Magazine Articles – August 2019

It’s magazine time again. In newsagencies this month I have an article in The Owner Builder No.214 on Successful Downshifting.

It’s about how we found ourselves in our 40s, suddenly waking up every morning on a gorgeous little farm in the country (complete with 50 hectares out the back of extraordinary Gondwana which we will guard until the day we die), living off one part-time salary, a little bit of freelancing and the produce of our own land. After two decades each on the treadmill, we now have ample time for each other and the important things in life – and yet would have been considered unlikely to arrive at this destination by conventional financial analysts, since neither of us ever made above-average salaries, won the lottery, robbed a bank, or inherited money. How did we do it?

Well, we always were quite frugal, which helped greatly – but the key thing for us was getting lucky finding the right (completely bare!) smallholding, and getting this for less than the cost of the little duplex unit we sold in Perth, whose mortgage we had paid off by our late 30s. And then, we got brave and designed and owner-built an off-grid, passive solar strawbale eco-farmhouse for less than $250,000, with a whole row of wizz-bang environmental features, like our own small solar-electric power station with backup batteries, rooftop Sydney tube solar water heating, 110,000 L rainwater tank, two commercial waterless compost toilets that turn human waste into inoffensive organic fertiliser for fruit trees, low-e cedar-framed French doors and windows that perform better than double-glazed aluminium, superinsulated walls and ceilings, and appropriate thermal mass, glazing and eaves to make the house essentially self-heating and self-cooling, fully budgeted for in that price.

Donkey and the Caravan - Redmond Western Australia
Straw Bales Stacked under Roof - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
View from the North West - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Day Three on the Monster Wall – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia

That took us five years to finish and increased the numbers of our grey hairs significantly, but was the best thing we ever did for ourselves other than marry each other.

Now we never ever have to pay electricity or water bills, never ever have a power failure, live in a thermally comfortable house year-round without air-conditioning or fossil fuel based heating – we run a small wood heater several nights a week in mid-winter, mostly for boosting solar-heated water on cloudy days. We grow increasing amounts of our own food, sell honey and organically raised beef cattle, and spend a total of $150 a year on utilities (six small camping bottles of gas annually for cooking).

You can read the full story in the current issue of The Owner Builder, which is also available in electronic form, if you don’t happen to live near an Australian newsagency.

A selection of photos of life in the country appear below.

Brett & Sue on Toolbrunup Summit – Stirling Ranges, Western Australia
Tenth wedding anniversary climb scaling Mt Toolbrunup, the same peak on which Brett proposed to Sue back in late 2007.
Sue atop Mt Hassell – Stirling Ranges, Western Australia
…so that’s the middle spire of the mountain in the background here we were sitting on in the last shot! We can see Toolbrunup from our farm on a clear day.
Sue and Sunsmart - Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia
This is Sunsmart, a recycled harness horse Sue saddle trained back in 2009; now happily living on our farm with us, with some friends…
Sunsmart with Chasseur and Julian – the horse with the blaze in the middle – on the day Julian joined their herd. All these are retired harness racing horses – and all three spent their racing careers as solitary stallions cooped up in sand yards – no grazing, no socialisation. Well, that’s different now. Julian was 17 before he ever walked across a green field or hobnobbed with other horses – and he’s loving his new life…
The Three Stooges? – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths…
…and this is what it looks like when your equines show up for volunteer lawn mowing duties in your garden. Needless to say, this is a limited event, and you have to watch the donkeys like a hawk so they don’t eat your daisies and your avocado trees… the horse is eating tagasaste (tree lucerne), which we grow in hedges as livestock fodder and which grows back profusely when grazed or pruned.
There’s also mayhem indoors…

Indoors didn’t always look like this. Building days:

Brett on the North Wall - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Sue Notching A Straw Bale #1 - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Brett on Window Lintel - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Brett Sealing Gaps - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Plastering the Niches in Main Bedroom - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Beginning plastering back in 2012 – ROFL. We’d been told we would not be able to do it, just the pair of us. Well, we did. It took us years of weekends to plaster three coats inside and out, but we did it! The finish coat was finally on the outside of the house in 2016.

Building / farm photo albums here:

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