski Supershelter

Mors Kochanski invented the super shelter, which is basically a tunnel tent frame made of wood, with a space blanket over it, then with a tarp or similar put over that. The doorway is clear plastic sheeting, which allows the heat from a fire to get in and bounce around, warming the sleeper. I didn't build one of these, but slept inside one in Canada for 4 or 5 nights. They work well.



The second shot shows the inside. This particular one had three layers, a tarp over the top, then a space blanket, then this breathable inner. Something to do with condensation management from memory.

I haven't built this kind of supershelter in Australia, but I did make a lean-to version with a mylar space blanket and clear sheeting between me and the fire. It worked really well at keeping me warm. Unfortunately I didn't take a pic of that one, so you'll have to take my word for it and make do with a dodgy drawing. The sides were in fact more closed off than this.

mylar2.jpg

The supershelter works well in Australia, although it is overkill for our conditions. Also, I can't sleep easy when there's a fire going, so I didn't go so well that night.

Half-Teepee

This is one that I helped make in Canada. We used pine for the framework, then covered it in pine boughs, then in sheets of birch bark. The top of the roof was plugged with moss. When I lay in it, rain still dripped through a gap we must have missed, but it did a good job.



I lay on a cattail sleeping mat and we hung another in the doorway to stop wind blown rain. I used a wool blanket in this one and was warm-ish.

I think the very steep walls of this shelter would only work in Australian bush if there was access to sheets of paper bark or stringybark. Leaves would probably slide off. Still, I'd like to try this style over here.

Other designs

I had the opportunity to jump inside other styles of shelter overseas. One of them was a massive debris hut, which had kennel-like sleeping spots for numerous people. It looked like a huge amount of framework, leaves and time had gone into it. I don't think many spots in our bush would be able to provide all the materials for this one unfortunately.



The second one is a wigwam style shelter with cattails for the walls, birchbark for the roof and a cattail mat as a roll-up doorway. Again, I didn't build this, but it was very cosy inside. I think this design might work if you had access to lots of grass, dead sedge and paper bark for the roof.

I'm sure there are other designs that would be transferrable to our bush too.
 
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Aussie123

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I’ve given this a fair bit of thought over the years.

We are bombarded with Northern ideas through books, TV, internet etc.

Most of these ideas come from, or are inspired by, either military survival texts, or more traditional (Northern Hemisphere) designs.

They are all good, and designed to meet the requirements of a particular situation. Military inspired designs are for short term or “emergency” use;
Longer term shelters are more inspired by copying what native people have done.
Most of the traditional designs are well suited to the environment where they have come from; if they weren’t any good, then traditional people would not have used them !

Most of the designs (pictured above) are probably designed as short term emergency shelters, or short term improvised shelters, rather than long-term.
The exception being the wigwam style which is used by some traditional peoples for long term habitation.

I know people can and have lived for long periods in what I’d describe as “short term/emergency” shelters, but in general traditional peoples did not.
(I’m sure there are exceptions, there always are; and what we call “short” vs “long” is quite subjective)



When I think about shelters in Australia I think about the type (and diversity) of shelters used by Aboriginal people. They knew how to make shelters which were suitable for every season and every habitat in Australia.
There is quite a diverse range of shelters ranging from skin or bark covered wigwams to shelters thatched with desert grasses or tropical leaves.

I think we should take inspiration from the type of shelters used by local Aboriginal tribes. So first port of call is to research what Local people did !
Next step is to decide if you want to build a shelter for short or long term use.


In terms of materials, I don’t want to damage trees and plants for “purely academic” research.
Its different if you’re in a genuine emergency. I’ve seen a few camp sites where people have build/ tried to build something by cutting down every sapling they can get an axe to ! As bushcrafters we need to be much more considerate of the environment - and I know you are.

I was very impressed with the mat Greatbloke and I wove and I think that would make a great construction material as a basis for a shelter. With a good supply of material and a little practice I think that several mats could be produced quite quickly and sustainably.
 

DavoAnth

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Excellent post Wentworth, and a lot of very valid points. I have seen a lot of US and European influence here regarding shelters - a lot of it both book and youtube influenced (especially the debris hut). As I live in the top end, a cold winters night for me is 17 degrees C, so I don't have the need for anything else. I have seen a friend build a perfect 1 person debris hut here, only to find himself overheating after an hour because of the small air space. But kudos to him for trying.

I have spent a lot of nights in shelters, and almost always revert to the lean-to variant. A lot of the indigenous bush camps up here are also lean to's - either with a modern tarp, or traditional vegetation roof. I also spend a lot of time in SEQ in winter, so have experimented with other styles more suited for the colder weather there. The most interesting one I have made in Oz was with Rich out at Bush Lore, and was a 'living hut. Simply 3 live small trees bent in and tied at top, with lantana 'slats' woven in and covered with cut grass. No cutting of trees at all (lantana don't count in my book), and at end of requirement it can be pulled down and the vegetation lives to grow another day. At the end of the day, the environment dictates the shelter, but trial and error can be a valuable learning tool.
P8240383.jpgshelter2 copy.jpg

When I was on a trek in Borneo a couple of years back, the Penan natives knocked up a jungle shelter (pictured), complete with raised sleeping bed, raised mud based fireplace and firewood storage area in about 2 hours. Just epic to watch.

penan hut.jpg
 

Bush-Mate

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Heyho,

I think is always the same: nearly the some questions - you get nearly the same answers....no matter, where you are!

You have to look about the circumstances....like...

* what kind of skills I have
* what kind of stuff I have
* what kind of material I have
* how is the environment
* the weather conditions
* time to built and to use it...?
* protect myself against wild animals (or even to have the feeling)
* etc.

So, IMO...keep it simple....!

Your shelters looking awesome...:_applauso:

Have a look, not the best....the second it was pretty cold....maybe -25 Degrees...and I hate to sit in a fridge :_nu:

Cheers

Ralf


Notunterstand-2.jpgBuschunterstand-2.jpg
 

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auscraft

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Wentworth

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I think we should take inspiration from the type of shelters used by local Aboriginal tribes. So first port of call is to research what Local people did !
Next step is to decide if you want to build a shelter for short or long term use...

In terms of materials, I don’t want to damage trees and plants for “purely academic” research.
Aussie, you make some good points.
In terms of damaging trees though, all debris style shelters use leaf litter and dead wood, so fortunately there's no need to denude any living trees. As you know, I'm all for leave-no-trace. The only materials that would be questionable are sheets of bark (paperbark and stringbark). I've often seen sheets of paperbark that have shed from the tree that looked ideal. But unless they've already dropped off, I'd be unwilling to strip a tree of the bark just for a night out.

As I live in the top end, a cold winters night for me is 17 degrees C, so I don't have the need for anything else. I have seen a friend build a perfect 1 person debris hut here, only to find himself overheating after an hour because of the small air space. But kudos to him for trying.

I have spent a lot of nights in shelters, and almost always revert to the lean-to variant. A lot of the indigenous bush camps up here are also lean to's - either with a modern tarp, or traditional vegetation roof. I also spend a lot of time in SEQ in winter, so have experimented with other styles more suited for the colder weather there. The most interesting one I have made in Oz was with Rich out at Bush Lore, and was a 'living hut. Simply 3 live small trees bent in and tied at top, with lantana 'slats' woven in and covered with cut grass. No cutting of trees at all (lantana don't count in my book), and at end of requirement it can be pulled down and the vegetation lives to grow another day. At the end of the day, the environment dictates the shelter, but trial and error can be a valuable learning tool.
That's interesting regarding the temperature differences between NSW and Qld. I wrote about the fire-heated shelters being overkill for my conditions, but I hadn't considered that an insulated hut might actually be too hot in itself.
Thanks for posting the pics. I'd be interested to see any of the living hut you spoke about. It sounds like a clever design in that the structural trees are unharmed.


Heyho,

I think is always the same: nearly the some questions - you get nearly the same answers....no matter, where you are!
Hi Ralph, great looking shelters there, thanks for putting them up!
I agree that the basic designs are fairly universal- slanting walls to shed rain. I think the difference comes in when looking at how much (or little) leaves the trees drop each year, as our trees tend to hang onto their leaves. Also, with either regular bushfires or hazard-reduction burns, the layer of leaves gets removed every few years. This reduces the materials available, so some of the more elaborate or steep sided shelters may not be suitable.

Some links to more traditional Australia type shelters.
http://www.aboriginalculture.com.au/housing.shtml
Also don't forget rock shelters and if just on the move with good weather just sleep on ground with or without fire depending on seasons.
Thanks for the link Auscraft. Their use of big sheets of bark would save construction and certainly shed the rain well. Spinifex too. It was interesting to read in the article the range of shelters from lean-to style for one situation to the more enclosed shelter for colder conditions.

Has anyone here taken photos or built one of these type of traditional Aboriginal shelters? If so, what were your impressions?
 
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DavoAnth

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Hi Wentworth, the 'living hut' is the one of the 3 pics I posted - next to the lean-to. Although it's difficult to see in the pic, the frame support poles are the live trees, complete with branches that can just be carefully woven out of sight. Here is a pic of the bare frame

shelter1 copy.jpg

That's interesting regarding the temperature differences between NSW and Qld. I wrote about the fire-heated shelters being overkill for my conditions, but I hadn't considered that an insulated hut might actually be too hot in itself.
Thanks for posting the pics. I'd be interested to see any of the living hut you spoke about. It sounds like a clever design in that the structural trees are unharmed.
 

DavoAnth

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One last pic that I couldn't find last night . This is a native 'Wickiup' style. Very weather proof, long lasting, heaps of room for you, your gear and your firewood, and with a heat reflector for your fire close by the entrance it really retains heat in winter. I have had a few great nights sleep in this one.

P2210756.jpg
 

Blake

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Warning: These images may show Aboriginal people who have died, which may cause sadness and distress to their relatives. One image contains mild nudity.

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Here are some Aboriginal shelters I have come across in research that were constructed by aboriginal people. It seems interesting to not that the design tends to vary depending on location. In desert and Northern Australia you see a few of the more rounded dome shape shelters where in victoria particular the sketches and photos of shelters depict many more A frame or straight sided bark shelters. No doubt a result of materials which are close at hand.



Description:Aboriginal shelter. An aboriginal shelter with a children sitting near the entrance.
Location: Northern Territory
Date: Unknown




Description:Aboriginal bush shelter
Location: Northern Territory
Date: Unknown



Description: Aboriginal Hut
Location: Adelaide River, Northern Territory
Date: Unknown




Description:Aboriginal Bush Shelter
Location: Murray River Region, South Australia
Date: 1919



Description: Photographic print of an Aboriginal Australian woman sitting outside bark 'A' shaped shelter. She wears animal fur draped over her left shoulder and appears to be looking at something in her hands.
Location: Coranderrk Aboriginal Station Victoria
Date: 1865



Description: A close up of the internal frame structure of an Aboriginal shelter or gunyah
Location: Hope Vale, Queensland
Date: Unknown



Description: Aboriginal family building bark shelter
Location: Port Macquarie, NSW
Date: 1905
 
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Wentworth

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Thanks for the pics Blake, that give some some ideas.
Brit Bushcrafter, that's quite a shelter. Was it completed in one go, or did you take a few days to build it?
 

auscraft

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Just a local native history course. Nothing like S........ course
 

Greatbloke

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When laying the bark it seems natural to have the inside facing into the lean to, but if you have it facing up, the natural curve of the bark funnels the water away better. If you have enough bark you can then put the next overlapping layer, outside up, so it drains into the upturned channels.




With this one I started laying bracken for the roof but it became too time consuming to collect.



I have posted this before, but for the life of me I can't find the thread.
 

Howling Dingo

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I had a go a making on a few shelters and found it lot of work and time.As I understand it Aboriginals often came back to they old shelter sites.This makes a lot of sense as it would be much easier to repair a old shelter that start from fresh.
 

bungie

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Description: Aboriginal Hut
Location: Adelaide River, Northern Territory
A while back I was shown where an old aboriginal camp once stood, you had to look hard, and all that could be seen was the skeletal frame of the above.
 

Bush-Mate

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Hey Mates,

have a look to this shelter, built from a friend of mine from FB. Built in Germany....

Cheers

Ralf

Shelter.jpg
 
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