Choosing the simple life: OUR NEW OFF GRID LIFESTYLE

This year has seen some beautiful moments and some heartbreaking ones for all of us. We have all had to face new challenges that we have never had to deal with before. My heart goes out to every family who has lost someone dear. My heart has been filled by the large numbers of people who have been willing to take a risk to protect our more vulnerable citizens. Thank you all for that.

This year our family bought 140 acres of land at Woodside, the northern end of the New England tablelands, in New South Wales just below the Queensland border. Tenterfield is the closest town with shops, about a 20-minute drive away, and has a population of around 4000 people. The town is on the north-western stretch of the Northern Tablelands plateau, a spur of the Great Dividing Range, and is nestled in a valley beneath Mount Mackenzie (1,287m elevation), one of the highest points along the Northern Tablelands. In spite of being a tiny town, Tenterfield has quite a number of boutique, interesting and quirky stores which are really quite fascinating to browse through, some great café’s and the town is also surrounded by beautiful national parks.

I have been told that the Tenterfield Shire was first inhabited by the Jukembal (Yukambul) people with their territory straddling the Great Dividing Range from near Glen Innes to Stanthorpe. According to the local council, the name Jukembal means “the people who say “jogom” (jogom meaning no). The Jukembal Aborigines reputedly called the area “Moombillen’, meaning ‘place of wild honey’.

Woodside has a subtropical highland climate, with cold, frosty winters and moderately hot, wet summers. Temperatures below freezing in winter is common as are light to moderate snowfalls during severe winters.

We bought our property back in August 2021 thanks to our wonderful broker, Malinda Sherrard at Regional Finance Solutions, but we weren’t able to get back to the property until the following Summer due to the Covid border closures.

On our first night on our property in December 2021, our 9-month-old Labrador, Koko, ate some wild dog bait that had been on the property and she died suddenly which was quite traumatic for the whole family. It was a very stressful start.

We returned a couple of weeks later and had our first Christmas on our property. My mum, my sister and my niece joined our family and we spent a few weeks of our summer holidays camping there. At the moment, it is a full on, off-grid hippie’s dream. We are very much used to isolated and off grid camping but this is different because it is all ours!

We are currently camping in, and around, a shed with a dirt floor. Definitely not glamping but at least we are protected by the storms. We are using solar power but when the thick storm clouds engulf the valley on a daily basis we need to resort to the generator for some power. We have a small rainwater tank that we use for showering and at the moment we are using a portable camping toilet but we are saving for a proper toilet system and will hopefully have something better soon! With the huge winds that come through every day, and the constant aggravating noise of the generator, we think a wind turbine for generating power will be on the list of things to install as soon as possible as well.

On our property are two old chimneys that look like they were part of an old homestead in days gone by, so far we haven’t been able to discover much history about it, except that a lady called Catherine (born O’Neill, formerly O’Keefe) Heffernan originally from Ireland bought the property in 1901 for a few pounds and she died in 1947 in Glen Innes. She had 12 children with her two different husbands. Paul has been cleaning up the area and digging around, finding old artefacts, and pretending to be an archaeologist.

The majority of this trip was spent on removing rocks, weeds, sticks, skulls, logs and long grass around the shed, chimneys and creek. Besides the skulls that now hang on the fence posts (like possible Satan worshippers live here) it scrubbed up alright. We even had an outdoor cinema event for Christmas Eve with a movie, some popcorn and a hot chocolate on outdoor couches with the fire behind us to keep us warm.

We found out that our creek water can dry up completely in a matter of three weeks! We saw a red belly black snake down by the creek, wild goat on the mountain, gecko’s, spiders, birds, eagles, kangaroos and wallaby’s, our neighbour’s sheep and cows came for a visit too. We made a home there for one of our native beehives as well.

While I was visiting town, I met with the lovely ladies on the Board of Make It Tenterfield and told them about my handmade soaps. We bought some amazing jam there, handmade with local ingredients. They were so welcoming and friendly that it made us instantly feel a part of this small community. They have an awesome selection of locally produced and handmade gifts to support small businesses in the local community, something that I am very passionate about and I look forward to supporting them more in the future.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, we went for a drive to introduce ourselves to our neighbours who live a few kilometres away. We sat down and had a few drinks and a good yarn with them, it is nice to know they are there and ultimately share the same passionate dream of escaping to the country and getting away from it all, as we do. We all shared some funny stories, like how my sister slept (or rather didn’t sleep) in the tent the night after I told her about the Tenterfield Yowie and the lion’s den up in the mountain ridge behind us! We also shared some of our hopes and dreams for our new properties. I also shared one of my soaps for them to try out since they were showering in ‘frog water’. One had said how he had thrown his TV out and didn’t carry a phone, how refreshing!

Sometimes when I sit here and look about the vast Australian countryside and think to myself that we now own the land almost as far as our eyes can see, it makes me feel so nolstagic, and also hopeful for our future, we are finally on the road to living a more self-sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, away from all the hustle and bustle of city life, people and traffic. It can feel incredibly empowering to know that small steps can make a difference to the environmental footprint that we all leave behind.

I am especially looking forward to getting a good composting system going for some organic fruit and veggies and one day when we are here full time getting our chooks here and some milking goats for my soaps.

The sound of the rain falling on the tin roof, the birds chirping at the crack of dawn, the gorgeous sunsets over the ridge, the wildlife, trees and mountains as far as the eye can see, the fire crackling and giving warmth on cold days, the sunburn, the icy cold winds at night….It has been a very special time for us and something we have worked hard for, for over ten years now. At times, we were both holding down three jobs each! We missed out on a lot during that time to get this special place. We had to be frugal. The road ahead will be very hard work, with so many projects on our ‘to do’ list it can seem quite overwhelming at times, but just one thing at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time, toward a simpler life.

We are still deciding on a name for our property. What do you think it should be?


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