Slight Change of Heart and a New Opportunity

It’s been a mad couple of weeks. I have been very busy with work and other activities and the property search has changed forms somewhat.

I am going to be honest. My interest in Victoria has waned. Regular commenter here, Sam, asked me in an email a few weeks ago whether there’s a chance I would feel lonely living so far away from everything and everybody in West Wimmera. I was quite defensive initially but my mood changed. It’s a huge thing I am taking on. It’s a huge change of life. And as much as West Wimmera is only a 4 hour coach trip from Adelaide it’s a 4 hour coach trip from Adelaide! Financially and time-wise not something I can do on a whim.

Short story, I went and viewed a block a lot closer to Adelaide last weekend. Much different than what I have been looking for but good nonetheless. It is smaller, 1/2 acre, and based in a tiny village but it provides for my needs. Public transport is regular and cheap. The village has a pub and a post office. Services are 20km to the east and west. And the price is right.

What’s more, the First Home Owner Grant I am entitled to will almost offset the cost of buying the land and building a small straw bale house on it. This combined with the fact that it’s an easy weekend or day trip out to the block means that I can ease into this lifestyle a lot better. I can be experimental. And, if I change my mine, or want to buy somewhere else, I am much more likely to profit from the investment.

That’s where I am at.

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Rain Water Catchment – How The Cities Have it All Wrong

We in the city should be ashamed of some of our practices. On my lunch break the other day – rather than going to a nearby cafe for something to eat – I took a walk around the suburbs surrounding the industrial area I work in. The area is fairly dense with residential houses with the odd commercial premise dotted here and there. Most – around 90% – of these premises had something in common – water catchment was piped directly out onto the street.

How this is allowed I do not know. Considering Australia has faced water restrictions in the past due to drought and low

Here is an example of the sort of drains I saw on my wander the other day. Most houses had something like this, directly from their roof.

Here is an example of the sort of drains I saw on my wander the other day. Most houses had something like this, directly from their roof.

water storage levels, it seems utterly irresponsible that we are still allowed to continue to treat clean, safe rain water as waste; something to be disposed of down the drain. Only to have it piped back in from a different source so we can turn on our taps and be guaranteed something will come out.

Kirsten, over at Milkwood, wrote a blog this morning about rooftop farming, a phenomenon that seems to be gaining traction in cities across the world. The article was about chickens still being of importance in such a system. I agree. But my mind turned to the rooftops of buildings here in Australia. Consider your local Bunnings Warehouse (Australia’s answer to Home Depot, to my American readers). Look at the size of the place. I did some crude measurements of my local store, using Google Maps, and the catchment area is a massive 7000 square metres (almost 2 acres!). According to my water catchment calculations, that would see a yield of around 3,850,000 litres per year, based on local average rainfall. That’s enough water to satisfy the average needs of 35 people! I can only imagine how much water is wasted by residential and commercial premises that just pipe it down the drain. This is a large scale problem, one that councils and government encourage.
As I said in my comment to Kirsten, this must make rural folk like her, who prey for and respect every last drop they receive, cringe.

Going Off Grid With The Internet and the NBN in Rural Australia

I rely on the internet a lot. I use it to help manage my life, my business and as a personal education and enrichment tool. Some critics will say that you can’t go “off grid” and keep the internet. The internet is part of the grid, they argue. Well, I disagree.

Sure, by definition, it may be part of the grid. But so what? Should we stop using roads too? I think the benefits of the internet – for the most part – outweigh the negatives.

The internet will allow me to go off grid. Why? Because it will allow me to continue to run my business. I use the internet to receive payments, pay my staff, research, buy supplies, market and advert, manage my social media, and, of course, to speak with my customers. It’s vital for my business.

It’s for this reason I am an advocate for the NBN. Here in the city the NBN doesn’t mean much. Hey, it will give people with already pretty fast broadband the option of very very fast broadband. But in the country it will give many people there first taste of proper broadband. The commercial, educational, health and recreational – we all have the right to a little YouTube, I say – benefits in rural Australia are immense. I say this as somebody with many years experience working in the telecommunications industry where I specialised in regional broadband solutions. It is for this reason I believe that more focus needs to be put on building the NBN outside-in. Target those with nothing or little first, before adding another layer for the city folk.

I may be so lucky to get ADSL where I move. Provided Telstra’s PTSN network runs near the fence and it isn’t prohibitively expensive to get connected to it. Alternatively though, and I am open to this, it will be an NBN satellite connection. I will be thankful for the free installation indeed.

Buying Land, Zoning and Pro-Mining

Let me share with you where I am at with my plans.

I am very much in the early stages, to put it simply. From a financial point-of-view I am in a good position. I have established my savings goals and have developed a good foundation for a sustainable income source. Surprisingly, my financial position is in pretty good shape. Which brings me to the fun part I suppose: spending some money!

I am in the process of looking for land to buy. I know roughly what I am after but every day reveals a new challenge and the scope changes a little bit. For example, at the start I had no idea about zoning and planning permission. I thought you could buy a block of rural land and do what you like with it. How mistaken I was. Through much research, conversations with land owners and several councils, I have a much better understanding of what the various zones mean and what is required to get a planning application off the ground.

A few weeks ago I got excited about a block of land in Tasmania. It ticked almost every box:

Less than 20km from a town with basic services (e.g. general store, pub and public transport links). This block was 2km from the town of Rosebery on Tasmania’s West Coast.

Private, ½ to a couple of acres. This block was a whisker over 1 acre, located in an older, underdeveloped section of Rosebery.

Within the budget of $25k with the possibility of vendor finance. This block came in at $17k and vendor finance was a possibility.

I thought it was too good to be true. Over an acre, in a beautiful part of Australia, for under $20k. Zoned Natural Resource – so a planning permit would be possible. Mega win. Well, all was great until I watched ABC’s 730 on Friday. Rosebery, like other West Coast towns, relies on mining. The Tarkine Rainforest to the north has been controversially earmarked for several new mining operations. This is to the delight of West Coast folk that rely on mining for their livelihood but cause for protest for environmentalists. As such, there is significant division between the pro-mining and environmentalist groups in Tasmania – it is the old-growth logging debate all over again. One side is pleading for their livelihood – as though mining is the only option – and the other for the good of the natural environment, especially the habitats of endangered species such as the Tasmanian devil.

The 730 report revealed some interesting symptom of the debate. Pro-mining is livered. They see the tree-hugging environmentalists as out to ruin their lives. To take their only hope away from them. One pro-mining gentleman in the segment said that he’d like his daughter to have the option to work in the mines, to drive trucks or something

similar. (My thought when I heard this was what about something else – maybe she could become a doctor or a writer or a horticulturalist or a school teacher or perhaps even an eco-tourism business owner?) The general sentiment was of utmost disdain. The pro-miners would do anything to stop the evil greenies. To date, this has included death threats, property damage and vandalism. The Save The Tarkine Coalition planned to set up their headquarters in Tullah, north of Rosebery. This was advised against – property damage was likely to result. One activist shared her account of being intimidated and abused.

My father use to live in Tasmania so I gave him a call to discuss the Rosebery block. He flat-out warned me against it. He has spent time on the West Coast and too has been intimidated. You see, my father is an out-and-proud greenie – obvious by the stickers on his van, and he does look like a bit of a tree-hugger.

On the back of all this, I decided that the West Coast of Tasmania wasn’t for me. I want somewhere I can feel safe and comfortable. What would happen if the townspeople caught wind of the fact that I am a greenie – and gay to boot? Yeah, nah. Pass.

East Gippsland Map

The beautiful East Gippsland region of Victoria

So my quest brought me back to one of the first blocks I found – on RE.com.au, if I recall.  It’s located in the East Gippsland region of Victoria. An area my father has spent time too – he approves of this region thankfully. The block ticks the boxes but has a couple of weaknesses:

It gets hot in summer. This is something I have experienced all my life. I am use to summers that exceed 40 degrees. Having said that, I hate the heat. This is an opportunity to move to a climate that suits me just right. According to my researching the Bureau of Meteorology website, it isn’t as bad as where I live at the moment. The real scorchers are fewer and far between and the average summer temperature is much more mild. Good.

It’s 30km from the nearest town. So, an hour and a bit by pushbike. Fortunately there is a coach that passes right in front of the property 3 days a week. This coach could take me to any number of small or large service towns and two capital cities. Very handy indeed. I imagine needing to do a big shop ever fortnight or month and catching the bus into one of the bigger service towns, like Bairnsdale, camping the night in the caravan park – the bus returns the following day – before heading back with my haul of shopping.

Zoning. Like much cheap rural land, this block is zoned Farming Zone (FZ). Ever since the new Victorian planning scheme was implemented by the State Labor Government several years ago, this has been a real sticking point. Many owners bought larger blocks (20, 40, 100ha) years ago with the view of subdividing off smaller parcels to help fund their retirement or to offset the purchase price. Problem with FZ land is that only parcels bigger than 40ha are permitted to have a dwellings constructed. Unless you can make a solid case. Recently the State Liberal Government set out to make some amendments – to relax some of the conditions. For this I am appreciative of the Liberals (the conservatives for my overseas readers) – something I don’t say often. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see the importance of zoning laws. However, too often, it is a one-size-fits-all solution. The amendments give more power the councils to consider what suits their unique circumstances. This brings me to the conversation I had today with the East Gippsland Council.

I phoned to see whether there was any chance getting a planning permit for this block. I was in luck. I spoke to a wonderful planner who told me that the FZ won’t cause me too much hassle but there is a 44.06 (Bushfire Management Overlay) on the property that needs to be addressed. I can understand why this is the case. In recent years Victoria was ravaged by horrendous bushfires – I believe the Black Saturday fires made international headlines. Councils can’t let people build, willy-nilly, in potentially hazardous areas. The libertarians out there may say that in doing so one is exercising their personal responsibility, i.e. if their house burn down, it’s up to them to get on with their lives. However, that’s not how things operate here in Australia. The government repair bill from the Black Saturday fires was several billion dollars.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me with a tonne of reading to do. I need to get my head around the 44.06 and 52.47 (Bushfire Protection: Planning Requirements) to see whether I can make a case – and whether the block is safe and viable. According to the planner, the block last changed hands in 2007. Perhaps the previous owner sold up because they couldn’t get permission? Who knows.

If I feel I can address the bushfire protection regulations I will take a trip to see the block. It really does tick all the other boxes. It’s in a really beautiful part of the world – backing onto some of the most remote Australian forest. Wish me luck.