We now face an existential crisis that may bring human civilisation to an end. This needs a whole of society effort to try and resolve it. Our current system is a planet-killing Ponzi scheme. Its a giant casino of absolutely epic proportions. The consumer way very easily debauched.
I think we are losing a sense of community in many ways. We need to learn about these fundamentals of a deeper connection to one another and to nature. Maybe theres another option, maybe theres another way – way to live which isnt the way that I have grown up with or become accustomed to or just fallen into. The story of industrial civilisation tells us that limitless economic growth, advanced technology, and material affluence are the pathways to prosperity.
But as we reflect on the world today, it is clear that this is failing both people and planet.
We know this in our heads and feel it in our hearts. And yet, it seems we have not found a new story by which to live. We are the generation in between stories, desperately clinging to yesterdays, but uncertain of tomorrows.
But then again, perhaps the new story is already with us. Perhaps we just need to live it into existence.
I came because I was looking for a way to simplify my life. I knew that the way that I was living my life wasnt right and the things that seemed that it seemed necessary to strive for werent the things that I really wanted to strive for. And Ive always felt that. [Beautiful windows.] So I guess for the last five or six years Ive sort of been paring back.
I just, yeah, I felt I didnt want to have debt, I didnt want to didnt want to feel obligated to work a 40-hour week and not have time to do the things that really mattered to me.
So, for the past year or so Ive been experimenting with, I guess, living simply, living sustainably, and trying to challenge myself, I guess, to live in a way that is less ah harmful towards the planet and, ah, less energy intensive. I guess I feel like this experiment is an opportunity to push myself a little bit further and challenge not only myself but the modern environmental movement to, yeah, come to understand what it is to live sustainably. Im really looking forward to this year, being part of a team working together to explore, ah, what it really means to live simply and sustainably, to work towards living within the resources of one planet. How we can just improve constantly.Reflection on Transform lifestyle
And Im really excited about sharing that beyond the group here and beyond this place as much as we can to inspire and educate others as well. The idea of this project really interested me because Id been trying to apply these principles in my own life in quite an individual way, hadnt had much support from the wider group of people I was with, so the idea of coming here to be in a supportive learning environment and to be meeting lots of new people who are asking similar questions, challenging things in a similar way, thats what excited me, that idea of working as part of a larger movement.
Ah, I guess my interest in this project was to join with like-minded people, learn some skills, give my daughter the opportunity of living, living on a rural property. Being part of a documentary toto educate and inspire others to one planet living, sustainable living. Um, so I was interested in this project because it provided me with the ability to put the theories of natural building and natural food production into practice on a bigger scale than Im able to do in cities and without actually buying any land, because lands so expensive at the moment.
Ive been studying permaculture for a long time, but Im excited to put it into practice.
I want to have experiences and I wanna be able to use my hands, and have knowledge from experience rather than from books. In terms of the existing infrastructure, in addition to the house there, theres a small earth ship, a cob round house, some basic composting facilities, and a moderately sized farm shed, if you like. My mother loved this place. So much so that my sister and I spread her ashes here, once she passed away.
She is very much the seed for us, in being able to explore sustainable pathways for the property. It was not long after this that I was introduced to Samuel Alexanders book Entropia, and realised that we were truly on the same page, envisaging a simpler way.
I shared all this with the Gunai Kernai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporations cultural heritage manager about our small Braiakolung patch, and Wurrukan was born. With permission to use Wurruk, a local indigenous word for earth and story, fused with kan, a Mayan term for seed. We are beginning the build of a tiny house.
Its about 2.7 by 3.6, and about 3 metres high, so its got a footprint of about 10 square metres. Were trying to use as much reclaimed timber and reclaimed iron as possible. For the last two or three months Ive been jumping into skips on the side of the road or jumping into peoples back yards when they tell me that theyre renovating, or going to the tip shops or salvage yards or finding windows on the side of the road.
Weve got about 15 people here for the build over the next week and at the end of that build Im hoping that weve more or less got ourselves a beautiful, unconventional, tiny house.
This is the tiny house that was built by a group of people in, when was it, it was January, as well, so it took about a week, and then I had to install some of the ceiling and a few other bits and pieces myself, but it got finished in a week. So this is the outside of the tiny house. Its made out of pretty much nearly all recycled materials, building materials, its probably about, I would say about 95% all recycled building materials.
These weather boards are actually skirting boards that we sanded down and varnished.
So I guess that the main feature of the tiny house is the geodesic window, which our carpenter Nick made. Its beautiful. He actually made the frame and I cut all the glass and did the patterns. First time cutting glass and, what do you know it worked! And then I made a candle-holder for it and everything.
This makes it a really warm and beautiful space to be in and I look forward to many winter nights with candles. Then weve got, like most tiny houses weve got a loft for either storage or a bed. Thats my bed up there. Its got a really cute little window. You can fit quite a lot of things into a tiny house and to be honest its quite comfortable.
Ive got my couch, my bed, Ive got a work station as well.
This is my little desk, where I end up doing designs from, which is a really beautiful place to work. I often work with the door open, Ive got a view down into the valley there. I often work with a kerosene lamp, candles, sometimes a head torch if its getting a little bit too dark. Theres no power in the house and thats what I like about it.
I like to kind of go back to nature and it really gives you a feeling of the fluctuations of the seasons and the cycles of nature as well. I prefer to live in a tiny space. I like to nest, and I dont think that you miss out on much much more than living in a conventional house, in a quite a larger house, and thats because it makes you minimise, it makes you realise how much you dont need, as well.
It makes you realise how functional a small space can be. In our modern society we have the, usually the feeling that bigger is better, and I dont necessarily think that thats the case.
I think that smaller is more cosy and more nourishing. I grew up in quite a conventional way, in a little family in sort of suburban England, but my family had a really strong connection to the natural world. Wed often go for walks in the forest and along moors and I had a deep love of nature from a young age. And when I was a teenager I, through videos on the internet and through publications, discovered the extent of the ecological and social crises happening in the world today the deforestation, the pollution in the oceans, the toxic dumps, the factory farming. That really hit me very hard and I became really concerned about how we were living.
I had a deep sense that we shouldnt be going down that track but at the time I had no idea that there was an alternative. You cant produce an answer unless you name the problem accurately. Unless we really understand the circumstances were in, were not gonna get the solutions to find the path to it and Ive seen what I call, after Barbara Ehrenreich, a lot of bright siding.
Aah Its all happy-clappy, its all good, were all going in the right direction, theres renewable energy, sunflowers, all of this. I think, in part, some of that is a personal psychological response of people wanting to talk about the good news because it allows them to go on.
But we have to deal with this problem as it really is, and it is arresting and it is difficult. And to pretend otherwise, to pretend its going to be light and easy, that its going to be business as usual, that everybody can keep on making profit and we wont have to change much, to think like that, actually means that we cant get to the solution we need. We need brutal reality in order to solve the problem. Techno-optimism in particular is, is really insidious, its about telling us we dont actually have to change anything, we can still have everything we have now. So we dont have to worry about any of these pesky limits, well have everything we have now well just do it all in a green sort of way.
I think we have to have a recognition of the fact that we are facing limits, and some sense of the relative timeframe for the different limits that were facing, because then we know what were trying to prepare for, and we have an appropriate kind of sense of urgency as to the need to do it. I hope that by the end of the year Ill have a deeper grounding in what it means to live simply, and a greater confidence that this is in fact a way of approaching life that is deeply nourishing. I believe it is and the experiences Ive had so far tell me that its something that could be applied to lots of peoples lives for great benefit, but I think the explorations of this year will help give me confidence in communicating that message and sharing it with a wide range of people.
I hope that by the end of the year these practical explorations will give me greater clarity of my own realities and vision and how I see my life being a beautiful contribution to these difficult times that were in as a species. I want my life to be a gesture towards a more stable and loving world.
I guess Im expecting this year to be difficult. Im expecting to, yeah, again push simple living to its probably more extreme ends and try and, I mean I know its gonna be uncomfortable but I wanna try and find what my limits are and try and pare it back to something thats somewhere in between and more comfortable. And I guess Ive been doing that by myself for a little while now and Im hoping to do that with a bunch of other people that are interested in the same kind of thing and maybe we can work together and as a community it might be more rewarding or more enjoyable or even a bit easier.
And yeah I mean if you can extend that to community living, I guess itll be easier to extend to much broader society. [Oh ok, no its not matching up anymore.
] I spent the last eight years working in an office, as a town planner, in a number of different roles, doing different things and in the end of those eight years I was actually partaking in projects that I was very passionate about, but the bulk of my work that was coming from up above, my bosses, was not something I was proud or really fully passionate about. So quitting my job and doing a bit of travelling and then applying to be a part of this project gave me the ability to remove myself from the daily grind, I guess you could say, and you know I found that once I you know built my salary up over those eight years working from part time to a full time, senior employee in a local government, I started spending that money on luxuries, and since Ive quit my job its been nice to just strip all those things back and try and live more simply with far less.
So over the year Im hoping that Ill be able to construct some form of abode on wheels for very little money, as I dont have much, using recycled materials as much as I can. Ive always had sort of minor health issues and in my mid-30s theyd developed to a point where it was necessary for me to really do something to really take responsibility for my health, because I wasnt finding the medical profession helpful and I wasnt finding anything else that was helping me, and so I started taking responsibility for my health. And as I understood more about the way my body works, and the importance of the food that I put in it, and that food is medicine, and the importance of knowing where your food comes from, and connecting with your food, the more interested I became in soil, and in gardening, which I had never really I mean Id always been a city girl, I never really knew how a strawberry grew wouldnt have recognised half the plants on my plate if Id seen them in a garden.
So those understandings led me to leave a desk job that I loved but which I realised wasnt healthy for me, it wasnt good for me to sit at a desk for five days a week all day, every day, it wasnt good for me mentally, or physically, or spiritually. Ok, so this is the cob cabin. It was built in a workshop about a year and half before the project started. Its the walls are 30cm thick cob, which is sand, clay and straw and water, and the floor is also cob. Theres not a lot to show in the cob cabin because I didnt come with a lot of things, so I havent got much in here, which Im really loving.
I gave away or sold most of my things before I came to Australia for this project, which was a really liberating experience. So obviously in the process of being here Ive accumulated things, because thats what we do.
One thing Ive done is make a bed from pallets. There were some rocks left over from the build and some planks lying around so I made some shelves from rocks and planks. Ive got a little plastic solar powered light, which doesnt put out much light, but thats so I dont have any other form of power in the cabin.
Im not going to have any heating for winter. The walls being 30cm-thick cob, its really well insulated so its really cool in summer and so far its been really warm on cold days, but obviously were not in the heart of winter yet so I dont know how its gonna be. We need a certain level of material possessions to be satisfied but beyond that point, which is surprisingly low, its actually less about what we have and more about the way we live and the way we treat others and the way we feel ourselves to be in relationship with the wider world, and lots of beautiful writers spoke very clearly about how people can find more satisfaction in a less consumptive way, which at the same time makes us happier in the west and it also reduces the load that were putting on other people around the world who dont have access to the wealth that were taking from them.
So voluntary simplicity for me is a very elegant way to both increase personal satisfaction and sense of meaning and richness. Theres now a mountain of literature that is overwhelmingly convincing that not only are there savage limits to growth but weve gone through many of them, in the sense that it is now utterly impossible for all people to live at anything like the standard of consumption or environmental impact that we have in rich countries.
And yet the mainstream has virtually ignored that case. The economy at the moment, despite all those brilliant tech-fix things like the computerisation of everything the resource use rates are going up at a fiercer rate.
So if technical advance, technical fix, is going to solve our problems, well I want to know is whens it going to start? It often seems to me that these debates about our environment, our future and our, you know, environmental future come down to almost a blind faith in technology. And I should say that by background Im a technologist, I come from applied physics background, so, you know, I like what technology does for us.
But, we have to be really careful about putting so much faith in this factor. Well, essentially all human political systems exist to extract wealth from the periphery and concentrate it at the centre. Its just that some of them do it a lot more effectively or efficiently than others.
Capitalism does it extremely effectively. So its a very effective mechanism for sucking wealth towards the centre.
What you do is you create a Ponzi scheme, essentially, youre sucking everything in, but you constantly require a larger and larger periphery to suck it into in order to keep expanding the capacity of the centre. And if you cant keep expanding, it will collapse, like any Ponzi scheme, so you have to keep reaching out further and further. I dont necessarily think its certain that were in for collapse or that its happening now. I think trying to make such a call, a certainty call on this is, would be extremely brave. But I just think the evidence does appear to be assembling and stacking up for that its likely that we may even be in the early stages of a collapse mode right now.
It just makes sense to me to start to prepare and I suppose that that to me means expect being more self-reliant. Were using organic gardening practices. So were not using any pesticides, were not using any fungicides, were not using any chemical fertilisers, anything like that.
Its mainly about trying to build soil in whatever we can, mostly with compost and mostly with manures. Food is more than just fuel for the body, its its your connection to the land.
Its the most, food is the most intimate connection to the land because you interact with four of the five senses, you know the taste and the texture and the smell and the sight, so its quite an amazing thing to be able to enjoy good food, fresh food, seasonal food, real food, food that doesnt come out of a can or a package and you mix water with it or I dont understand those types of food.
The giant middlemen in the form of huge multinational corporations and supermarket chains, are not able to treat farmers in a way that respects the absolute reality and necessity of diversity. These farmers are being pressured to grow standard-sized apples without a single blemish, they have to fit the machinery that is the harvesting machinery, the washing machinery, the supermarket shelf and the packaging. The end result is we burn tonnes of food every year, the end result is that the very research and development at university is now concerned about transportability and the looks of products not the nutritional value. We dont know now when our food naturally grows.
You know, we get watermelons in June, in Victoria, watermelons dont grow in June in Victoria, you know. And I think that thats really disconnecting.
When you wait for something to grow in your garden, its a completely different feeling because youve anticipated it, youve cared for it, it not only tastes delicious but youve got this kind of connection with it that makes it taste even more delicious and the fact that youve waited for it all season So we get some of our food from the garden, but during the winter we havent had as much coming in from the garden, so get some vegetables from the Baw Baw Food Hub, so weve been getting sacks of potatoes and sacks of carrots and sacks of onions from them, as well as garlic in bulk and things like butter and cheese. They also do veggie boxes, with a range of different vegetables from the local area, so weve been getting them as weve progressed through the year. Aside from that we get our dry goods and other food from a variety of different places.
So, were aiming to source our food as locally, ethically and organically as possible, so we choose which supplier we get different items from so that were getting it from as close as possible and grown in the best way possible for the environment.
Because to me food consumption is a moral act. It is also a political act. And it is up to us, the consumer or I like to call ourselves the citizens, not just consumer to do something about it. Because we cant all wait for authorities or government to do something about it, we just have to do things.
It has to be from the bottom up. My names Hayden and I build super adobe domes, and I run workshops and I hope to do it full time and as a real job. Its 3.6m in diameter because that falls under the 10sq metre floor space that it needs to be classified as a shed, so we dont actually need a permit for it. About 95% of the building material is earth.
Weve got a really really large pile of earth that weve just pulled from the site here, so hopefully if your soil is the right consistency you get to use a really really large percentage of soil thats on your site.
So its really really local materials, really really cheap, and yeah really really easy to build with. Yeah, this is our composting toilet setup, which we built over the course of a few weeks out of a combination of salvaged hardwood, local cypress, which makes these, and, yeah, just some other materials that we found around the place, some hessian sacks from down the road. Its a pretty simple system. Theres a urinal over on this side here, and a composting toilet on this side.
After weve finished using it we put in a cup of sawdust, just here, from the local cypress mill, and that just helps it to it balances the carbon and the nitrogen and it helps it to compost into a fertiliser.
So when were done with the bin, when its filled up most of the way, well take it out and put it in a holding bay with all our other bins and theyll sit for about 300 days, and well check on the compost after that time. And during that time theyll just compost away until eventually theyre, yeah, beautiful fertiliser for the garden.
Weve used permaculture in the gardens, where were trying to maximise diversity and make sure that theres a lot of different kinds of plants around. Were planting herbs and things like that, as well, for integrated pest management.
Permaculture can be defined in many different ways but it basically, it stands for permanent agriculture first of all, and then permanent culture, ok, so the way I see it is basically its planning and designing for more permanent kind of systems. Just like nature does, really, its mimicking nature. So, its utilising design and careful research and planning to ensure that youre creating a self-cycling system thats regenerative and produces no waste. So permaculture is really a design system for both sustainable land use and sustainable living. And so its addressing both the production side of the conundrum and the consumption side, and saying why not bring those things back together?
Well we eat food we grow a garden, why dont we grow the food in the garden and integrate that whole? Rather than the industrial system, which stretches everything out in these long supply chains.
So bring it back together. And through that a whole lot of design principals emerged, that, you know, small-scale systems actually made more sense than large scale ones, that you need a diversity rather than a monoculture. And its not just sustainable, sustainable is not nearly good enoughWhat you need is not sustainable, you need regenerative, and thats exactly what permaculture provides you the ability to do.
Rather than our extractive system, where weve constantly been sucking resources out all the time, and cannibalising, catabalising our natural capital, all the time, rather than doing that and leaving ourselves less and less and less ability to produce and meet our needs in the future, if you institute a permaculture system, youre actually rebuilding that natural capital.
Sustainabilitys a funny one. Yeah, I feel like its a bit of a buzz word at the moment. Sustaining. Yeah.
I dont know what it is that youre trying to sustain anyway, I mean, yeah, when you think about sustainability it means I guess that you can continue doing what youre doing ongoing into the future, indefinitely. But I just dont really think that theres that much that we should be trying to sustain at the moment.
We should be looking at solutions that can improve the land over the long term, and can improve the lives of people. But I dont think the rampant inequality and the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is something worth sustaining. I think thats something worth destroying and challenging and replacing.
Youre really answering what is a deep human need, because thats how we evolved.
Its coming back onto a track that would allow life to continue evolving, that would allow for real progress. The other path is suicidal, we are going to soon get to the point where localise or die basically, because we cannot continue extinguishing species, cannot continue creating frustration, fundamentalism, terror. We cannot continue so blatantly destroying any form of democracy. You know, things are going to change and I think well see, you know, that people are waking up very, very rapidly to the benefits of localisation.
Ah, this week we’re retrofitting our existing farm shed to be a kitchen, lounge and craft space. We want a multi-functional large area that can be converted to different uses with portable bits of furniture, so with the materials we’re using, we’ve sourced locally milled timber from a local sawmill, and were also using as many recycled materials as possible. So we’ve got a bunch of floorboards and bits of iron that we’re going to use as cladding for the internal space. Were also going to be doing a recycled bottle wall along the front of the building here, to let as much light in as possible and thats also going to feature some large glass doors to bring the outside in and feature that beautiful view we’ve got of the property.
There’s so much waste these days, of buildings that are getting torn down or scraps of wood that are left over from building jobs, that we can divert those resources from landfill and actually use them in a meaningful way and be really creative with just making something out of nothing.
Were here at the Wurrukan kitchen/lounge room/communal space, which weve been living in now for about three or so months. I guess the theme starts with our recycled timber. These ones up the top and on the side here are oak floorboards that were left over from a building project and we were able to get them very cheap. Weve got some recycled windows that there are a couple of sets around the room. So over here you can see weve used a combination of corrugated iron and some hardwood fence palings that we were able to get for free from demolition.
We also scored some of this splashback stuff around the sink and the oven, which is heat proof, and that was left over commercially and we were able to get it for free. These beautiful bench tops, both these ones and the larger slabs, came from a sawmill, from Jedwood. We were very luck to get their off-cuts and be able to actually use them with the help of our professional carpenter to get them to this stage, which is really nice. Up on the roof weve actually had to use some ply wood. We were a bit short on materials to do the whole thing with reclaimed stuff.
And theres also insulation and framing behind all of these walls and the ceiling now so that insulation was also you know a bit of a compromise.
We bought that new as well cos that can be pretty hard to find secondhand. Its been really great to have a wood-fired stove to cook on. It feels a lot better than cooking on an electric stove as we were before. Just knowing that the source of energy that were using to cook with is a renewable source is better.
At the moment weve used some off-cuts from building, which have no other purpose, and weve also sourced some of our firewood from this property and also from nearby forests in the way that is permitted. So, its clear enough now that we need to transition swiftly away from a fossil fuel energy economy to an economy based on renewable energy. Not only due to climate change, but also because in coming years or decades fossil energy production will inevitably peak and decline. But we cant just green the supply of our energy, we also need to, I think, significantly reduce energy demand, because theres no way that we can run a globalised energy-intensive consumer society purely on renewable energy. Yes, we need to transition to 100% renewable energy, but that implies significantly reducing energy demand, and it would be far easier, obviously, to meet 100% renewable energy if we consumed much less energy.
So that should be our goal. But given the close connection between energy and economy, a society based solely on renewable energy would have reduced energy supply, and therefore would probably have to go through a phase of economic contraction, at least in the developed regions of the world. So I think if we were successful in transitioning to 100% renewable energy we wouldnt be able to live high-consumption, energy-intensive lifestyles. We would need to aim for far more humble but sufficient living standards. The silver lining to consuming less is actually consuming more of what we really want and what we really long for.
And that includes, you know, hand-made, artisan products that, you know, most people treasure much more than some mass-produced product. It includes more time to breathe and to sing together, to dance together, to make things together. Theres a whole universe of things out there that we could do right now without money, but it requires the insight and the courage to connect to others, and to form groups where we can change the I to a we. You dont need that much in the way of material things if you know that your neighbours have got your back, and anytime you get overwhelmed by things, you can go next door and theres someone whos shoulder you can cry on, or they can come to you, or someone whos tomatoes you can water, then theyre coming and helping you fix your bike, or whatever it might be.
There are just so many advantages, there are no disadvantages to building community, and the potential advantages are absolutely massive, so I think thats something we really, really need to focus on.
I think the benefits of living in a community reveal themselves to you more and more each day. Theres the strict financial benefit of being able to share in the costs of making this transition. And also the benefits of being able to draw on each others skills and attributes and knowledges so you dont have to do it alone, you dont have to do it financially alone, skills alone, some of those things are very intimidating for people trying to make that step. But more than that its about being doing it together.
And whats possible here is possible not just because of us as individuals but because when we get this unique collection of individuals together were capable of so much more than what we would be on our own.
So we have to do one of two things: we either just accept that we have no community at all, we just have a casual neighbourhood and some nice acquaintances at work and perhaps a couple of people that we drink with at the pub, or we create community, intentional community.
And I think thats the side thats always interested me personally as well as in my research, is How can people create intentional How can you consciously do it? I know people subconsciously do it all the time. I mean its our natural position, but can you actually do this, can you set out to create this? And that always fascinates me.
You gonna have to come up with some idea of how youre gonna make decisions. Yes, were going to have consensus, and yes were going to live lightly on the land, and yes were going to support each other and yes well look after each others children and elderly and all of that sort of stuff.
But it depends whether you have any experience with doing that. I think the other thing is that we are losing so many of those skills from living in community. Its like, you know, I know that I have to develop skills in organic gardening if Im going to become an organic gardener, I know that, so therefore I also have to develop skills in inter-human, interpersonal relationships if Im gonna live in community.
Dont assume you were kind of born with that because you werent. You have to learn how to cooperate, how to put the group above the individual and thats very challenging. Theres been a lot of challenges, Im not gonna lie. I think although we had to live the first few months without much infrastructure, without a warm kitchen space, without much of a lounge room or without a whole lot of running water and we had a composting toilet that was sort of outside, I dont think the infrastructure were all that big, I think there seemed to be a sense in solidarity in all doing it together and that kind of gave me a lot of comfort, knowing that we were all kind of pulling through and stronger because of it.
So I feel like the infrastructure challenges were a little bit problematic but they werent as hard I think as the community challenges we faced, when there was conflict in the community and our conflict resolution around that werent fully developed so yeah, I think I struggled a lot when things were not going well and people left and things werent fully resolved, or when there was substantial difference in the direction that people wanted to take in the project, whether people wanted to build lots of infrastructure or start practicing simple, simpler living.
I feel like those chasms, those sort of divides were challenging for me because I didnt know where I sat and didnt know how to bring the group back together again. I wanted everyone to start working together again. Obviously starting at a community from scratch with people who dont really know each other at all and designing a property and finishing buildings, houses and bits of infrastructure is very challenging in the context of one-year project, so, yeah, that social aspect of just getting to know each other and getting decision-making processes in place has been one of the key challenges.
Another major challenge I think has been the group figuring out how to accommodate a wide range of peoples styles of voluntary simplicity. It can be interpreted to differing degrees and theres not necessarily any right or wrong answers, so just figuring out how the group can accommodate the variety within our personal direction and preferences has also been a challenging component of that social side of things.
One of the humbling learnings I got from being here was how difficult it is to be in community and how in a way we have to relearn that art that we have broken that long tradition of shared ritual and song and mythology and living in one place and knowing that history. Thats kind of been fragmented for us and when we now come together in groups its much harder to find that common culture to draw upon in times of discord and in times of confusion.
So its easy for us to fragment back into our individual desires and paths and I know that for lots of people, as resources become more scarce and we have to rely on each other more, therell be positives to that but therell also be lots of challenges. So Im very motivated now to keep practising and developing those skills of communication and conflict resolution, naming the difficulties, bringing up the emotional challenges. And also celebrating together, creating, relaxing, learning how to play and dance in a group and, its a real, its the art of being human and the art of being together.
Weve been living in a tent, or we were living in a tent at the start of the year, and yeah the tent was in a place where it didnt get a whole lot of sun and as it began to rain a bit more as we were coming into winter it didnt dry out so it started to get mouldy and, yeah, there was a bit of pressure on us to do something else and we decided that building a small house with recycled materials would be the simplest way to do that so, yeah, so we did. This beautiful structure behind us is the house that we built over the course of about three months out of pretty much entirely recycled materials. We had to make five purchases.
We bought some cement for the foundations, some steel bracing tape, because it was a bit wonky, we bought some screws for the roof, we bought some [a tub of wood glue] a little tub of wood glue for, to make some window frameswe bought chains to hold the windows open. [hinges] Oh and we bought, there were six things, we bought some hinges as well.
But thats it; everything else is recycled materials we got entirely for free.
Yeah, we went by dumpsters from demolition sites, we looked on the website Gumtree and, yeah, we ended up getting, yeah, pretty much everything we needed to build a whole house just for free. If, yeah, we can demonstrate that its possible to do without three and a half years of training and without tens of thousands of dollars, to build a house that is gonna be a lot better in terms of its ecological footprint, then I think that that can kind of disperse that knowledge more amongst the people that might not have the money to take part in a more conventional sustainability movement. Yeah, so the total cost was about $420 if you, include, yeah, the petrol money that went into it.
Its a lot more time consuming doing it for free, but yeah, its definitely worth it.
[A lot more rewarding, I think]. Yeah. So while Ive been at Wurrukan Ive been continuing to work for eight hours a week for book publishing clients and thats enabled me to cover the small expenses that we have at Wurrukan. So weve put $30 a week into the kitty, which is, you know, the great benefit of living in a community, that for $30 a week each weve been able to pretty much feed ourselves for the entire year.
And obviously all of us have little extras that we like, that werent items that everybody wanted, and so weve bought our own, I dont know, cheese, or bread.
I think Im right in saying that weve all spent under $100 a week this year for our basic living costs. [The borrower receives the full amount and pays it back, plus interest. Either way the interest that it collects on loans is one of the banks principle sources of income. Now Mr Moreton has obtained his loan.
He has increased his bank credit by nearly $2000.
But this credit was not transferred to him from some other account, so where did it come from?] So currently the existing monetary system essentially has a growth imperative built into its structures, because banks create money by loaning it into existence as interest-bearing debt, and in order for that debt to be paid back, plus the interest, that implies an expansion of the monetary system. So it needs growth for stability. But we also know that growth is the driving force behind our environmental problems, so if we were to transition to a post-growth economy, as we need to do for environmental reasons, this would require us to create a different type of monetary system and banking system, one that wasnt so dependent on growth.
And I think theres a huge amount that governments can do to reign in the worst aspects of the current system, but perhaps a more promising line of opposition, given that governments dont seem to be doing much, would be for individuals and households to try to create new forms of economy.
Try to escape the existing monetary system as far as possible. And they could do this through things like creating local currencies, local exchange networks and engaging in practices like barter, and gift, and sharing.
It would be its obviously so much easier for a community to deal with the contracting economy if communities and households shared the stuff that they had. So there was a long process of what felt like a long process of learning to communicate with each other and its immensely satisfying now to feel that that process has actually been really successful. And to be living now in a with a community of people who when problems arise know how to work through them.
And I think weve actually been really successful at making those at developing those communication skills, and its a nice feeling when, you know, when we have a meeting and someone raises an issue and you can see the change in you can see the different way that people approach it, you can see the different ways that people sort of think about, respond to issues, especially if, where at the beginning of the year they might have felt a little bit attacked now they think through the reason for the issue coming up. Yeah I think were all much better at, I think were probably all in some way more mature community dwellers.
Living in such close quarters with other people as part of a community, especially on quite a small scale where we all use the same lounge room and kitchen and theres you know seven or eight of us in that same space on a daily basis, it certainly presents a lot of challenges on a personal and a group level, that are just inherent to human beings and you know families and communities and all types of human relationships.
So its certainly been challenging but I know for myself thats made me look inward and examine my own personal journey and where Im at and how my own psychology is evolving and just you know, if you feel a bit down one day or feel a bit anxious about how someone else is acting, its ended up kind of flipping around and making me examine how Im contributing to those sorts of dynamics or social situations and just, yeah, trying to learn more about myself I guess. So Im gonna be building my house in less than a week now.
Ive got fourteen people coming out to learn how to build a tiny house on wheels, and Ive been gathering materials for the last couple of months in Melbourne and around the local area to build a tiny house on wheels out of recycled materials. You know, weve got a few rough plans but being a tiny house its quite easy to go with the flow and being recycled materials weve had to adapt to that and its gonna be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, I guess.
So theres a major, major benefit if you dont get trapped into working 20, 30, 40 years to pay the mortgage on your two big McMansions, boy oh boy have you gained a lot of time and freedom from worry to do other things. And in a sane world we would be able to build a very nice little house for, I reckon, $10,000 at most, and you can do it for less than that if you like, and thats a perfectly adequate house. Now, youve saved $400,000 there, by the time you take in the payment of interest and the loans to the bank and tax on the money.
Thats not negligible; there is a benefit for moving to simpler ways. So were three days into the workshop and its going really well. As you can see weve got the full timber frame of the walls up and the groups working really well together. Theyre all learning off each other and Nick, our carpenter, is doing a really great job, so I feel very lucky to have everyone working so hard and were on schedule. I was really humbled by the good will, the energy, and all of the contributions brought by everyone who made it possible.
It was just an amazing week of everyones energy vibing and making this beautiful house possible, and, you know, Ive got a little bit left to do but Ive basically had people come and build me a house with really great intentions and we all learnt a whole lot. And it couldnt have gone any better. Id say it was probably the best week of my life without a doubt. Theres a whole history of these sort of energy descent ideas and permaculture being associated with a move to the country, a move to rural areas as a place thats a better place to be more self-reliant. And that still may be true, but for most people theres both a necessity and an advantage in looking at where they live already.
And for most Australians that is some sort of detached housing in what we call suburbia, whether thats in our capital cities or whether its in similar housing in our regional towns and even villages like the one we live in that most people are living in those separate houses on small blocks. And what that template of living makes possible is its possible to incrementally adjust what is happening there and provide a lot of peoples needs by growing food, by modifying the house to make it more ah, less dependent on energy, by harvesting some of the water, and by using some of the space that exists in our relatively large houses to start doing more in the household economy.
Doing things for ourselves, rather than depending on money. One of the things thats most exciting about the intentional communities movement now is that its like we have right across the landscape hundreds of experiments about how to live in a way that confronts and resolves issues associated with climate change and peak oil, you know, environmental damage on a global scale. Instead of just having a one-way solution, which just says this is the way that we have to go forward to resolve this, instead weve got all of these little bubbles of creative responses and you know new ways of living and being together and, building lives together.
Patterns of settlement and patterns of production are popping up all across the landscape, each offering different pathways, and its almost like the as more of these emerge we have more opportunities for resilience. Ideally Id like to see more initiatives like this, where people with resources and land and spaces, making them available to allow, you know, passionate and enthusiastic people to live more self-sufficiently and demonstrate through example that there are other ways of doing things.
So theres so much that we can do right now, without spending any money, to greatly enrich our lives. And lets not be fooled by this idea that we have so much choice in the modern economy and that our lives would be so limited if we were to choose a different path. We have not even begun to explore the potential for more diversified, localised ways of doing things.
There are reasons for pessimism, because its a big, big task, and were in a lot of bother, and we are not very far down the path to the kind of consciousness that we need. But there are a lot of strong reasons for optimism. One is, that the vision of an alternative way is, I think, so attractive, its what keeps me going, and its so easily done. We could do it in weeks, if we wanted to. Its about moving to ways that would liberate all of us.
You dont want to wait until you have absolutely no choice. So I would say its a bit like were standing on the edge of a cliff and were going over the edge, like it or not were going over the edge.
Thats not up for debate. So what are you going to do? Are you going to stand on the edge of that cliff and wait for someone to shove you off?
Or are you going to put on your parachute and jump? Because, not that base-jumping is without its risks, but its a lot less risky than going over the edge without a parachute! So lets not think of it as good guys and bad guys, and lets not believe for a minute that the way well change it is by getting some good guys to go into those large structures.
Lets look systemically at how we can shift towards smaller structures with more holistic knowledge, underpinnings, and that really is the localizing path. When you know how to live simply, the sense of freedom can be just overwhelming.
Theres nothing as addictive as freedom, and theres nothing as attractive either. So, I think if we find the right way to explain our ideas to people, and explain the ideas that are fundamentally workable in the first place, then there is so much that can be achieved, theres no need to despair. I came to Wurrukan wanting to explore a really radical form of voluntary simplicity, because I felt a real sense of urgency around the various crises that the world is facing at the moment and radical simplicity seems to me to be the best and most logical response.
After the experience this year of living in community, and despite all of the challenges, I feel really strongly that this is the right way for me to live. So, yeah, my intention is to return to New Zealand and find or found a community and in the long term Im really hoping to live in a community that operates in a gift economy.
That feels like a right and responsible way to live, or thing to work towards. The person I was at the start of the year is vastly different to the person I am at the end of the year. As I would hope would be the case for every other year for the rest of my life. My plans for the future extend as far as I should probably pick that zucchini over there.
Beyond that, not many plans.
But I Im imagining that Rachel and I will probably stick around here at Wurrukan for a little while. Im feeling pretty settled here, it feels a lot like home. I think the number one thing thats been solidified in my mind this year is that my favourite things in the world are imagination, creativity, and teamwork. And the combination of those three things is, yeah, personally the recipe for living in a beautiful way in the future. I love community, I love other people, I love living and spending time with other people.
I dont know whether or not living in an intentional community is part of my future.
One thing that I knew coming here was that living in community is a challenge, it involves effort, and that that effort is worth it. Yeah, its been a really transformational year for me I didnt expect to have the opportunity to be constructing my own house this year, so its been very humbling to have the generosity of all the people involved and the land owner to allow me to do that, because its been quite a journey to collect the materials and go through the process of building over an extended period of time, so thats just been fantastic and blown my expectations out of the water. So, once Ive finished my house, which will be sometime early in 2016, I plan to relocate it to Melbourne, hopefully in a back yard somewhere that affords me a location where I can ride my bike and catch public transport without having to be car reliant. But after moving it to Melbourne and living there for a little while and enjoying a bit of city life, I dont really have a plan.
Im very happy to have that feeling of freedom and liberation for the first time in my life and Im going to make the most of that. One thing I get paralysed by is this sense of having to do it right, somehow not making mistakes. And weve made so many mistakes living here, you know, there are buildings that are leaky, there are disagreements that never got resolved, there are contradictions in the way were living, and compromises that we had to make. So, from one perspective, we failed, we havent transformed the world or led this perfect example. And from another perspective, those very failings are our gifts, and they are the offering, and they are the learnings, because weve risked and weve been willing to put our values on the line, and weve been willing to test these ideas and try and bring them into, you know, the shared reality.
You know, no one holds the answers, no one has the perfect solution, it’s gonna require a response from everyone if were going to be moving towards a more wholesome and enduring way of life. And, you know, the challenges, the failings, the mistakes, the triumphs, theyre all part of the story of change and I just hope that other people can feel that encouragement to make their own beautiful mistakes along the way to on the way to integrity..