While running a landscape business for 10 years is no mean feat, brothers Matt and Luke are even more proud of the hundreds of years the natural stonework they specialise in will last.
Matt and Luke Alder are a rare breed who have learnt the traditional art of stonemasonry and then added their own modern twist to bring it into the 21st Century and to a viable Australian market.
After completing their apprenticeships the boys went to the UK, visiting family, traveling separately, and working for a few landscaping companies. This is where Matt, the older of the two, said he fell in love with the properties, textures, and structural abilities of natural stone.
“My wife and I moved up to Scotland and that’s where I got the passion for stonework,” said Matt. “I worked with a bloke who used to work for the Royal Botanic Gardens back in the day, so he had an old-school style of stonework. We were working on a church conversion into boutique flats in the middle of winter. This guy was 70 years old and still going strong. He was a mentor to me.”
When Matt and Luke returned to Sydney in 2010 they started their own landscaping business called DUAL Landscapes & Stonework. It was slow going at first, but they soon found their groove. Being based and working around the Northern Beaches has its advantages as there is a strong demand for natural-style stone walls because of how well they complement the area. Not wanting to pigeonhole themselves as traditional stonemasons, DUAL offers all other types of contemporary structural landscaping techniques to work in conjunction with their classical craft.
“A lot of stonemasons won’t touch landscaping or paving or anything else, but we do it all,” continued Matt. “We do retaining walls, besser block walls, concreting, paving, tiling, natural stone cladding, but our favourite work – and it’s a bit of a niche market – is natural dry-stone walls.”
DUAL Landscapes & Stonework now employs five staff with a back-log of jobs lined up for their specialty services. Not even a pandemic could slow them down. Matt has a great theory about why their trade – and many others – has not been affected by recent COVID-19 restrictions: “People are sitting at home starting what I like to call ‘iso jobs’. They’ve either started something and realised they need to call in the professionals, or they’re sitting around looking at their yard 24/7 because they can’t go anywhere and thinking, ‘I’ve really got to get that paving work done, or put up that retaining wall around the fire pit’.”
A lot of the work the Alders do is in confined spaces with tight access. They recently purchased a little 1.7 tonne Yanmar excavator, which they say is one of the best investments they’ve made. Besides that, they use regular tools and hard, back-breaking manual labour. Known to be particularly fussy, they actually go to the quarry to pick out and hand-load their own stones so they can stack them better and choose the right coloured and shaped stones for the job.
While they still use various man-made materials, what Matt likes best about the traditional ways of constructing using natural stone is the longevity of what they create. “I visited my grandmother’s house in Ireland, which is still standing today,” Matt said. “This thing has been there for hundreds of years. That’s the selling point of natural stone; it has been here longer than us and it will be here longer than us. Any other material just isn’t as solid. If we had our choice it would be to do more natural stonework; it’s superior and so much more sustainable.”