Our lifestyle May 2014

After having a look over the old posts on our blog, I decided that I really should update the original ‘Our Lifestyle’ post to more accurately reflect how things are now.  So, here we go….

To get to our property you come down the gravel of Sykes Road for just over 1km.  There are cleared grassy paddocks on your right and bush on your left for most of the way.  Soon you come to a green fibreboard house on the right.  This is the home of our good neighbours the Philpot’s.  You pass their house and associated paddock and the adjoining land is ours.  You find our driveway just after the power lines that cross the road and run up our block.  The new entryway is nice and wide and the upgraded driveway is good to use.


The area on the right is our fenced 4 acres, and the cows reside there, in 3 separate paddocks, restrained with electric fencing.



The horses also spend some time there, although they often spend time in portable electric fencing on the left side of the driveway as well, or in other such areas that can be fenced off.


The pigs are in the centre portion of the top paddock, though they may not be with us for much longer.


And the chooks are in the top paddock section that is closest to the house.


Keeping going up the driveway you will pass the cleared area on the left


and then the turnoff to our private power pole on the right, a turnoff to our other neighbour Dave’s house again and the turnoff to “the manor” both on the left where many of our tractor implements are,


and if you follow the track to the end you will eventually pass the caravan and annexe,


the greenhouse, numerous vehicles and at last you will arrive at the house.


Now by calling the building a house I am being rather generous.  In Tasmanian parlance it would be called a shack.  On the outside it is lined with rough vertical hardwood which has greyed and blackened over the years.  It is by no means a pretty building, although we have come to regard it warmly as our home.


To enter the building you pass the carport and step onto a small open verandah which serves as a laundry in that the washing machine resides there underneath the hot water tank.  The verandah also squeezes in an old wardrobe that is doing time as a linen cupboard, my spare fridge and two freezers, vacuum cleaner, brooms, washing baskets and numerous boots.


There is a door off of the verandah into the little bathroom.  This room remains unlined and is rather rough and ready.  However it does have a serviceable bath with overhead shower, albeit that the bath is down below ground level.  It also has a small sink and our homemade composting toilet system.  It is all a bit of a squeeze in there, but it does the job.  There is a big mirror on the wall which helps to give it more of a feel of space. That is a deception of course but helps to fight the claustrophobia.  Our backup water heater is a small electric model holding just 60 litres, which did not go far with 6 people, so we are glad to have a new solar system now with it’s much larger 300L.


Composting toilets may be a bit of a new idea to many of you but they work quite easily.  It is simply a large bucket inside a wooden box with a toilet seat on the top.  One uses the toilet as normal but then instead of flushing you just throw some sawdust over the works before closing the lid.  Surprisingly there is no smell and the bucket is emptied onto our multi section composting heap out the back each day where it is covered with straw.  It takes roughly a year to fill each section of the compost heap, at which time we start up a new section and leave the old section to sit and compost down for 2 years.  At the end of just one year all bacteria should have been killed by the heat of the composting process and all that should be left is rich worm laden soil.  We chose a composting toilet since we live in a karst area and did not want septic seepage into the water supply.  Also there is very little water usage required, unlike a flushing toilet.

Compost bins

Compost bins

I suppose that this might be an opportune moment to talk about water drainage from the house also.  Our drainage system could do with a major overhaul.  The kitchen and bathroom sink water go into a brick leech drain which is just not large enough to cope.  The grey water from the washing machine and bath flows through a leaky pipe into a channel which waters the daffodil gardens in front of the house.  The daffodil gardens are magnificent in early spring, and now we have some other flowers that come up after the daffodils have died down, so the garden is pleasant to look out on over the warm months but tends to die out during winter.

The entry to the living areas of our home is also from the verandah.  Firstly you step into what we call the vestibule.  Straight ahead is the lounge and to the left takes you to the kitchen.  Above you is the loft bed.  The vestibule houses a desk with a computer, multiple shelves, a blanket for the dog (an old German Shepherd) and the ladder/stairs to the loft.


The loft fits a queen sized mattress and was where Kim and I slept when we first arrived.  We added an extension up there to fit a single mattress which was Josiah’s bed for a while, but is now used as storage.  (Lydia used to lay down a mattress on the lounge room floor when we first moved here.)  The loft is now available with two single mattresses for visitors and also for the chronically unwell family members to lie down during the day if they need to while the rest of us get on with life down below.  It is the place to be if you are cold and the fire is on as the heat rises and makes it nice and snug up there.  You can also peer out at the possums in the moonlight when they come to call.

Loft viewed from Josiah's bed

Loft as it was, now used somewhat as storage.

The lounge room is warmed by a free standing wood heater, which is a very popular feature in winter.  There are lounge chairs along the back wall and a built in desk with computer paraphernalia and some shelves on the other side.



It is cosy but we like it, though we wouldn’t complain if it was larger.  Unfortunately in winter there is absolutely no way of getting clothes dry outside, so we have run two lines across the lounge room and end up often having clothes and towels hung on these lines in order to get them dry.  This makes our sweet cosy room even more cluttered, but it is cheaper than running a clothes dryer with our limited electricity.

I suppose I should explain our electrical system.  We have a private power pole which is situated next to a shed about 50m from the house.  We run some power cords from this pole to the house, and one to the caravan.  The power is charged at business rates, because the building is classed as a shack rather than a house on our rates notices.  It is called a house on the title but the power company will only charge the cheaper household rates if it is called a house on the rates notice.  It would be illegal for us to wire up the house ourselves so we have simply run power through the house using extension cords and power boards.  We have mounted the cables along the walls to make it as neat as possible, but it is all still all out there in open view.  It all works just fine, and we no longer even notice it.  However soon our power pole will be removed and we will be going off grid completely.  Then we will have to moderate our electrical usage a bit more than we do at present to rely on our 1.5kW solar system with batteries, and we will have to learn to make do with what we have.  With hot water coming from a solar HWS which is boosted by the combustion stove in the kitchen and heating from wood fires we mainly use the electricity for lights, computers and fridge/freezers, washing machine etc.  Kim has plans for rigging up a motor with a car alternator which we will use to charge the batteries when they get low over winter.   We also have a generator in the workshop which will help to keep things going when needed.  It is a work in progress, as we hope to increase the capacity over time.  Right now though it is enough to keep us out of trouble and Kim has set it up nicely inside with the controllers, fuse box and inverter in a corner of the kitchen.


Solar panels, solar hot water system and batteries


Solar controllers, fuse box and inverter

The kitchen is small and also a work in progress.  We have some nice tall cupboards with a sink alongside one wall and some cupboards started under the window.  The combustion stove sits in the corner and heats our water when it is running.  There is not a lot of bench space but the table can be used for food preparation.  Our convection microwave takes up a fair bit of space, but it is very useful for baking when the wood stove is not going.


And that is it for the main house, just 3 rooms!  We have carpeted the vestibule and lounge but just have bare floorboards in the kitchen.  Originally of course there was no lining, no insulation, no lights or power, no cupboards and no running water so we have come a long way!

Sleeping happens in separate buildings.  The older boys sleep in their own shack that they fondly refer to as “The Manor”.  This shack is about 400m away from the main house, which means that rain or shine they have to trudge off with a torch each night up the hill through the bush to their beds.  You cannot see the manor from the house, in fact you can’t see it from the path until you are just about on the doorstep.

The manor appears on the path.

Electricity for the manor comes from 3 smaller deep cycle batteries and an inverter that changes the power from 12 to 240 volts.  The boys can have lights, electric blankets and limited computer or DVD use up there.  The 3 batteries, which weigh about 50kg each, are charged through a solar controller from a solar panel in front of the manor.


Batteries, controller and invertor in Manor

The manor has just two rooms, the first larger room contains the beds and a pot belly stove, while the smaller room has desks and a sofa.  While we have properly lined and insulated the ceiling, we haven’t got around to lining the walls yet, although the woollen insulation is laid out on them.  Temporarily we have some second hand large sheets stapled onto the walls to keep the insulation in place and just to make things look that little bit neater.  For all that the building is rather rough and ready, Caleb and Sam are very fond of it though, and enjoy their isolated and rustic rooms.

Bedroom in Manor

Bedroom in Manor


Back room of Manor

Kim and myself, Lydia and Josiah all sleep in the caravan and annexe (leaving the loft bed available for visitors!)  The caravan itself has a kitchen which we don’t use as such, a bedroom with bunk beds that is Lydia’s room with a tiny bathroom beyond it with shower and sink.  The annexe has two rooms.  Kim and I claimed the smaller room as our bedroom and filled it to overflowing with our water bed.  The larger room has Josiah’s bed and a desk, a wood fire and general access way for the rest of us.

Our bedroom

Bedroom in Caravan/Annexe


Josiah’s bedroom complete with numerous tubs of lego etc.


Lydia’s bedroom in the caravan

The van is lovely to spread out into but it is getting on in age and tends to leak after the rain sets in.  We have constantly been trying to seal leaks and actually just covered the whole thing with greenhouse plastic to see if that will help this year.  It would be nice to build a shed over it one day to keep it reliably dry, but that is not happening in the foreseeable future.

All in all we actually find our lifestyle quite comfortable, in fact we feel quite spoilt with all we have.  Lack of storage space would be our biggest complaint.  We have some shelves in the vestibule for our clothes but not much else.  Free space is at a premium and is highly sought after.  All of our excess things that we wish to keep are stored in plastic tubs in a rickety shed or on some shelves in the carport.  The trouble with that is that the shed and carport are not rat proof and cannot escape the damp winter air which seems to penetrate everywhere unless you have a wood fire to dry things out.

We originally had a nice little workshop with a cement floor down by the power pole, which we extended a lot, though without the cement floor.


Extended workshop

Kim installed shelves for our tools and fencing gear and a table to use as a work bench.


Inside of workshop

Near this shed we are storing our collection of wood, poly pipe, tin and various oddments that may be useful one day.  It is a bit of a rubbish dump at times but it is surprising how frequently you go and drag things out to use for some project or other.


Speaking of projects we have various lists around where we write up work projects that need doing.  It gives a nice feeling of achievement to tick the item off when the job is complete.  Building more chook houses and butchering chooks, pigs or cattle are many hands on deck jobs that happen irregularly a few times each year.  Repair or maintenance on cars takes up a fair bit of Kim’s time.  We regularly need to walk around the pig fences and drag or kick the dirt away from the lower electric wires.  The pigs bury the wire when they are tossing up dirt during their normal digging and in wet weather this can result in the fence totally shorting out if we are not vigilant.  A few times a year we need to fire up the brushcutter to slash grass and bracken etc away from the fenceline too, to keep it working well.  We constantly keep cutting felled trees into firewood rounds which need splitting and stacking to dry.  We have a white carport dedicated to firewood and have to bring some up near the house each day in the cooler months – and lets face it we have plenty of cooler months here.  Another regular chore is pumping the water although the time frame varies greatly.  Our water comes from a small creek way up the back of the block and gravity feeds down to the house.  Because the creek is shallow and the pickup is not very far under water, air gets into the pipes and when there is too much it will slow down and ultimately stop flowing.  When this happens we have to hike up to the pickup spot, hook up a water pump and pump water flat out for about 5 minutes until all the air is removed.  Of course that assumes that the creek is running well, in late summer we may have to pump slower or we can drain the creek dry.  We dream of one day having a small dam up at the creek so that the pick up can be much deeper in the water, and then pumping will be needed less frequently as well as meaning we have a reservoir of water should the creek ever stop.

We could really do with having more covered areas outside.  High on the priority list is to build some carports for the vehicles, especially since both the Purgeot and the Caravelle seem to have issues with the rain – leaking and not starting respectively.  It would be nice to be able to work on vehicles out of the weather too.  Another job we have in mind is to build a smokehouse for making our own ham and it would be lovely to build some sort of barn to store hay and stock feed in – preferably away from the house so that the rodents don’t feel welcome to visit.  It would be lovely to have a covered shed to milk the cow in as well, and perhaps a permanent wood shed instead of the plastic carports would be nice.  More chook house/garden buildings would be welcome and then too a stock ramp and some yards to go with it would be nice.  What a list!  Always lots of ideas.

Our days, while varied, tend to fall into a regular pattern.  Either Kim or myself are usually the first up and if it is cold we light the lounge room fire ready for everyone else to enjoy when they arrive.  Kim often spends the time waiting by reading all his internet news services.  I will normally tidy the house and then go and feed the chooks and let out any who are allowed to free range.  Then the pigs demand their grain and the cow needs to be caught and milked, after having her own portion of grain.  Hay gets dished out to the cattle and the horses after the milking is done, and then the milk needs to be strained and refridgerated back at the house.  I like to do schoolwork with Josiah in the mornings if I can, and then I have the afternoon to work on one of the chores or projects.  Often these days many people have been too sick to do much which is a shame.  Of course there is shopping to be done once a week, although these days we are often having it delivered, and there are many other appointments that take us away from home, but my favourite days are when we have a couple of people well enough to really make a dent in the lists of things to do.  Each afternoon, about 4pm  on the short winter days, we turn to the tasks of feeding stock again.  Then of course there is tea to cook, baking to do, showers to be had, washing to hung out or put away, emails to be written, books to be read and computer games to be played or perhaps a video to watch.  Around 9pm each evening we go out and lock the calf away from the house cow, so that there will be milk for the rest of us on the following day.

My washing line is a Hills extension line tied behind the house.

My washing line is a Hills extension line tied behind the house.

Our only working phone here is through the computer’s NBN connection, but that seems to work quite well.  Unfortunately our mobile does not work at home, and we have to drive all the way to the church in Mole Creek before we are in range.

We are 10 km away from the small town of Mole Creek with a population of around 350.  There is a small IGA supermarket in Mole Creek, a pub, guest house, online access centre, Post Office, gift shop and engineering business.  It takes about 10 minutes for us to get into town.  We usually do our shopping in Devonport (unless we get it home delivered) which is 40 minutes from home travelling through Sheffield.  Sometimes we go to Deloraine instead which is 30 minutes away in the other direction.  If we need more of a city we are 70 minutes drive from Launceston.

Although in some ways we are quite limited in the luxuries of life we are really very comfortable here and it didn’t take too long before things just started to feel normal to us.  I imagine that there are plenty more things that we could do without, and still manage just fine and get quite used to.  When I read books about how people lived in olden times it surprises me that we feel like we need as much as we do.  The thing that perhaps has amazed me most is how committed our children are to our venture and our new lifestyle.  They are far less inclined to complain about difficulties than I am, and really seem to enjoy the challenges that come our way.  God has really blessed us with a great family and we are all working well together to try to make a sustainable lifestyle for ourselves.  We have so much to learn and are so very inexperienced and although I often panic about how sick the older boys are or how little we seem to achieve or how much there is to do or about how much the learning process is costing us, there are fun times along the way too.


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