Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture is our positive and tangible action in the context of the climate emergency and challenges to community resilience. It enables us to explore and apply all the permaculture principles and aligns with our permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair share: a practical expression of radical hope.
Non-commercial venture. No money changes hands: sharing, inspiration, information, learning and experience is our currency.
I acknowledge the Thunggutti/Dunghutti (also known as Dhanggati or Dainggatti) people who are the Traditional Custodians of this land and pay my respects to Elders past and present.
Our Permaculture Journey…
Originally from Scone in the Hunter Valley, I spent my earliest years on my grandparents’ farm. After that I lived in neighbouring small country towns before the all-too-common rural rite-of-passage propelled me initially to bigger nearby towns, a varied working life and the city but I always knew I’d end up back living in the country in an old house.
We relocated from Sydney to the Nambucca Valley -where my husband’s farming family comes from, he was born and spent his early childhood- in December 2015, and after taking a holiday break to travel around Australia in 2016 I began studying fulltime in 2017 towards a new direction.
Our home, “Sunshine Cottage” is located in the hinterland village of Taylors Arm, on the Mid North / Coffs Coast of NSW surrounded by trees, fields, hills amidst the subtropical Nambucca Valley landscape. A 1930’s dwelling on a fully fenced 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 primarily 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. Greywater is recycled to 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, iron roof, timber and fibro walled 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 [much needed] new corrugated iron roof courtesy of a mini-tornado and subsequent insurance claim, and with a view to our future utility installed 2 whirlybird extractors on the main roof, ceiling insulation, 3 ceiling fans, a combustion wood heater, gas stove, commercial stainless-steel bench and kitchen sink, window awnings, and erected a lock up garage and carport.
During the decade we worked in the city to pay off the mortgage, we spent the majority of public holiday weekends and our vacation time here making improvements and doing maintenance. At the end of 2015 we downshifted from fulltime employment and rented apartment in Sydney to reside here permanently and began working on our dream of living simply and creatively.
Since then we’ve added additional rainwater tanks [increasing household-use water storage to just over 36000 litres/8000 imperial gallons/9500 US gallons], another whirlybird extractor to the skillion roof, a glasshouse-garden shed, composting areas, recycled brick paths, ag lines and rubble drains, laundry & kitchen greywater diversion to the garden, useful-edible trees and plants, caged garden area with raised beds for growing edibles, and re-stumped the house.
In April 2017 we began sharing a dozen laying hens and one rooster with our neighbour who has a chicken coop in her yard. Over time numbers fluctuated and although we added four new hens in 2020, egg numbers dwindled to the point in late 2021 where we decided to have a break for a while and support local egg producers, although our neighbour retains the remaining few as pets.
The property’s challenges involve troubleshooting infrastructure legacies left by previous owners, limited space, limited water, poor native soil, and the usual gardener’s lament of insect pests and invasive weeds which we approach holistically. Our own, aged mid 50’s and 60’s… are health and financial constraints.
Our strengths are our love of old and second hand, ability and passion for reusing, recycling, upcycling, foraging, trading, salvaging, repairing, building, economising, making, mending, growing, cooking… as well as patience, persistence and pragmatism.
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 TafeNSW National Environment Centre’s Certificate IV Permaculture design course [wonderfully, content created by Robyn Francis, mentored by Rob Fenton and Gerard Lawry] via distance education, and a site analysis, urban permaculture design & five-year plan for the property… Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture was created.
How we think and act is underpinned by permaculture principles: observe and interact; catch and store energy; obtain a yield; apply self-regulation & accept feedback; use & value renewable resources & services; produce no waste; design from patterns to detail; integrate rather than segregate; use small and slow solutions; use and value diversity; use edges & value the marginal; creatively use and respond to change. ― Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture
During 2020, to kick off the plan: we made 11 wicking bed-lasagne garden planters; installed a 1100 litre rainwater tank dedicated for garden use, which catches water off the glasshouse-garden shed’s clear polycarbonate roof. The tank is elevated on a tank stand fitted with a sink which drains into a bucket so the water can be recycled onto the garden. In 2021, we had a solar PV system connected, energy efficient air conditioning installed, expanded garden beds, created more usable productive areas, increased our composting capacity, and planted fruit trees & roses.
In response to extensive rain events during 2021 and 2022 and ensuing pervasive mould throughout the house and its contents, we extended ag line and rubble drain systems to further divert excess water groundwater away from the house and installed 3 additional ceiling fans to promote air circulation indoors.
At the start of 2022 we decided we needed to add another way to turn food scraps into organic material for the garden and a worm farm that is ant & rodent proof and doesn’t need tending every day was the answer. Now we have 1000 organisms relying on us instead of a few chooks.
We love living in the village and also being part of a wider community locally and via social media who share produce-stuff-assistance-information-inspiration. For the first few years I was a student: something I had long dreamed of. These days I’m one half of Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture, a member of Australian Institute of Horticulture and Permaculture Australia, a volunteer with OzGREEN and Carers NSW, co-facilitator for local community resilience activities, and admin for local community Facebook groups. I continue to learn, apply and share my experience in social media, horticulture + permaculture + design, and downshifting.
We continue to implement and/or adapt our five-year plan as we go.
“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
“Australians can downshift and retrofit their lives, homes and gardens to be more sustainable and resilient. It promises a challenging but exciting mix of satisfying work, a more meaningful way of living, and hope for the next generation as we move towards an uncertain future.” ― David Holmgren, Retrosuburbia urban permaculture
On my bookshelf…
The Good Life: How to Grow a Better World, Hannah Moloney
Futuresteading: Live like tomorrow matters: Practical skills, recipes and rituals for a simpler life, Jade Mills
The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While enjoying Everything More by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb
Garden Pests, Diseases & Good Bugs, Denis Crawford
The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, John Seymour
The Little Veggie Patch Co’s guide to Backyard Farming, Fabian Copamolla and Mat Pember
The Permaculture Home Garden, Linda Woodrow
The Weed Forager’s Handbook, Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland
The Wondrous World of Weeds, Pat Collins
What Garden Pest or Disease is That, Judy McMaugh
Guidebooks on weeds, native plants and regeneration, available from local Landcare offices.
Other interesting treechange-downshifting books…
Art, Life, Chooks: Learning to Leave the City and Love the Country, Annette Hughes
Choosing Eden, Adrienne Langman
Going Half the Hog: A Hobby Farm in Tasmania, Nick Flittner
Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga: A not-so-perfect tree change, Todd Alexander
You’ve Got To Be Kidding: a shedload of wine & a farm full of goats, Todd Alexander
So many podcasts but my go-to when I need a top-up of radical hope…
Google or search Spotify or your favourite podcast platform for Hanna Moloney [correct spelling] alternatively Hannah Maloney [incorrect spelling] and Good Life Permaculture podcasts… always cheerful, inspiring, interesting and relevant.
Of the generous offerings via social media/blogs/websites/e-newsletters, two of my faves…
Hannah Moloney’s Good Life Permaculture
Linda Woodrow’s The Witches Kitchen
“We acknowledge that permaculture owes the roots of its theory and practice to traditional and Indigenous knowledges, from all over the world. We all stand on the shoulders of many ancestors – as we learn, and re-learn, these skills and concepts. We pay our deepest respects and give our heartfelt thanks to these knowledge-keepers, both past and present.” Milkwood
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