Confessions of an off-grid pioneer – the beggining
“There’s nothing in a catapillar that tells you its going to be a butterfly” – R. Buckminster Fuller`
Move away from google images and Instagram, for just a moment! Yes, I’m talking to you. Put down your copy of Grass Roots magazine. Drop out of the university of YouTube and log off Facebook. Ive got a tale I would like to share with all you aspiring land pioneers out there. All you conscious community seekers, Earthship enthusiasts, Ringing Cedars of Russia readers, all the computer desk permies, weirdoes and freaks! This one is for you.
It all started as a small child. We would go to the local park and collect the local seed pods to feed our local childhood wonder. The affection we feel towards the natural world begins at a very young age. It happens because we are in fact nature itself! We are not separate or even ‘a part of’. We are it! You and the trees, the water, the wind, critters, dirt and mountains all share the same vitality and spirit that we know commonly as planet Earth. Kids know that shit! They know it and they breathe it until they are taught not too. As a whole, we have been educated and guided away from our true selves.
It happens ruthlessly. They tell you what to eat, think and breathe. What to listen to, who to admire, who to love and most importantly, who to hate, fear and manipulate. By dividing people, it becomes a lot easier to get them not to realise their true self. Their true collective self. The longer you spend your life living separate from this truth, the harder it becomes to live it once you do rediscover it. This is the confession of an off-grid pioneer. It is a hard, twisted, strange, beautifully rewarding journey.
It all happened so fast. The desire that is. Everything else happened really slow but the desire, oh yeah, that was instant. I can pinpoint the moment it happened. Had a business, mortgage and a plan to grow to become a hip, slick, inner city entrepreneur. Then there was that moment when it all fell down. When the wave of rediscovery crashed through my consciousness like a drunk wife through a living room window who had just discovered that she had been cheated on all this time. It was big. I was sitting under a big ol rainforest tree of some kind at the woodford folk festival. All of a sudden it hit me. “What the fuck am I doing with my life?!!’ I thought. “Why am I fighting so hard for something that I dont even like or am passionate about?!!” “Who’s dream am I living?”
And there it is. Who’s dream are you living? Who is the puppet-master pulling the strings within your consciousness?
From there, the decision was easy. Just do it. Pull the plug and get the hell out of dodge. It wasnt about living off-grid at that point. It was about cutting off the umbilical cord between me and the beast that feeds off my fear and anxieties. It was a mutual relationship. At some point in my life, a sloppy beast, hell bent on destruction found my belly button, hooked in and held on for dear life. No matter what way I twisted and turned the beast held on. It created the conditions for my ever growing fear. Once I created the fear, it fed. It sucked the fear through the tube and didnt stop until it was all gone. Once it was gone, it created more fear conditions for me to build upon until the beast became so big and mighty that I had no idea that the beast even existed. The umbilical chord got shorter and shorter until it became impossible to tell the difference between me and the beast.
It only took that one simple decision to take my power back. Taking my power back was the samurai sword that slashed through the umbilical cord and gutted the beast from toe to head.
I didnt need to do anything. Once the decision was made and it was solid, the rest fell into place like a winning game of monopoly. BANG! Sold the house and paid out the mortgage. It took about 2 months in total to advertise, sell and settle. I was not picky, just determined. BANG! Got rid of the business. This took a little while longer as well as requiring some creative ducking and diving. The thing is, when you are living in your truth, things just seem to fall in place easier and set backs arent as crippling.
Going back to the woodford trip. Heading up, we spent Christmas at a friend’s dad’s house in Mullumbimby. He was unusual. Looked kinda like a cross between Danny Devito and Bob Marley. He had built a freak house right in the middle of suburban Mullumbimby and he spoke a language that I understood. It seemed all to familiar. Like, I knew it fluently but hadn’t heard it since I was a young boy. It took me a while until I realised what the language was. It was the language of intrigue and wonder. Two of the finest qualities we are blessed with as young people. Inquisitive splendour. It was refreshing to speak to another two legged upright who has retained the dialect. We spoke for hours. Connecting as organisms on this planet do on a non physical level.
After many anecdotes about nature, life and fart jokes, Bobby De Vito offered me the opportunity to look after his bush shack. It lay just outside of Nimbin, hidden in the bottom of a deep, dark valley. I was speechless.
A few weeks before I made the pilgrimage towards my destiny, Bobby De Vito came and visited me in Melbourne. He wanted to suss me out, to make sure I was for real. I picked him up from the airport and took him to my favourite sandwich place. He laid it on me.
“This thing that we do, it isnt easy. You are only going to have yourself to rely upon. Are you ready to live the reality behind that statement? In the bush, services are not on tap. If you hurt yourself, get bit by a snake, injure someone else, the hospitals and ambulances are few and far between. When living in nature you are responsible for everything you do. There is no big daddy parental figure who is going to bail you out. You really need to understand this. If you can live with that fact, the reward is like nothing you have ever experienced”
I heard his words and listened to it with completely open heart, wonder and an idealistic romanticism that births ill-founded expectations. The problem was that I didnt listen to his words with my mind. The balance between heart and mind is so crucial when entering into nature. If either one operates out of balance when making decisions, it can lead to catastrophe. Natural and personal catastrophes.
So there I was, heading up to start my new life as a bushman. Brought everything I owned, loaded in a box trailer and Toyota troop carrier. Listened to Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, King Curly and other inspirational music on the way up. Finally, after 20 hours of continuous driving, I had made it to my new home. The most beautiful off-grid cabin in the middle of sub-tropical rainforest. It had been raining for weeks at that point. I turned up with a very heavy vehicle and trailer full of my stuff. I took down the barricade that Bobby had set up and drove straight into my first bog.
The ground had been so wet for so long that even my troopy could not get itself out of the bog. My first lesson in living off-grid and I hadnt even gotten out of the car yet. I rang Bobby to let him know what happened and he tore ass over the range to see what kind of mischief I had gotten myself into. He got out of his red beetle convertible, looked at my car and just stared at me. It was one of those ‘Oh Jesus hell what kind of freak have I let into my inner circle’ kinda looks.
We went inside and made a cup of tea. He looked me in the eye and said, “Now this is the thing Doovaye(thats how he says my name), you are not in the city anymore. You need to just slow down. The thing about living here is that everything runs at a much slower pace. You step back and think about things on a whole and how your actions are going to affect things”. This is probably the most important part of this entire obscure ranting. If you have decided to leave everything and take on the off-grid dream, slow your shit right down!
Making that one change is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself and everyone else around you. We were taught the word ‘now!’ very prematurely. Everything is ‘now’ and ‘the customer is always right’ and ‘I have a right to bla bla bla’. Nature does not work like that. Nature does not jump to your fears and desires. Nature has a cycle and a chaotic order that can be tapped into.
My car was stuck there for three days. In those three days, I got to spend time getting to know the trees, the water, snakes, critters, the magic of that space, that land. I became that kid again. Rediscovered the wonder. Spent three full days slashing lantana, fixing the water source, harvesting firewood, walking through the bush to the snakey toilet, learning the ropes basically.
Living in that cabin allowed me the space to become nature once again. It allowed my spirit to slow down from a schizophrenic sprint down to a leisurely stroll through the woods. It was very helpful for me to have access to a finished/established home to gain inspiration from. To get a real feel for what is involved in living off-grid as well as dreaming up what is possible for my own future home.
I learned that if there are not enough days of sun, I dont get electricity. If it doesnt rain, it becomes a lot harder to get water. If I dont upkeep the homestead, it will degrade and not be a shelter anymore. If I dont chop firewood, I will be cold in the winter and in that particular home, it means that I wont get hot water or be able to cook hot food. If I dont slash the lantana, then the house will slowly become engulfed in it. If the rain is coming and I dont stock up on food, it means that I could get flooded in with no supplies. I could not afford to have too many ‘off’ days because that meant that my sustenance was in jeopardy.
I also learned about freedom. How to experience it, how to earn it and how to enjoy it. By taking care of my own sustenance, I also took my power back. You dont know what freedom truly is until you experience it. You surrender your self to nature. Nature will always have you back. It doesnt hold grudges that way. As soon as you are back in the nature family, you feel that true sense of belonging. It can be overwhelming when ‘it’ hits. But it is the only ‘it’ that is worth that level of compromise. That total and utter surrender. Well, that and love of course.
Speaking of which, lets fast forward a coupla years. By this stage, I had made a really solid crew of fellow off-grid enthusiasts. Three of us had organised and facilitated the first start to finish Earthship in the country. Was a huge experience which catalysed events such as running a couple more builds around the area, doing Earthship seminars/workshops all around the country, securing some land in Nimbin and setting out to start a school for living off-grid. Pretty good effort for two years of knuckling down!
What I didnt count on, was falling in love. Love has a special way of exposing you to yourself. Meeting Katarina provided that missing element of complete prosperity. We just got on straight away and knew that we would be building a life together. Love is one of the greatest motivations when it comes to living off-grid. It makes all the hard times really worth it. There is someone to share everything with. You help each other, the land and your project grow. With love and truth by your side, there is literally nothing stopping you.
The area on the land that we moved onto had absolutely no infrastructure. Not one building, road, dam, electricity, nothing! We were literally starting from scratch. So the dream team spent a full year coming out and visiting the land during different seasons and weather events. We observed where the water flowed, where the dry spots were, which direction the wind comes through, where the sun rises and sets all year round, where the animals roam, and much more.
This is a very important part of living off grid. It limits the amount of mistakes and redoing of things that you have to do. Get to know your land. Become intimately involved with it.
We check to see where the water flows so we know where to build our structures and place our gardens. Where to regenerate using trees and plants that like a lot of water. Where to put toilets so they arent in a spot that can drain off directly into waterways.
We look for which direction the wind comes through so we know what trees to plant where. Where we need to plant out our wind breaks, where to build houses, fire safety etc.
Knowing where the sun rises and sets at different parts of the year is going to mean the difference between having a healthy home and a home that requires constant energy and is a potential mould trap. Orientating your home to face the rising winter sun will keep your home fairly warm in winter and cool in summer.
There is so much more but I wont get into it in this article. Wait for the book coming out soon!
After the full year of observation, finally it came time to move onto the land. We had next to no money to work with. I needed to come up some how with shelter, sewerage treatment, water to the site and basic electricity. Not easy!
The first thing I built was a composting toilet. I wanted Katarina to at least be comfortable on that front. She had not lived off-grid before. So if it meant that she would have to find a quiet corner to poo and bury, it was not going to be sustainable. The toilet needed to happen to get her on the land!
The toilet was built mainly out of bamboo that I harvested from a friend for free. I used the roof off of my FJ40 as the roof for the toilet and the rest of the parts came to a total of $100. The toilet works great and it is harvesting compost for us to use on our citrus trees. It has a pee separator and it overlooks our future house site.
Then came the shelter. We were looking for something large enough to fit all of our belongings, quick to put up and cheap enough for us to afford. After ruling out caravans, camper tents etc we came across a tipi for sale. The tipi was 25 foot in diameter, about 10 metres from floor to peak and looked really badass. The best part was, that it was in our budget. We raced over to the place during one of our workshops, took it down and put it up on the land during another workshop.
It was huge! It fit all of our stuff, was relatively easy and quick to put up and looked pretty badass. We really were happy with ourselves. We even laid down a concrete floor for the tipi to sit on so it felt like a real home. The slab was laid so later on down the track, we could build our cottage there. Always thinking 7 steps ahead.
Then the rain came. BOOM! It rained for weeks on end. The tipi did not like it at all. With all the rain catchers and other little innovations to redirect rain, the tipi just got flooded. The concrete floor does not drain off the water, it collects it. All of our stuff was constantly compromised. The only safe spot became on our bed. This was an issue.
At this stage we had no electricity, no water, no shower and no road. It was hard. Like, seriously hard. Everything was muddy and dirty and wet and mouldy. It felt like we had turned into fish that could kind of walk. The rain just kept coming in. we began getting good at setting up buckets in the right places before it started pouring. The damage became less and less severe. It was trying.
We would get our water from a friend up the road who has unlimited access to pure spring water. We would turn up with bottles and jars and fill up. She allowed us to come and go as we please. The same friend gifted us with a mosquito net that we still use today and has been a real life saver to us.
We would bring our laptops to peoples houses and charge it up for some kind of electricity. We went to my mums house for showers when the stink got too bad and she would feed us from time to time.
Finally it became time to make a road. This was probably the most expensive part of the whole thing. We loaned money to build it. It cost 10 thousand dollars and is now an all weather road. It has great drainage, is up out of the weather and follows the contour of the land perfectly. Now we could get our vehicle home in all weather. What a treat!
After that it was time to get water to the site. We had saved up a little money and had enough to get what we needed.
We didnt have enough for a proper system and we didnt want to run a pump every time we turned on the tap. We are lucky enough to have a creek on the property that runs all year round. So we bought a 1000 litre water cube, poly pipe, fittings, header tank and a firefighter pump. We were on our way! I scratched a level pad for the header tank up the hill just using a spirit level and a maddock. Once the tank was laid, I attached the fittings and poly pipe and ran it all the way down to the tipi. We hired a guy with a bobcat to come and dig a long trench so we could bury the pipe. This avoids damaging the pipe and also keeps the water cool on hot days. Filled up the tank with creek water, opened the tap and lordy lordy, we had water!
This made such a huge difference. Having water on tap just turned us back into functioning humans. This meant we could have a shower and build a garden. So we did both immediately!
The shower is an outdoor shower that drains off to feed a banana circle. It overlooks the most incredible valley and the night showers are lit up with starry skies.
The next thing we had to save up for was electricity.
A couple of months later we had it. We bought a one kilowatt stand alone solar system and it covers nearly all of our needs. It runs our laptops, stereo, a couple of lights, refrigerator and phones. That is all we really use out here. The battery bank is large enough for 3 days of no sun and we have a back up generator just in case.
All of this made the flooded tipi almost bearable. We definitely had and still have regrets when it comes to buying the tipi. It is great because it is a large communal space where people can gather and connect. However, there are just better option, I believe. We are glad we did it but we kinda wish we didnt, if that makes sense?
We have now upgraded to a passenger bus and I tell you what, this is luxury. It is off the ground, water tight, it has plenty of windows and is moveable. Bus = success! We decked out the bus simply with functionality and beauty in mind. It has no seats inside. We painted it a warm cream colour and katie made curtains for it out of discarded fabrics. Looks and feels great!
Now we have a functioning bedroom, living space, road, water, electricity, toilet and garden. We are high and dry and our yearly utility bill is around $100.
Next step in our adventure is finishing off our kitchen which is made of nearly 100% recycled and natural materials and building our cottage on the tipi site. That though my friends, is a story to be told in the future.
We have had times of having no money, no food, no water, too much water, heat waves, personality conflicts along with everything else. You know what? I would not change a thing. We still wake up to one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. We drink only the purest of waters. We eat mainly organic food. We have so many special souls that come in and out of our lives. We are unplugged from the guts of the machine.
When the morning sun peaks over the ridge and warms up my breast, I walk outside and urinate to the sound of 6 different types of bird. I walk less than 100 metres to swim in a natural lap pool that constantly flows. The trees are my teacher and the wind carries the wisdom far beyond what I can see. I am well on my way to rediscovering myself. Who I really am. I am nature, just like all of you.
This is the confessions of an off-grid pioneer