Currawong Retreat: A Move to Self-Sufficiency

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Currawong Retreat: A Move to Self-Sufficiency


Currawong Retreat
A Move to Self-Sufficiency

Mandy and her family are well on the way to living their dream... moving to their own small self-sufficient country property.  They have found their dream block, done many of the tasks required to make it into their new home and plan to make the move at the end of 2012.  Mandy shares with us their progress so far...

Mandy, give us a basic overview of your property.

Our dream block is in the southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia and pretty central to everything. It had been grazed for a few years and prior that was used for crops. There were no trees or shrubs on it at all only grassland plants with native grasses and ground cover (and of course weeds) but very manageable.

It is slightly undulating with a creek along two sides of the property. This creek took our breath away. It holds water for about 9 months of the year and meanders around with a beautiful rock formation in the middle (which I call the terraces, but the boys call the water hole).

It is a small tributary creek but it is large enough for us and the wildlife already residing there. The north eastern corner has a nice triangular area full of large rocks which wasn't obvious until we brushcut around them.

Basically a slice of paradise!

Rock Terraces on the creek, Flinders Ranges
Rock terraces on the creek, Flinders Ranges 


What drew you to this particular property?  What do you love about it?

The creek and isolation, no doubt about it. The views were lovely also. It was a clean slate to work with (which has always been my goal to rehabilitate old farming land).

We could picture this land as a wildlife sanctuary, rehabilitated with our animals running free and a sustainable house in the middle.

What is the nearby community like and how do you think you will fit into it?

The closest country town is 5 minutes drive away which has a lovely community feel. We have met some of our neighbours who are all very nice. People wave at us and say hello even though we may not know them. We have met a few of the local retailers and the local police officer. We visit the local snack bar each time we come up so the boys can have their milkshakes. There are bigger country towns 15 minutes away but I do definitely favour the smaller town nearby. It provides us with what we need and also has a monthly producers market.

The people are friendly and if someone can't help you they know someone that can. Having never had this level of help or friendliness before (living in suburbia is very different where you may only know or speak to one of your neighbours, everybody tends to keep to themselves) this is a breath of fresh air.

I don't think we will have much trouble fitting in when the time comes for our big move. My eldest son wants to join the local CFS and we plan on having a stall at the market. I'm sure my youngest will be wanting to spend some time with the local police officer as he wants to be a country officer. There are two hospitals 15 minutes away in opposite directions if needed and the local community to call on if help is needed. There is also a local homeschooling group that we plan on joining. What more could we want?

Why did you decide to buy a property, with plans to move there?  What motivated you?  How do you see this as being good for your family, especially your boys?  What do you hope you will all gain and learn from the experience?

Ever since my husband and I got together we have been wanting a block of land (both being conservationists) that we can rehabilitate ourselves. We had been seriously looking for 7 years and found that it was extremely unlikely that we would get acreage within our price range that wasn't zoned as recreational or lifestyle (which means that you can't have a shed, build or even have a caravan on it!).

Then we went to a camp in the Flinders Ranges and glanced in the local real estate window to see how the area was growing. Low and behold there were acreage blocks for sale (definitely within our price bracket) zoned Rural (a dwelling could be built on it)! Were we excited?! After 12 months of not looking for land some fell into our lap. We enquired and found the blocks and they definitely had a lovely feel about them.

As it was late we rang the agent for a viewing the next day. The block we were interested in was actually half the size because there was no fence erected between the two properties. When we had a walk around it our hearts sank because it really didn't have the feel for us, but on walking around the next block we were absolutely hooked. This one had a beautiful creek along two sides of the property with native sedges and small rock formations. Whereas the first block only had a large dam and a tiny portion of the creek.

We couldn't see any of this from the road so it was an absolute surprise and delight. After phone calls to the bank we put in an offer the next day and it was accepted the day after. We went to camp and came home with a block of land (very expensive camp!).

The magical creek, Flinders Ranges
The magical creek, Flinders Ranges

This has been an absolute dream come true for us, which had seemed so out of reach before.

The boys love the block also and can't wait to go back each time. The eventual move up there will be one of the most happiest days of my life, where we can live how we have wanted to live for so long. It is certainly healthier for all of us - the fresh air, the open space, the exercise, the sense of achievement and wonder over everything we accomplish there, just the magic and beauty of the area can leave us breathless.

We now have the space to put into practice all our self-sufficiency ideas and experiments. The good thing is we are still able to continue on with our business as the block is so close (2-3hr drive) that we can have a caravan stored down here and work 2-3 days a week and then head back home. The boys will still be able to see their homeschooling friends weekly and attend the regular groups while we are here.

We have owned the block since the end of 2010 and it feels like home to us all. The big move is planned for the near future and an Earthship 12 months later.

What have you done so far in setting it up?

The first thing we did was to plan and divide the block up into workable areas. We decided what each quadrant would be used for and then we brushcut pathways to define them.

Then we planted native species into the two main bushland areas and some boundary plants. This was when we really got to know the soil and where the rocks were.

We then brought up a caravan so that we could stay overnight instead of the mad rush at the end of the day to get home at midnight. Mind you even with a caravan at the block we still don't get home until midnight!

We brushcut an area around the caravan which was the boys play area etc. Then we erected a 25m x 50m orchard, vermin-proof fenced it and planted and mulched 32 food plants.

Plant food orchard Flinders Ranges

We also started a large rock herb garden and I also want to try a few other materials to make a variety of herb gardens.

Paving the shed floor Bath and shower under the stars
We erected a small shed with a 1000 litre rainwater tank and later on a shed with a veranda over the caravan (yet to get rainwater tanks for these).  We also made a shower block using all recycled materials so that I could have my dream of a bath under the stars.


We continue to regularly brushcut and water the plantings each time we go up.

We also insulate a board at a time with egg cartons in the larger shed.
Egg carton insulation in the shed

What else do you plan to have done before moving there?

We still have a list of things to do before we finally move there. The biggest is to fence our two boundaries (this is actually happening now thanks to a couple of local fencing contractors) and vermin proof it.

We have large aviaries to build, rainwater tanks to purchase, and plants to transplant from here.

It can still seem like a lot but compared to what we have already achieved this list is quite small and our goal is getting nearer.

Are you working on permaculture principles at all... and if so, how are you putting them into practise?

We have a fenced orchard which we plan on growing enough different food to supply us with excess to sell at the markets.

The chicken coop will be in the middle of the orchard. There will also be a fenced crop to harvest our own grain.

Veggie and herb gardens which will be near our house site and when we have the Earthship built they will be in the greenhouse in the house. We have a compost tumbler for small amounts of scraps with chickens and animals eating the rest.

A bush food garden will be established near the orchard and the property will be rehabilitated with local indigenous plants to feed the wildlife.

Compost tumbler for garden scraps
Compost tumbler 


Banana Palm pot plant
Banana palm in the orchard  

What do you plan to grow there?

Anything that we can eat or use (raffia palms for hat making/basket making, luffa tree for luffas etc).

We plan to have as many different variety of food plants as possible. We will be fencing off a crop area so that we can mill our own grains. We plan to have at least 3 herb gardens, a large veggie garden and a bush food garden.

We are creating planting areas using old tyres.

We will be rehabilitating most of the land with local indigenous plants for our large family of animals.

Creating planting areas using old tyres
Tyre gardens begin 

What animals do you plan to have there?

Sleepy lizard sanctuary We plan to make this a wildlife sanctuary which is vermin proofed, so our non-releasable animals (magpies, numerous parrot species, lorikeets, native hopping mice, quails, brushtail possum, lizard, turtles) will all be safe with more space.

The flying birds will have large flight aviaries while the non flying birds and animals will have free range.

Our chickens will be in the orchard and we will have non releasable kangaroos and old alpacas wandering around the property.
A sleepy lizard "in residence"


What are your ultimate goals for the property and your lives there?  What do you see it looking like, and providing, say 10 years or so from now?

We plan to become as self-sufficient as possible and make as little negative impact on this land as possible.

We will be building an Earthship which will provide the water and power that we need plus food plants grown in the green house, as well as rehabilitating the land with local indigenous plants for our animals.

We plan to spin our own alpaca fleece, weave and make our own clothes etc (I'm already learning to weave on a table loom in preparation) and bake / dehydrate / preserve our own foods. Generally living as basically as we can because we really don't need too much.

We plan to be involved in the community and local Friends of Parks groups and generally enjoy our lives bettering ours and our animals.

Our own private sanctuary!

Anything else you wish to say?

If you have a dream to own your own piece of land don't give up. Keep working towards it and it will happen when you least expect it!

We will be updating Mandy's progress as time goes on, so be sure to check back later to see what's been happening!


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