Dec 29, 2011

First Post from the homestead

All right! Now its down to business! This is actually what I mostly set this blog up for, I just didn't think it would take so long to get here. But boy howdy was it worth it. I'm so happy. I may just be happier than I've ever been in my life. I'm springing out of bed at dawn and loving every second of the day, even the ditch digging and heavy lifting :P

So A bit of an over view of our first couple of weeks.

Our house is near the front of the block, but still about 40 meters from a generally quiet road thanks to a wide bush covered council strip. We will have to cut back some of the long grass out there because of fire danger, but not too much because it is bursting with bird life and we don't want to mess with that too much. Apart from being beautiful to have around many of those birds will be my pest control once the vegie patch is going. I've cleared a little patch already and I've gradually work my way through some of it (the stuff closer to the house), planting a few things in place of the grass. Stuff like Lucerne tree which is a nitrogen fixing legume and can form a fire resistant hedge.

The view from our front deck. The road is up there somewhere.

Out the back is 5 acres of pure bliss that gradually slopes away from the house. Its regularly populated by as many as 17 grey kangaroos.

The house is small, low tech for now, cheaply made and simple. Our biggest problem has been fitting everything in. Our last house had 11 rooms, this new one only has 5 so its a tight squeeze, but 5 rooms is far more appropriate for 2 people. The house has no oven which is odd, a new one is on the way as well as a new more energy efficient fridge, the old one will become my worm farm. We have ordered a 2 kilowatt solar system too, it should produce a little more energy than we use.

Our main living area just after moving, where are we gona put all that!!??!!

Just a few days after we arrived so did Archie our horse. Much of our time and energy (especially Vicki's) has been spent working on fencing for him. Electric fences and dog proof netting for night time safe paddocks.  We still have more to go on that. Vicki is so happy to finally be living with her favourite boy (well after me I hope :P) close by. 

Archie in his shelter.
Vicki and Archie kicking back.

Molly the dog has had a clip to make it easier to check for ticks and keep seeds off her coat. She is settling in just fine, like most dogs she is happy as long as we are close by.

Molly with a small country bone.

There has been a lot of digging since we arrived, and its given me a good chance to look at the soils. Pretty much every where it has a deep red colour, which I think means its volcanic. Its soft and even when I dig down several feet there is very little clay. So its maybe a little sandy, but I can still just squeeze it into solid ball, so its holding onto some moisture. A neighbour has told me it can set hard after a long dry spell.

A trench I was digging to run an electrical cable for the fence under a gate.

Now I'm not too worried about the soil being sandy because a good permaculturalist doesn't exploit the soil anyway. I plan to be making soil non stop from now on, composting is to the garden/farm what bread making is to the kitchen. Just a few days after Archie arrived (that is when I had enough horse poo) I made my first compost pile. Since then I have started a second.

Next was to get my first garden bed set up. There was much deliberation and nashing of teeth to decide on the location for the vegie garden. At first I planned to put it where the driveway loops around to allow people to drive out of the property without reversing, but it soon became obvious that it was just too practical a function to discard when there was so many other places the vegies could go. I did a lot of thinking about where the water would flow across the property, where the sun was going to be, what areas were exposed to pests etc. The problem was that with each new factor I took into consideration I was getting further away from the house. According to the permaculture basic principles the vegies should be in zone 1 very close to the house, because it requires daily attention. So eventually I flipped back in the other direction and decided to literally put it right out side the front door in the lawn space between the house and front fence (I hate lawn anyway). 

I pretty much followed Geof Lawnton's (7 time sop box derby champion) guide to a raised bed.

First a layer of manure. If you are wondering why it isn't lined up with the fence, that's because it follows the contour of the land so it catches maximum water.

Then a layer of cardboard and newspaper, reusing stuff left over from the move.

 Then a thick layer of  grassy straw. We got the property slashed just before moving in so the paddocks are full of straw laying around on the ground. Molly says, "something under there smells good!"

Now when the compost is ready, its just a matter of making a small hole or well in the straw, punching some holes in the cardboard at the bottom, filling the well with compost and planting directly into it. 

Next up, what to plant. Some seeds need to be planted directly into the bed, so they will have to wait till the compost is ready. But some other things need to be raised in seed beds first. Eventually I will look after the seedlings around the back of the house, but until we set up some kind of shade out there (A tale for another day) I have set up this temporary table out the front. Its more than half herbs and companion plants so far, I'm hoping to do pest control without any inorganic sprays.

Lastly, I've just started planning out the hen house. Not much to look at for now, but give me a couple more days :) More holes to dig.

My first impressions of farming life are that its like being a kid again in many ways. Suddenly much of my time seems to be filled with things I was warned away from as I grew up. Playing with electricity for the fence, slashing the long grass where the could be snakes, cutting things down, nailing things together. Its like your property becomes your very own club house, reminiscent of when you found a great tree in the scrub with some friends as a kid and decided to make it into a place to set up a fort.

The weather is key in everything you do, that's why country people are obsessed with rain. On hot days you start early, hide indoors through the mid day doing things you would normally do in the evening, then back out in the last couple of hours light till its to dark to continue. Then eat and fall into bed exhausted. Sleep like a log.

Your legs have a honest ache at the end of the day, you can look around you and see physical evidence of where your effort went that day, its simply how life is meant to be :)

Nov 25, 2011

In Theory..... eeer well time will tell.

One of the bizarre things about the way this whole moving to the country thing is panning out is that I have had way to long to think about the things I might do once I get there without being able to test anything in practice. For over a year now I've been scouring the internet about all manner of things, preserving fruit, working with PVC pipe, building with old shipping palates, creating a ventilated pantry, turning an old fridge into a dehydrator, irrigation systems, composting, killing chickens, raising sheep, fencing, building a geodesic dome, growing fodder crops, making a dam, using a sun oven etc etc. There is no way I can actually remember everything I have learned about.

Sometimes when I have an idea I jump on the computer and make a 3d model. That may seem a bit odd, but like I said I can't do anything in practice for now (only a couple of weeks to left to wait!) and I am an animator :P

So I thought I'd put up some images of the sorts of things I've been doing, not because these are locking plans, more because I think it will be interesting in the future to look back and see the difference between these ideas and what I actually ended up doing. In reality I will be working with the limited materials and funds at my disposal, scrounging and foraging for materials when I can. Responding creatively to change is one of the principles of permaculture after all :)

Its also worth noting that we don't actually own the house yet, until the 12th of December, and while everything seems in order, you never know 100% for sure. If the sale or purchase falls through for any reason we will be taking a few steps back.

First up is some experiments with shade sails on the back of the house which faces west and will get the afternoon sun. I have tried to simulate the angle of the sun in the afternoon, I've taken into account the latitude for this part of the world, the slop of the land and based to direction of the house on google maps.

Initially I has hoped the sails could slop back towards the house so that we could catch some of the water from them in the water tank, but as you can see in the first example here this will significantly reduce the shade on the back of the house. In permaculture everything should be able to justify its self in more than one way so I will have to look into some ways of catching the water from the front of the sails, maybe if it slopes towards the outer corners I can make something up.

Next up is an idea for a mobile chicken coop.

Its on wheels so I can move it into the sun in winter and the shade in summer, the floor would be made out of fine wire so I can park it over areas I want to fertilise, even over veggie beds and (in theory) their dropping and scraps would fall through. It would not be my intention that the chooks are in there all the time, but I will have to be careful about when I leave them out to free range because there are wild dogs, fox's and hawks in the area.

On the end of the house is a fold up cage, so during the day even when I'm not keeping a close eye on them they can still get out and stretch their legs in relative safety. this could be a separate piece if its not practical to attach it to the side.

Lastly is the plan for the vegie garden beds, I'm particularly proud of this one. A few other principles of Permaculture is to work from patterns to detail, and to exploit edges. These things clicked together for me when I was watching a documentary on fractals the other day, these are mathematical equations that exist all around us in nature (apologies to any mathematicians reading for my inept definition :P) and the create repetitions in scale (ie patterns). I wanted a design that would capture the water running off the driveway at the property, and was wondering if there would be some kind of fractal design that would help me achieve this. 

 Sloping driveways are great for catching water, or so I've read, so I want to exploit that. The individual small rounded beds should be easy enough to protect with wire and netting when necessary using wire and netting.

This solution dawned on me when I though maybe I should be looking for a design in the paths between the garden beds instead of the beds themselves (the edges). If you look at the paths between the shapes bellow you can see a kind of repeated branching pattern where the path splits into three, the middle path stops and then the two remaining paths start over. If I gradually reduce the width and length of the branches I can create a variety of different sized beds.

Nov 24, 2011

The Experiment Continues

I just thought it might be worth noting that it is about a year now that Vicki and I have been living on one day of work each a week. I have had a few freelance jobs, and a 6 week stint filling in for another teacher, but then again I am a casual teacher and don't get paid for school holidays so that kind of balances out. 

We still have our savings in the bank, we have not required or sought any welfare assistance, we have been supporting ourselves, a horse and a dog, and best of all we are as happy as we have ever been. I can't tell you how liberating it is to have the work to live to work model smashed before your eyes. I walk around these days looking at people working their way through a strange parallel dimension. Everything we achieve is made possible by my the co-operation, drive and support of beautiful wife, she rocks :)

While life still has its inevitable ups and downs I am at least free from having my happiness tied to some unattainable work related goal, maybe other readers manage to engage in full time work without this trade off, but for me its never really been an option. I don't do things by halves and always tended to end up emotionally entangled in my work. I still do even with the one day a week of teaching I do, but I find the long periods of time away from the classroom inevitably keep me grounded.

I wonder if others read this (all 2 or 3 of you :P) and tell themselves I'm somehow lucky I can do this, and that for some reason you can not. I suppose one factor is that we don't have a mortgage, but even if we did have one, that could probably be covered if we each worked an extra day or so each a week, so we could still be keeping full time work at bay. Before this situation was forced upon us the changes we are making seemed impossible to us as well.

Next we look ahead to enhancing our lives even further with land, a serious veggie patch and livestock.

Nov 19, 2011


 Well with less than a month to go till the move its time to start packing up this house. Not a pleasant job, but the sooner we get it out of the way the sooner we can focus on out new life.

We also made a purchase for the new house, we drove out to Nanango on Wednesday and bought a wood fire stove from an old guy who restores them.  It was a real interesting day, a taste of things to come perhaps. We were not allowed to just drop in and pay, we were invited in for tea and cake and ended up spend most of the afternoon there. As we had been told would be the case, our first encounter with locals (who were not real estate agents) showed that people are open, giving, and friendly.

Within minutes of meeting us for the first time Bob had offered to lend me his rotary hoe to help get my veggie patch started, amazing. As we thought might happen we do have to be careful when it comes to politics as some country folk can be a little conservative, but its not like they jam things down your throat, there is a distinct live and let live vibe. Having lived in the suburbs for as long as we have it was quite confronting to have strangers open up their lives to us so readily, but it was also a wonderful feeling.

I'm finished teaching for the year so we need to switch to money saving mode, a challenge when we are in the middle of moving and setting up a new home. It will be interesting times. But on the whole we are super excited and very happy, can't wait! :D

Oct 29, 2011

Now We Are Cookin!

Well now we have gone and done it :P

Our house has sold, and we have a contract on this house in Nanango. Its a tidy little 3 bedroom on 5 acres. I don't have much time or energy to post about it now. but we are over the moon. I have to send out an especially big thank you to my beautiful wife who has worked so hard to help make this happen.  An amazing adventure lies just around the corner.

I still have two weeks of full time work filling in for a civil engineering teacher at the Tafe that is keeping me very busy, after that I hope to have more time to post about things. For now I'll just say... WEEEEEEEEEEEEE! :D

Oct 9, 2011

One Last Dance With The Devil

Well the house selling plan is in action, things start out quiet, but the plan we have in place should (fingers crossed) have things picking up over the next couple of weeks.

In the mean time I have picked up some extra work teaching 3D Studio Max to Civil Engineering students. It brings me up to pretty much a full time work load. Its the sort of thing I hope to resist as a general rule as things progress, but my laptop died the other week and I needed to pay for a new PC, so I gave in to temptation.

Immediately I've noticed how when working full time you have to spend so much more on convenient things to accommodate it. Spending to work and working to spend. Obviously you come out in front a little, but still its ridiculous how we have structured things so that working full time means you need to spend so much more, so counter-productive.

The other thing that goes ballistic is waste, suddenly everything needs to be packaged, processed, mobile and immediate. There is no time or energy to make much from scratch. Working throws you back into the system, the broken system.

A Note About My Health.

A few conversations with friends and family members lately have reminded me that I should update how my health is going. Basically the news is good. Slowly I am starting to feel normal again. Sometime this extra work stirs up whatever it is that's wrong with my body, but even so I can feel myself slowly returning to normal. At the very least I definitely feel that this this in not permanent (a possibility that scared the pants off me) and that eventually I'll be able to get back to my old self. Hope is powerful stuff :)

Sep 24, 2011

What is Permiculture

I've been using the internet to learn more about gardening for many years now, and permaculture has always been there on the sidelines. Occasionally it would be mentioned in relation to some chickens or composting, but it always seemed to be this kind of vague thing, something for hippies when I tend towards a scientific point of view.

Boy was I wrong. What I have learned is that a scientific mentality is at the core of permaculture, "Knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation", this is your starting point.

OK so that's simple enough, but what comes next? Here is where I would normally start to get lost. On most of the material you can find on the internet there is very little specific information about what you should actually do with this knowledge. There is no consistency in how to do it, only lots of individual examples of people doing their own things. A Google search for permaculture will revile content about building houses from junk, making a fireplace, raising cattle, a composting toilet or growing vegetables.

Meanwhile if you look up a non-permaculture approach to something like maybe a vegetable bed rotation system it can provide you with a clear set of guidelines, plant this here and that there, move this crop to that bed, rest this bed for this long and replant that crop there. Superficially it seems more logical.

I think it's this relative vagueness that can make permaculture seem like a bunch of hippies talking about their love of nature and not much else. This was all cleared up for me when I was watching a DVD from Geoff Lawton about designing with permaculture and he dropped one word that clicked with me big time. EDIT: looking back over this, I'd hate for anyone to get the impression I don't like hippies. I know some great hippies whom I love dearly, in some ways I count myself as one. Its more just that this coming together with science makes me feel more secure about the decisions I'm making. Anyway back to that important word....


So permaculture starts with observing the successful (sustainable) relationships, patterns and cycles in nature and then is using them as the basis for your own creativity. Permaculture is like being a painter when mother nature (or science) is literally your paint, brushes and canvas. This is why some tend to be vague about how it is applied, because just like any other piece of creativity there are millions of variations for how it can be done. This is about understanding the tools at your disposal and then coming up with your own design with those tools.

This fits in perfectly with my frame of mind and my ambition. In a way this what I have done in other parts of my life already, I teach animation, but its not about telling the students exactly what they must animate, its about showing them the tools and techniques for animating so that they can then go on to express their own creativity with those tools. When I animate I am observing nature, the way things behave and function in the world and choosing which of these I want to apply to my own expression at any given point.

Permaculture can be applied to any aspect of your life, how you interact with your neighbours, how you get to work, how you get your food, and of course how you garden. It can be small or large, if you compost your kitchen scraps then that is permaculture because it uses a natural process to create energy, or you can set up your entire home so that it produces more than it consumes. Any system that gives back to the world more than it takes is Permaculture.

Permaculture is not a set of rules, it is a framework for decision making, it is a launching pad for your ideas.

Permaculture has the potential to solve every major problem confronting humanity today.
There are some videos about permaculture featuring Geoff Lawton on my video page, and I highly recommend his DVDs.
While Permaculture is 1000s of years old, it was first defined as Permaculture by an Australian Bill Millison.

Sep 22, 2011

Tipping Point

Hi there!

Just a quick update. Our house went on the market yesterday. (

We have selected a favourite house that's on the market at Benarkin so we are ready to spring into action when we can. Its pretty stressful, the market is sliding, which makes all the numbers involved inaccurate and unpredictable for a novice like myself. There is a lot of tension around the house, but we need to brace ourselves and ride it out, an engaging, challenging and empowering new life awaits us.

I feel like a teenager again, when I first moved out of the safety of home and started to learn about animation, unsure what to do, unsure where it will take me, so much I don't know. I'm a child again, maybe I always was and just didn't realise it. I'm reminded of a Richard Williams quote, "You don't know, what you don't know." Its time to stop playing with toys so much and really start to understand the world around me.

I find my mind racing to arm itself with knowledge to defend against the unknown, I'm a sponge soaking up information about soils, crops, permiculture, animal care and resource management. But it only delays the emptiness because for now I can't put anything into practice. So instead it ends up blurting out of me in impenetrable rants and repetition that would put The Rain Man to shame, it tortures my poor wife. This practice, perhaps combined with my wobbly health of late seems also to push more immediate concerns and information about the logistics of the sale and move out of my mind, leaving me talking rubbish at times or just outright dumbfounded, which in turn creates more tension.

Its time to take a breath.

This land we buy and what lives on it will probably become my main concern for the rest of my able bodied life, it will be my definitive piece of creativity. We are standing on the tipping point. I feel that tingling sensation you get on a roller-coaster just before it takes the first plunge after the long slow drag up the slope.

Hang on!

Aug 20, 2011


Added some great new items on the video page about sustainable farming and cost cutting :)

Aug 16, 2011

Enter.... PEACE KITTEN!!

Over the past few months I've been tinkering away on the first piece of full traditional (all be it still digital) animation I have done in what must be over 20 years. Its a character I've been playing with for a while called Peace Kitten, he/she (I haven't decided yet) is kind of a cartoon personification of the thinking I explained in my earlier Sick Of Cynicism post, he/she is unashamedly positive, fighting (irony!) for peace, love and harmony.

This activity was inspired by a new trick I learned with Photoshop recently, where you can use blank video layers and animate frame by frame. I've always enjoyed drawing with bitmap programs (like Photoshop) over vector based ones like Flash, so this was a real Eureka moment for me. I've spent some time setting up a custom interface for Photoshop with action buttons for editing the timeline and used in combination with my little cintiq I now have a full traditional animation studio on my desk. Weeeeee!

I know its very short, but this took a long time to do ( for some stupid reason I started at 24 frames per second instead of 12 :P ), every single inbetween is hand drawn from scratch. I REALLY enjoyed doing this and want to do more.

Happy Hooves

Another horse comic :)

image name
Click on images to enlarge.

Aug 13, 2011

This House

This post and its subject matter has been stuck in my craw for a long time, months. Looking back I think some of the more recent posts were an attempt to avoid or delay it, I don't intend to make a Blog where I rant about big world issues. While I don't want to lock myself into anything too specific, I'm hoping this space will mostly be about the discovery of my new life style, but much of the process is stalled for now because of this house.

I've moved around quite a bit in my adult life, always around Brisbane or Sydney, but I'd say I've lived in about 11 places over 20 years. So that's an average of less than 2 years per place, I've been here for over 5 now. Viewed objectively its been a great place, sturdy, practical, and a peaceful location.

When looking back over life however, homes inevitably become bookends for phases or events you have been through. My last house is where I lived when I had the best job of my life as the most senior artist in small studio, it was where I became the owner of an animal for the first time. The house before that one was a great one, where I moved in with my wife to be, where I spent evenings dancing to Jane's Addiction  and TMBG until my legs could stand no more with my new 6 year old step daughter, where great backyard party's were held with old friends and new, and where I was when I married the most wonderful woman on the planet.

This house however (for now at least) carries some far less pleasant memories for me, its where my ability to maintain my career fell to pieces, where my first pets life came to a premature end, where my health suffered some serious blows, where I lived while two studios I worked for closed their doors and worse of all where I failed as a parent. This house feels a lot like a ball and chain, Vicki and I want to move west of here into the countryside where we can have our animals close, and move seriously towards self sustainability. With just the two of us here now this house feels ridiculous to me, there are rooms I hardly ever go into.

Its been well over a year since we decided we were going. We made a list of things that we should do before putting the house on the market to make sure we were getting the best price for it and that list has been our main focus since. In some ways the work feels like moving away from my lifestyle goals, I have had to reduce the size of my veggie patch, it used to fill the whole back yard, we bought turf and I hate turf (an expensive water hungry imported weed), but suburban home buyers will have their expectations.

The good news is that the end is in sight, the house is almost ready for sale. The upstairs interior is all painted, the decks restored, kitchen renovated, turf laid, and garden prepared. We just have a little painting and tidying to do in the downstairs living area ( a converted garage ) and we will be ready for action. The housing market is pretty flat so it may take a while to sell, but at the very least it will be a big symbolic step forward.

I'm looking forward to posting about livestock, solar panels, crop rotations, building on and working the land. Maybe I should have waited until after I moved before starting my blog. Until then you might have to put up with my undirected ramblings. :)