The Interwebs for Off-Gridders

I just read a post on Reddit promoting an off-grid festival in the UK. Many commenters siezed the opportunity to ridicule the irony. Posting about an off-grid event using the grid (the internet)? I don’t think there is an irony at all and responded:

“I sympathise with the idea off-gridness. Mostly because I don’t subscribe to the idea that the best way to deliver utilities is via the grid. Telecommunications, including the internet, necessarily depends on networking – on the grid as a conduit to share data. Just as our words (and ability to convey them) do when sharing information on a smaller scale – perhaps in the same room, with a friend. Do we need the grid to deliver electricity? In some situations, perhaps. But certainly not in all, or most. I own a small bush block in rural Australia. To connect to the grid (sewage and electricity, I do have access to a community bore for non-potable water) would cost me several thousand dollars (in actual fact it probably costs a lot more, it’s just city folk would be subsidising me). For the same money I can get a good solar system with battery bank and install a greywater management system.”


I get quizzed all the time about internet access and mobile phone coverage. But the thing is, I don’t even aspire to being off-grid. I just choose to be off-grid where it is most sensible – from an environmental and economical point-of-view. To follow off-gridness to its logical conclusion would mean that we would even use roads. Roads are part of the grid. They allow the movement of people and goods the same way telecommunications allow the sharing of data. 



Breaking Ground – Sandy, Limestone Infested Ground

We broke ground last Friday. Sand. Then limestone. And did it over and over again to the point of exhaustion. Loved every moment of it and still feel sore days later.

My partner and I made a trip up to the block on Anzac Day and soon realised it was, indeed, a special public holiday. We had trees and irrigation supplies to purchase but nothing was open until 12pm. With respect to the fallen soldiers, half a day wasted. Eventually we were back on track and bailed our first shovel full of dirt at 2pm. Hard labour, it was. The ground, whilst sandy and soft, was freckled with limestone. To be expected in that part of the world. This had its pros and cons. Pro: free building materials and a good workout. Con: the sore wrists I am typing this with today, and the sheer time it took. We worked into the night under the beam of the car headlights. The challenge didn’t stop there. There was no water. Turns out there is no mains in. A blockage perhaps? Onto the council, who are responsible for the supply. Thankfully, my friendly neighbour ran a long hose from his bore tap, which made our bucket trips to water in the figs, olives, gojis, and feijoas, a bit shorter.


We planted the trees in a medium of loam with chook shit, grape marc (the byproduct of wine production), the sandy loam we dug up, and a pinch of rock dust. The irrigation will have to wait for this weekend – thankfully the trees were treated to 19mm of rain this morning – and some swale building and mulching.

On Transportation: My First Taste of Coaching it to the Block

The coach left Adelaide at 8:30am and I was walking on my land by 10:45am. I spent most of the trip staring out the window–it really was a glorious day of weather. And knocked off a chapter and a half of Rob Hopkins’ “The Power of Just Doing Stuff”. The trip cost me $19.40 each way, so a total of $38.80 which is comparable to what it would have cost to fuel a car. I was back on the coach at 2:43pm on the dot, and alighted the bus in Adelaide at 4:48pm (20 minutes ahead of schedule).

The VLine Speedlink coach.

The VLine Speedlink coach.

The VLine (Dysons) coach was modern and comfortable and reeked of New Bus Smell. The check-in staff at the Adelaide Bus Station and the driver were friendly and professional and made the trip a breeze.

Could I make this trip regularly–probably departing on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday when I have some infrastructure in place? Definately. The VLine coach service is affordable, efficient, and a pleasant if relaxing way of making the journey out to the Murray Mallee.

Permaculture Books in Australia

This may be the first and only plug I write on Mallee Permie, but if you’re after permaculture and want to support an honest, small business, look no further than Adelaide-based, The Bookshelf of Oz (Judy of Oz). It’s where I bought my copy of “Introduction to Permaculture” (Second Edition) (Mollison, 2011). I’m about to order “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” by Holmgren. Being an Adelaidian, rather than getting the book posted, Judy was nice enough to invite me around to collect it. I cycled of course.

I have searched Adelaide bookshops high and low for permaculture titles and the shelves were barren, I tell you. Even secondhand bookshops. According to a few proprietors, permaculture titles are snapped up as soon as they hit the shelf. Which is very good news. It’s great that there are folk out there, amongst the crowd, that are interested in it.

The Essence of my Sand-Change

I was chatting to a random earlier—let’s call her Lucy—that happened to share a similar worldview to me. This was refreshing for I experience a clash of ideas with most people in my life. Specifically we were sharing our views on the productivity paradox and how we do not think technology will be the answer the problems in the world—as is so often prophesised. Don’t get me wrong, I believe appropriate technology is hugely important in addressing climate change, peak-resources and environmental destruction, and in creating efficiency, meaning and happiness in our lives. I just don’t think technology is necessarily the silver bullet or that all of it, especially some of the high-tech futuristic stuff, is appropriate.

I shared with her my plans for the future and quite like how I articulated it. So I thought I’d share it with you lot:

Me, I am about to embark on an experiment. At present I work in a job I dislike and earn far too much money. I decided to beat the system at its own game. The job is a means to an end. It’s allowing me to save a shed-load of money so I can buy a cheap block of land in Timbuktu (well, SA’s version thereof), build a small straw bale house, and live a rather self-reliant life. This simply life will require me to earn very little money–I own a business which will pay me a meager though satisfactory profit. I intend to live on less than $12k a year. The point of all this is to be idle for a while and get bored.

From that boredom I don’t know what will become of me. That’s the point. My current life is filled with guilt and excuses. When I’m idle I feel guilty for not doing something productive. When I am productive I feel guilty for not being idle. I need to find my equilibrium; my purpose. And I can’t do it with all these nonsensical distractions around me. I need to get my life back to level one. In doing so, then anything is possible. Why do creatives not prosper? It’s too risky. They have bills to pay.

In a nutshell, that’s how I feel.

Transition Town Movement: A Critique

Ted Trainer writes in an essay about the Transition Town movement:

The only way the global sustainability and justice predicament can be solved is via something like the inspiring Transition Towns movement. However unless the movement radically alters its vision and goals I do not think it will make a significant contribution to solving our problems.

Trainer is right, the alterations must be radical otherwise the movement will produce nothing. The majority of participants–if that is the right term–in Transition are predisposed to the sorts of thing the movement espouses. They are not people that woke up one morning and decided to participate–though I am sure the movement boasts some recent converts. They are people that have an existing interest in the what the movement stands for and sets out to do. Alex Steffen writes:

All over the world, groups of people with graduate degrees, affluence, decades of work experience, varieties of advanced training and technological capacities beyond the imagining of our great-grandparents are coming together, looking into the face of apocalypse… and deciding to start a seed exchange or a kids clothing swap.

Sammi Glover at TreeHugger contends that Steffen believes the Transition union as looking at collapse in the directly in the eye; they have “gleeful anticipation for a collapse of the status quo”. Their market is in there being an imminent disaster. This argument is too submitted regularly in the climate change debate. Denialists argue that ‘warmists’–as they like to call them–have an inveterate agenda and its good business to beat up the ‘facts’ by way of scaremongering. I think this is unfair in both situations. I imagine those that have grouped with the Transition movement are well-meaning and sincere with their concerns. To be sure, what they are worried about–peak oil, climate change, economic catastrophe– are all on the cards. I think, though, like so many other similar movements they are forgetting a vital piece of the puzzle. The thing that will make what they do actually relevant. The thing that will give it a good chance of working or being at the very least an important part of a bigger solution. Others.

The others are the folk that have never heard of the Transition movement. The folk that are bringing us closer to collapse. The oil-burning, carbon-dioxide emitting, non-organic eating section of society that turns a blind eye to collective change as (a) it gets in the way of their plasma-buying, jet-setting, six-cylinder sedan-driving lifestyle; or (b) they don’t really understand there is a problem and if they do they feel powerless in addressing it. I wondered how prominent this group of “others” actually was. I took to Facebook and asked the question: Have you heard of the Transition Town movement? I got 18 responses, of those 1 ‘yes’. This is exactly what I expected.

The Transition Town movement, like so many like it, exists on the fringe. It is well-meaning, probably does a lot of good work–I am very sympathetic of its connections with permaculture–but it simply doesn’t have broad enough appeal to do much at all. For every community garden it builds, seed swap it arranges, working bee it conducts, car it takes off the road, the majority of people are consuming and ignoring their way in the opposite direction. This surely leads to resentment among those that have worked so hard not only participating on the ground but in trying, ever so gradually, to raise awareness of the movement.

My suggestion is this, and I have every intention to work at achieving it: The Transition Town movement and all the others like it need to break into the mainstream. It needs to happen quick before they dissolve into the abyss of past trends. It needs to start changing those that it is tidying up after. I know how hard this is. I was a radical vegan for a number of years and tried every tactic in the book to bring others around. Sometimes it worked–very rarely;–most of the time it turned people against me. The Transition Town movement’s founder, Rob Hopkin’s latest book is called “The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How Local Action Can Change the World”. I’ve not read it but if the title is to be taken as its central premise, I think it is hugely important to the movement’s success. The more stuff that is just done, the more people that see its benefits, the easier it will be to bring them around. It’s when people think something will be oppressive and a waste of time that they don’t see the point or bother participating. If they see it as something fun, interesting and productive in and of itself then they are move likely to engage in it. This is all very warm and cute, I know. But I think more of the awareness raising seems to take place in the comfort of familiar groups than out there amongst other people, the people right down the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps this is a mark of insecurity or a lack of self-confidence? Not willing to take on big enough challenges to achieve the goal. Perhaps its the goal that is confused–doing small, seemingly inconsequential tasks noticed only by a few rather than focusing on who sees them. I know that a project I was involved in some time ago, a guerrilla community garden, suffered from this. We didn’t want it to get out to too many people as we hadn’t sought approval. Rather than a political statement it became a something to be apologised for. In her TED Talk, Pam Warhurst–who founded Incredible Edible– speaks about ‘propaganda gardening’ and how it sets out to convert unused land, without council approval, into productive spaces. Rather than getting council to dictate what is good for the community, she and others proved to them what is good.

A final critique of the movement is the unnecessarily vague and jargon-laden language that is used. All this is going to do is divide people. Make it inclusive, open and specific–without being too prescriptive. Call a spade a spade and then hand a spade to your neighbour and start digging up the verge and planting herbs. To heck with what the council thinks.