Permaculture journey

Our home, “Sunshine Cottage” is located in the village of Taylors Arm surrounded by trees, fields and hills of the Nambucca Valley landscape. A 1930’s dwelling on a 822 sqm [close enough to the typical Australian dream quarter acre block], it enables us to enjoy the surrounding rural environment without having to afford maintain a large property.

The property and house are oriented mainly to the north and east. Established vegetation includes grassed areas, a mixture of mature trees, flowering shrubs, climbers and plants which are bird, bee and butterfly attracting. Our water supply comes only from rainwater collected from our roofs, and in dry times we reuse greywater on the garden. Our blackwater goes into an onsite septic system.

My husband and myself have owned the property since 2005, continuing the work he started in 2002 when he purchased it as a knockdown but instead decided to renovate the 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, fibro house with its 10 foot ceilings and wide sunny verandah. The interior is old-style with small rooms connected by a hallway, and fitted with carpets, blinds and curtains; basic but energy efficient and comfortable for the two of us, our dog and visitors.

In the early days we got a new corrugated iron roof courtesy of a mini-tornado and insurance claim, and with a view to the future installed whirlybird extractors, roof insulation, ceiling fans, combustion wood heater, gas stove, commercial stainless steel kitchen sink and bench, window awnings, and erected a lock up garage and carport. We spent the majority of public holiday weekends and our vacation time here -making improvements and doing maintenance- across the decade we worked in the city to pay off the mortgage; and at the end of 2015 downshifted from a rented apartment in Sydney to reside fulltime.

Since then we’ve begun sharing a coop of chickens with one neighbour, a small vegetable garden bed with another, as well being part of a wider community. We added additional rainwater tanks [increasing storage to 36000 litres/8000 imperial gallons/9500 US gallons], a glasshouse-garden shed, composting areas, brick paths, ag lines and rubble drains, more trees and plants, caged garden with raised beds for growing edibles, and re-stumped the house.

The property’s challenges involve troubleshooting infrastructure legacies left by previous owners, limited space and rainwater storage, poor native soil, and the usual gardener’s lament of insect pests and invasive weeds. Our own, aged mid 50’s and 60’s… are health and financial constraints.

Our strengths are our love of old and secondhand, ability and passion for reusing, recycling, upcycling, foraging, trading, salvaging, repairing, building, making, growing… as well as patience, persistence and pragmatism. When we need to buy new we do it thoughtfully.

From 2017 to 2019 I studied Horticulture at TafeNSW in Coffs Harbour. During 2019 I discovered permaculture and wonderfully, that it complemented our approach to life. In 2020 I completed Certificate IV Permaculture via TafeNSW National Environment Centre distance education, and site analysis to develop an urban permaculture design for the property which we are implementing and/or adapting as we go. 

During the first year of the five year design plan: we’ve made 11 wicking bed-lasagne garden tubs; installed a 1100 litre rainwater tank dedicated for garden use and which catches water off the glasshouse-garden shed’s clear polycarbonate roof reducing our reliance on grey water during dry periods. The tank is elevated on a tank stand with a sink for outdoor cleaning and water recycling. We’ve had a solar PV system connected, expanded garden beds and created more usable productive areas. As well, we extended the ag line and rubble drain, added more ceiling fans, new chickens and fruit trees – @ May 2021.

“One of the most important things about permaculture is that it is founded on a series of principles that can be applied to any circumstance—agriculture, urban design, or the art of living.
The core of the principles is the working relationships and connections between all things.”
― Juliana Birnbaum Fox, Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide