Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yes our Open Day was a huge wonderful success. But what did all those people come to our place to see? We’d better briefly explain our story.

We (Andrew & Heather) had an interest in gardening ever since we were children. Both of our families had small veggie patches and the concept rubbed off on both of us. As we moved from place to place we always grew a small amount of food. When we purchased our first house in 1975, one of the first things we did was establish (what was to us) a large and successful garden. Over the years though, our garden became less and less productive due to the increasing shade from large eucalypts all around.

The time came to look for a bigger block. By now we had set our sights on getting a small acreage. We scoured the papers and estate agents for 5 -20 acre blocks which incorporated our dream qualities (running stream etc.) for close to a year. We searched an area up to 100 km from Melbourne (Australia). Promising leads often turned to disappointment when we inspected properties to find they contained steep slopes (mountain goat country) or were crossed by high voltage power lines etc.

Finally just before Christmas in 1985 we answered a small ad in the newspaper which sounded ok. A visit on the following weekend clinched it. It was not 100% ideal, but it had enough positive features, for us to make a quick decision- this was the site for us. The property was a 96 acre bush block with 12 recently cleared acres. It looked like a complete disaster with row after row of windrows (trees bulldozed into long piles ready to be burned) and the dozer had turned the silty clay into fine talcum powder-like dust. Our rose coloured glasses could only see the future potential. It didn’t have a permanent stream but did have several gullies which carried water for a few hours after rainy periods. Most of the block was gently undulating with a northern slope- ideal for a passive solar house. The biggest advantage though was its proximity to Melbourne (65km from the GPO), which meant weekend visits would take less than an hour. Its biggest disadvantage was poor vehicle access and lack of services which was a contributing factor to the reasonable price being asked. We decided we could cope with the rough, one lane 4wd forestry road and as for electricity- or the more reason to go solar.

For the next ten years we got to know “the block” using it for frequent weekend trips and holidays. We gradually worked our way through many of the windrows, using them as firewood for the combustion stove and wood heater. At first we camped in a tent, then went “posh” by building a 10m by 8m tin garage which we converted to 2 bedroom accommodation and living area. It was a home away from home.

Our three children greatly enjoyed their bush holidays. The windrows became ships and jungles in their imaginations, and the hollows underneath became tunnels to be explored. To them it was like living in Healesville Sanctuary because of their frequent interactions with native wildlife, which included kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, goannas, snakes and all sorts of birds. We decided we would not move until our children had finished secondary school, so as not to disrupt their education. In the meantime we came to understand more about the land and had time to ponder building and development.

The next critical element in our story came in 1996 when we saw an ad in the local paper advertising a permaculture course. (It seems our lives have hinged on small ads in newspapers). The course informed and inspired us and gave us the tools required to design our future house and its environs. In fact the final task in the course was to develop a permaculture design. Our property design (for our block) took weeks to develop as we tried out various possibilities and worked through issues. We were very pleased with the final outcome, which as it turned out 12 years later, has largely come to fruition.

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