“I’m Planted Here”: Victoria’s Off-Grid Pioneers
She has lived here for 40 years. She spends half the day feeding her animals, working in the garden, composting and “fetching wood for the night”. The remaining hours go into their campaign to save the Gippsland forests.
Redwood is a well-known environmentalist, but activism these days requires reliable computer access. She scans the laptop screen in front of her and follows an important campaign that she is helping to implement.
Redwood gets up, collects her broom and sweeps the floor. “A real floor, you know?” Rather than the dirty one she had in her first cabin, when the water came from buckets from Coopers Creek and the lighting came from candles and kerosene lamps. Tank water, solar pumps and panels are a modern luxury.
Isn’t she worried about getting older out here?
“You just have to persevere,” she says. “There is always something to do. I don’t work like I’m 30 anymore, so I just adapt to things that take a little longer.”
The tablet on the kitchen table rings – probably an update on the campaign.
Redwood says she’s more worried about the future of the planet than her own. “I’m planted here,” she says. “I’d rather live in a hollow log than a townhouse.”
John Hermans, Clifton Creek
John Hermans reverses his mobile home to his self-built gas station. Nestled among gum trees in Clifton Creek near Bairnsdale, the setting is straight out of a 1970s sci-fi, with a pump attached to a makeshift machine. But there is no petrol in the pump – the car runs on vegetable oil.
“I haven’t been to a real Bowser in about 15 years,” says Hermans.
One of Gippsland’s off-grid pioneers, the 64-year-old and his 63-year-old wife Robyn have been self-sufficient for more than 40 years.
They began bush life in a corrugated iron shack. Twelve years and two children later, they moved into a compacted earth house built with materials from their own property.
“We never had a bank loan, never had any debt,” says Hermans. “So we just made progress with what we could when we could.”
For more than 20 years, the family’s main source of energy was small hydroelectric power from the nearby river. When the river began to dry up – Hermans blamed logging upstream – they switched to solar.
Everything is used or recycled, even the solar panels, inverters and batteries. “I went to the junkyard two weeks ago and bought 45 solar panels for a dollar a kilo.”
Hermans has thrived in the bush through constant innovation, fine-tuning and self-education. It’s important to be more efficient, he says. The couple has no plans to leave Clifton Creek.
“I use old solar panels because I know they will perform at a level that is perfectly acceptable to me… for another 10 or 20 years.”
Many nights are spent on YouTube gathering tips from others living off the grid. The next goal is to replace the vegetable oil transporter with a highly efficient, solar-electric vehicle that is charged with its solar power. “It [vegetable oil] is almost as bad as oil itself, isn’t it?”
Keith Bradshaw, McKillops Bridge
A love of brumbies and the mountains along the Snowy River drew then 70-year-old Keith Bradshaw and his lifelong girlfriend Nancy to the hills near McKillops Bridge in far east Victoria 20 years ago.
Living off the grid had never really crossed their minds. But living way up in the hills, miles from anywhere, really was the only way to live off the grid.
In the kitchen of his adobe home, Bradshaw, now 90, puts the kettle on his stove and looks around what he calls the home “comfortable enough”.
Growing up in East Bentleigh, south-east Melbourne in the 1940s, he recalls life without electricity.
“We had lamps and candles, you know, so I was used to that. Poor mom, she raised six of us without solar power,” he says.
Bradshaw says his hillside home — full of photos of racehorses and other equine memorabilia, including a collection of tack and faded Driza Bone riding coats — is luxurious in comparison.
A solar-powered vintage car radio sits on the kitchen table, where a newspaper is open to the race pages.
Nancy suffered a stroke a few months after moving to McKillops Bridge and was taken into care at nearby Delegate. But after a partial recovery, she insisted on returning to her new home to try.
The nurses who took care of Nancy didn’t think Bradshaw could take care of her alone. But for five years the two continued to “fight” alone in the bush.
“She was happy as hell here. And she was very grateful, you know?” says Bradshaw.
Nancy died 15 years ago and Bradshaw has lived alone at McKillops Bridge ever since.
He spends his mornings tending to his horses and lazy afternoons on a banana lounge in his conservatory. At night he watches the trots on his solar-powered satellite TV.
Bradshaw says he’ll be here no matter what, and he wouldn’t go “for the quid”, certainly not without his horses.
Elizabeth and Brian Blakeman, Wairewa
Friends who live off the grid inspired Elizabeth and Brian Blakeman 32 years ago to build their rock house in Wairewa, near Nowa Nowa. It was also a practical move considering they chose to live far from electricity.
Before moving to Wairewa, the Blakemans ran a sheep farm in Deddick, near the New South Wales border, so they knew country life.
But producing her own electricity was a big challenge at first, says 84-year-old Elizabeth, and there was little information on how to do it.
The couple bought a “primitive” book that outlined the basics of solar power, including the need for an inverter and battery bank.
Elizabeth giggles at the thought of the dim lighting they lived in at night and how she had to turn on the generator just to do some vacuuming. “We quickly decided that was useless.”
Over the years, the Blakemans have upgraded their power system, moving from lead-acid to lead-gel batteries and now to higher output lithium and solar panels.
Now they flip switches whenever they want. “I use my welder and all kinds of power tools in the shed, and I don’t even have to start the generator,” says 77-year-old Brian.
Meanwhile, kettles, microwaves, toasters and even air conditioning are among their household appliances. They even run a baby art gallery set up in a shipping container donated to them after the 2019-20 bushfires. It is open to the public on Sundays.
But hot water is still a challenge because finding, collecting and cutting firewood to heat water is hard work. As such, the couple plans to install a hot water system sometime in the coming years.
Otherwise, the Blakemans say off-grid life is fine — and they’re not going anywhere.
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https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/i-didn-t-want-to-be-part-of-the-human-machine-the-victorians-powering-up-off-grid-20230205-p5chyh.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_environment “I’m Planted Here”: Victoria’s Off-Grid Pioneers