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Showing posts from 2012

Wind Farms - The real story

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Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

The local campaign to support the proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm has taken a step forward with the publishing and distribution of this flier that I put together with the help of Leigh Ewbank from Friends of the Earth and the team at BEAM. There will be a letterbox drop in the local area and the flier will also be distributed throughout the region.

The flier has been put together in response to the misinformation that is being regurgitated by local anti-wind groups. One of the latestet claims of which is that Wind Farms should not be placed in high risk fire areas as they can start fires. This comes after news of a grass fire near the turbine site a couple of weeks ago, which (from what I've heard) was caused by a lightening strike to a tree.

On investigation further I discovered that lightening strike is the main cause of bush fires. The Wind Energy Fact sheet produced by the NSW state government concludes that fire risk …

A well hidden tree house

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Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

I've been having fun transforming this 'weedy' tree into an adventure playground, a nice shady space for the kids to play in during summer. I built a platform a bit over a year ago, after prunning the tree heavily, the space evolves as the tree continues to grow. I experimented with bending the branches over to form a dome like space within the tree canopy, which would eventually grow leaves to hide the inhabitants. It has turned out better than I could have hoped.






The space is a big attraction for visiting kids. The 'clam' pool is filled nearby and is well shaded before the afternoon sun kicks in, a great relief for those really hot days. "Watch out below" is the call as the bucket is lowered using a pulley to the sandpit for refilling. The kids often cook dinner and make cups of tea for us in the treehouse using all sorts of wierd and wonderful ingredients. The chickens nearby get plenty of attention, t…

Making a living, doing what I love

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Principle 3: Obtain a yield

Dare I say it, my background is as a Graphic Artist in the advertising industry. I never really enjoyed working for agencies, I didn't find it very rewarding and sitting at the computer all day (and sometimes all night) was depressing and exhausting. I stopped working full-time back in 1996. Freelancing at agencies ceased when my son Kai was born, over 5 years ago now, though it died off almost completely a few years before that.


Back in 1996 my original plan was to spend a year on the road and find the ideal place to live. It was over 5 years by the time I returned. I worked a couple of times at agencies to keep me going, never more than a few months, living frugally from the Kombi the rest of the time. While working at a small agency in Perth I attended a 'Old Growth Forest Rally'. I remember that it was raining heavily, but the crowd was huge. I was moved by the experience and spoke to the organisers about how I could get involved. I put toge…

Part-time schooling

Principle 1 : Observe and interact

We've been interested in Home Schooling for our 5yo son Kai but have been put off by the fact that we couldn't find any support networks locally. Every parent that I've spoken to who has expressed interest in home schooling have raised the same issues.

We don't feel ready to take on full time home schooling, but don't like the idea of sending Kai off to school five days a week (he doesn't either). We are stay at home parents and are flexible and willing to help our kids learn from home. We are not interested in creating school at home, I think that they would be better off at school if we were trying to do that - rather I see this as helping our kids learn  life skills according to their needs.

A friend of ours was taking one of her children to a nearby small country school part-time last year, and was telling us how the principal was open to this. Her child went full-time at the school this year, it was right for him. On hea…

Seymour Community Garden with Costa

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Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal

I've had an interest in the development of the community garden in Seymour since participating in a  meeting which discussed the concept and possible locations at the community house a few years ago. While I've been supportive, I haven't been very much involved. My focus has been on building our home and gardens here.

I've watched with interest as Mark Padgett took on the project, originally as part of his Permaculture Diploma, working in collaboration with the Salvation Army. It certainly wouldn't have got as far as it has without the ongoing help of Greg, who kept the project moving when there was little interest or involvement from the wider community. While I don't know Rick, I hear that he has given the gardens a real push more recently and developed the Seymour Community Gardens website, which I was quite impressed by. Credit to the whole team, especially the volunteers who have transformed the wasteland behi…

Finding balance in the wind

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Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

I've been feeling uncomfortable with the division that has been emerging in our community about the proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm. These tactics, employed by the Australian Landscape Guardians, have been used before to divide the local community and create angst. Who wants their community divided? I don't like it, and have been looking at what the two positions have in common.

The local newspaper, the Seymour Telegraph, has been publishing letters from both sides of the debate along with regular updates of how the planning application is progressing (or not) with Council / VCAT. The paper has provided an important outlet for the local community to express their opinion, but it tends to fuel more adversity. I've contributed a couple of letters recently - picking out elements of the 'anti-wind' letters that align with the 'pro-wind' letters:
Published 7th November in the Seymour Telegraph Lee Stephenson raises an …

Giant geodesic sphere from scrap

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Principle 7: Design from patterns to details

My friend Dylan spoke to me of making of making a sphere from polypipe, as a project for kids at the upcoming fete at his local primary school. He discovered the video below that explained how to do it, so we spent the day (my birthday) working on it. My best birthday yet!

We soon realised that the project was a bit beyond the abilities of a primary school student.


The key bits of information that we gleaned from this video was: using the soccer ball as a guide, the calculations for the lengths that we needed and the quantities of lengths.

A soccer ball (football) is made up of 20 hexagons and 12 polygons, all of the stitching is the same length. We called this length 'Normal' (N). The diameter of the sphere is about 5 x N. We wanted to make a 2m high sphere so N = 400mm. We needed 90 lengths of polypipe at 450mm, 25mm extra at each end to give us room to drill a hole. We wondered if we would need to include the star shapes within…

Build your own: consume less, live more

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Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

A couple of months ago I read an article by Michael Green in The Age. It spoke of a new target of 5kWh per person per day, the "Go 5" campaign. I was horrified. We used less than half that amount of electricity for a family of four!
In the article there was a link where you could find out how much energy was typically used by a household in the same area with the same number of residents. For our household it was 18.1 kWh per day on average over a year. That's less than the target! What's the point of setting such a target if most of us have already made it?
I wrote to Michael Green of my concerns and he replied with this:
The idea is that we can bring down overall consumption by establishing a norm that's slightly less than the mean (more like the median), by shifting the really high consumers. Still, it seems such an unambitious goal... Michael checked out this blog and was interested in writing about our projec…

Cleaning old beer bottles for brewing

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Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

I've been home brewing beer off and on for more than 20 years. It was my first venture into fermenting and making my own anything. I used to turn up regularly to parties with a crate of homebrew. It's a financially rewarding pursuit, each bottle of beer costing about 70c to make, while they retail for $5 or more. The trick is to set yourself up right.

Cleaning bottles is the least fun part of the process by far. It's the type of job that you only want to do once. To avoid going through this process more than once make sure that you rinse the bottles a couple of times to ensure that they are clean after you've used them, and stack them away in a cupboard somewhere near where you bottle your beer.

The newer 750ml screwtop bottles can be used but are of poor quality. They are made to be recycled, not reused. The glass is thin and they often break. I use them, but dislike them. My favourite bottles are the old l…

Standing up for renewables

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal
The proverb for this principle "don't think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path" seemed appropriate for this post.

As a committee member of BEAM I helped write our submission to council with regards to the planning permit for the Cherry Tree Wind Farm. In our submission we raised some concerns that we felt needed to be addressed, but felt that, in balance "the overall benefits of the project outweigh the negative impacts", and were supportive of the proposal.

At a Special Council Meeting held last night, just 2 days before the conclusion of the council elections (held by postal vote), BEAM was invited along with other people who made submissions to present their case to council. The extraordinary meeting was called as Infigen (the developer) had put their case to VCAT because council had not made a decision on the development with the 60 day time period. I assume that council was forced…

Home grown popcorn

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Principle 9: Use small and slow solutions

As an experiment in the garden a couple of years ago I planted some shop bought popcorn (from a bulk foods store) in the front yard. Most of it grew, but it wasn't much good for eating fresh, unless you picked it at just the right time. After it dried on the plant I gave most of it to the chickens. Then I got to thinking that I should try popping it. At first I didn't have much success, with not much of the corn popping. I think this has more to do with my technique than the corn itself, a technique that I have now perfected (the corn just burns if the pot isn't hot enough to pop it).
Our kids often have 'Corn Thins' as a snack, a commercial product made from popped corn. These are often buttered and painted with Vegemite. When you think of how much fat and salt is consumed with each one, popcorn with limited butter and salt is probably a healthier alternative.

The following season I tried again, using the second generation…

Curved reo used as trellis

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Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to change

I've become a big fan of reinforcing mesh (reo) as trellis around the garden. When the mesh is curved it has strength to stand on it's own and support plants. With a small backyard we need to be creative in how we can use vertical space and provide other functions at the same time, like shade.

I've been thinking about how to best shade the decking in summer for quite a while. Peter had suggested sails - but there is a need to remove them during the cooler months, which often doesn't get done, reducing the advantages of passive solar design. I wanted to use deciduous fruiting plants instead, as they perform multiple functions and change with the seasons.
What put me off using mesh earlier on is that I felt that the space would become too enclosed and feel like a prison. Mesh does have an industrial feel to it. I got around this but using three strips of heavy duty reo, running wires between them which will eventually su…

Roof top maintenance

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Principle 6: Produce no waste

An important element to the principle of produce no waste is regular maintenance. Often maintenance is left too late and requires major work or replacement. If done on a timely basis it's not a big job at all.

The reason I went up onto the roof in the first place was to investigate a bird that was stuck in our chimney. On investigation I discovered that the the bird was stuck at the base of the chimney, not nesting at the top, which was my original thought. When I lifted the flue from the stove top two Indian Myna birds took off and flew about our living room, giving us all a bit of a fright. It had been over two years that we had moved in and this was the first time that this had occurred, I decided to leave the top of the flue uncovered figuring the chance of reoccurence slim.

When on the roof I noticed that the Solar PV Panels needed a clean, so I did so. I decided that this should be part of my 6 monthly maintenance regime, which includes termite …