We’re in the National Archives!

Sophie and I started this blog in 2012 to record our bicycle trip up the east coast of Australia exploring simpler and more sustainable ways to live.

We never intended it to last very long, but it took off and grew to more than 100,000 words, then became a book.

After the whirlwind tour ended, Sophie and I moved into one of the remarkable communities we had visited on the trip – Murundaka Cohousing in Heidelberg Heights. (Cute aside: we actually got married there too!)

In 2015, simplelives.com.au was included in the National Library of Australia PANDORA web archive. Like a Fowlers jar filled with home-grown fruit, this story has now been pickled for posterity. We thought that as good a reason as any to call it a day, and take a rest from regular blogging.

You can access the archive here: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/155356/20151202-0715/simplelives.com.au/index.html

In 2016 we had hosting issues and this site lost some posts, so the archive link above is the best place to access all the original content.

Thanks for reading, commenting and sending in your story suggestions…we hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did.

Signing off,

Greg & Sophie



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A pedal-powered essay

I’m excited to announce a very special event in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival on 24 August and 30 August. It’s called “Ride: Pedal-Powered Essay”, and it’s a cross between a social bike ride and a public lecture, exploring the past, present and future of cycling in Melbourne.

To prepare for the event, I ordered cycling journals from the 1890s through the State Library of Victoria and spent many days pouring over their musty, faded pages, gleaning some interesting (and rather quirky) anecdotes about Melbourne’s early cycling history.

I discovered, for example, that an early sighting of what we might consider a bicycle was in an undertaker’s shop. A group of young engineers had heard about this novel device – called a ‘velocipede’ – and decided to check it out. Perhaps not knowing that it needed momentum to balance, the young men tried to get it to stand up while stationary, but it kept flopping to one side. Puzzled and disappointed, one of the engineers suggested that the undertaker had probably concocted the apparatus from “a purely business point of view”, anticipating that its introduction would be “immediately followed by a startling and desireable increase” in mortality.

Here’s the full story in Australian Cycling News, November 10, 1883:

'An Antiquity', WOne of my favourite images came from a journal called The Austral Wheel, published in Melbourne in the 1890s. Mr. Chas. E. Duryea, described as “a leading American cycle mechanician”, is quoted as saying that the diamond-frame bicycle design is inferior and will be surpassed by a triangular design. With utmost conviction, he declares: “Ages hence, when by the slow process of blundering along, progressing and retrogressing by turns, we find ourselves using the perfect bicycle, it will look something like this.”

Triangle bicycle of the future, Austral Wheel, 1896 close upSorry Chas., old chap, but I think history may have proven you wrong on that one.

Details of the event are here, here, and on the flyer below. Please share this with any cyclists you know in Melbourne.

MWF pedal-powered essay 24 and 30 Aug flyer

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Slow food in winter

SLOW19-magpackThe latest issue of Slow Magazine is out now. I’ve contributed a story about Artist as Family‘s incredible bike-camping adventure up the east coast of Australia documenting wild edibles for a book about free food. I caught up with them when they were in northern New South Wales, and as I write this they’re heading north-west from Gympie, Queensland, trying to avoid the nasty Bruce Highway.

If you pick up a copy of the magazine, make sure you pass it along to someone who is interested in living a simpler way of life, but hasn’t made many changes as yet. A magazine such as Slow is a good way to spread the message.

More details about the magazine here: http://www.slowmagazine.com.au/current-issue

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For a leisurely life, cycle

Street art

Say you’re in the market for a second car. You’ve already got the station wagon to drop off the kids at school, but your partner drives it and you want your own set of wheels, something zippy and hassle-free. You travel into the city for work so it’s got to be small and easy to park in tight spots. And fuel efficient, that’s important too. Money’s tight enough as it is.

If you went shopping for a vehicle with all these characteristics – small, fast, efficient and suitable for short trips into the city – what would you end up with?

You’d end up with a bike.

When you think about it, a bicycle is the ultimate inner-city car. All the reasons to buy a Barina, Fiesta or Yaris are magnified in the much-underestimated bicycle. Manoeuvrability? You can hug the road by leaning into corners and practically U-turn on the spot. Price? Under $1000, ride-away, no more to pay. Fuel efficiency? All you need is calories, and the cost of a salad sandwich is remarkably stable. Parking? Every street pole is a potential spot.

Of course, a car is more convenient for travelling vast distances quickly, especially with luggage; for moving house, picking up friends from the airport or transporting pets. But for regular trips under 10 kilometres – the bulk of most inner-city travel – the bicycle is far and away the best tool for the job. Sydneysiders are starting to realise this, which is why the number of people riding to work in metropolitan Sydney has increased by 50 per cent since 2006.

The NSW government’s December 2013 cycling strategy, Sydney’s Cycling Future, states that “riding a bike can be quicker than a car for trips up to 5 kilometres and faster than public transport for trips up to 8 kilometres”.

That’s an understatement. In commuter races in Sydney and Melbourne, the bicycle has outpaced the car over much greater distances than that. But even if the car had crossed the finish line first, its average speed would have been slower. That’s because a holistic analysis of “speed” takes into account not just the minutes spent travelling, but also the minutes spent working to earn the money to own and operate the vehicle itself. Rego, petrol, parking, tolls, infringement fines – all these have a “time cost” in terms of the hours we need to work to pay for them.

Associate Professor Paul Tranter, a human geographer at UNSW Canberra, has used this holistic analysis to calculate the “effective speed” of a car in Australian cities. His calculation uses the standard formula – speed equals distance divided by time – but all the time costs are considered. In Sydney, a driver of a small, efficient car who earns an average wage crawls through traffic at 12.7 kilometres an hour. Your typical commuting cyclist can beat that without breaking a sweat.

The clincher is lifestyle. Judging by ads for the Barina, Fiesta and Yaris, would-be hatchback owners are hoping their car will help them to reap the rewards of living in a hip, inner-city location. Stopping by the cafe with friends. Visiting an art gallery. Picnicking in the park. And yet all these lifestyle benefits rely on drivers having a single scarce commodity: free time.

This is where the promise of small car ownership stalls. According to NRMA figures, even the least expensive car to run in Australia, the Mitsubishi Mirage, has operating costs of $4851 a year. If you earn $35 an hour, each year you’re working 18 and a half days just to pay for your mode of transportation.

With a yearly cost of well under $500, a decent commuting bicycle enables a fuller city lifestyle simply by freeing up time to enjoy yourself. It turns out that the secret to securing the rich, leisurely social life depicted in car ads is to not own a car.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday May 25.

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Latrobe consumption project – survey

A La Trobe honours student (Bachelor of Psychological Science degree) has contacted me about a research project looking at consumption of goods and how this affects our experience of life. She needs people to fill out a survey, which should take about 30 minutes.

Details are provided below. Please get involved – research into consumption is vital if we are going to address the ecological impacts of affluence in rich developed nations like Australia.

You are invited to participate in a study into the way we consume goods and how that affects our life experiences. Why does it matter? Because there is currently not enough understanding in this area; and understanding can lead to change for the better. But to understand we need you!

All you are asked to do is spend thirty minutes of your time completing an anonymous questionnaire. It can be completed online or in paper form on request. Easy! Participation is entirely voluntary and you can opt out at anytime before completing the questionnaire. There will be no repercussions either way.

The study is being conducted by an honours student in the Bachelor of Psychological Science degree at La Trobe University, Wodonga campus. For more information or to get involved, please click on the following link: http://latrobepsy.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_3t0Ig6VSdWFBLkV

Alternatively you can email the investigator at sarich@students.latrobe.edu.au for more information or to receive a paper version of the questionnaire.

Thanks for your help!

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Sydney Writers’ Fest Events

Sydney-Writers-Festival-logoI’m excited to be part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, especially since they gave the go-ahead for my unusual ‘Read & Ride’ event in the Blue Mountains on May 25.

First I’ll appear in a panel session with Emma Ayres, the author of Cadence, who cycled from England to Hong Kong with only a small violin for company, and Chris Flynn, author of The Glass Kingdom. The event is titled ‘Life on Two Wheels’ and will be held at The Bar at the End of the Wharf, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4/5 Hickson Rd, The Rocks, on Thursday May 22 from 10am to 11am. It’s a free event, but you’ll need to book.

Next I’ll be on a panel titled ‘Simple Living’ with Luke Slattery (Reclaiming Epicurus), Inga Simpson (Mr Wigg) and the Finch Memoir Prize winner. Our interlocuter will be 702 ABC’s Richard Glover, which makes me slightly nervous. It’s at Sydney Dance 2, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, on Saturday May 24 from 11:30am to 12:30pm. Again, it’s free, but you’ll need to book.

Finally, the grand event, a ride through the Blue Mountains! After a chat with Gregg Borschmann, environment editor at ABC Radio National, we’ll head off on a two-hour cycle tour from Katoomba to Wentworth Falls and back. Titled ‘Changing Gears: Read & Ride‘, this event will be held at Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street Katoomba, on Sunday 25 May from 10:00am. (The talk will be from 10am to 11am, and the ride from 11:15am to 1pm.)

Here’s the flyer:

Read and Ride SWF event flyerA lot of work has gone into organising this last one, so there’s a cost of $15 for the talk or $30 for the talk plus ride, and you’ll need to book in advance.

A few people have emailed me asking about the ride: will it be too onerous? Don’t worry folks, this will be a fun, comfortable ride, not a race. It’s about enjoying the outdoors, not getting to the finish line first. (In fact, the finish line is actually a cafe in Leura, where we’ll swap stories about cycling.)

The ride will be lead by Tristan from Bikeminded bicycle store, who can adjust his pace depending on people’s riding ability. You can view a rough map of the route on Bikely:Read & Ride Bikely routeAnd in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not cycling to Sydney like I did last time. (I don’t have two weeks to spare!) Instead, I’m taking the train and staying in accommodation, which will make a nice change from the crappy Aldi tent.

That’s it for now. Hope to see some blog readers in the audience.

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A land of cows and carbon – Morwell

Once known for its fertile soils and productive farms, the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland, Victoria, is now famous (or infamous, depending whom you ask) for producing an altogether different commodity.


Beside the road, forests of power poles lead up to coal-fired power stations. The biggest, oldest and most controversial of all is Hazelwood, about six kilometres outside Morwell.

As I cycled round the bend, the power station loomed ahead like a menacing fortress, its eight tall towers lancing the sky.

I stood by the road and looked up, thinking about how few people have actually visited this place. Hazelwood provides, by some estimates, up to 25 per cent of the state’s electricity. But have 25 per cent of Victorians – or even five per cent – seen where their electricity comes from?

It’s become almost a cliché to say we’re disconnected from our food, especially people who live in the city. But, when you think about it, a lot of us are also disconnected from the power we use. We plug in our appliances without considering – really considering –the tremendous amount of time and energy and resources that goes into making our gadgets hum. Partly as a result, we squander that electricity, leaving lights on all night, the energy trickling away.

In a few days I’ll finally arrive in Clifton Creek and meet John, a man who knows exactly where his electricity comes from because he generates it himself. I wonder if that makes him appreciate it more, and therefore waste it less?

Would be interesting to find out.

Posted in Environment, Our Journey, Self-suffiency | Tagged , , |

The sprawl continues – Drouin, Victoria

This morning I woke up early, had a banana hotdog (my fancy name for a raw banana wrapped in a bread roll) and decided to check out life in the suburbs on a typical Monday morning.

I expected shiny sedans pulling out from driveways, husbands waving to their wives and kids bounding down the footpaths, lunch boxes in hand. But almost no one was around. Just lots of tidy brick houses on streets named “Honeyeater” and “Emerald” and “Sandlewood”, next to green parks of transplanted turf. And all so eerily quiet.

Across the road from a glistening mega mall I found a real estate display village. It was a chance to see these houses in their true form: as models of homes, prototypes of living.

The developers had gone to great lengths to make each house look different. A squat grey home with a pebble garden stood next to a classic red brick house with a veranda. Despite this, all the houses were united by a niggling similarity. It took me a while to figure out what it was. Then I realised that although the facades were different, the dimensions of the houses were all basically the same. The result, to my eyes anyway, was that everything looked mass-produced.

On the way back to our campsite, I saw a billboard for the housing estate we had ridden through. The tagline read “free-spirited living”. Really?

After packing up camp, we took the road through Nar Nar Goon, Garfield and Longwarry onto our next destination – the town of Drouin.

The scenery quickly changed. Rows of neat brick houses gave way to fields of grazing cows. The land looked lush and green. Homes became homesteads, with long driveways and horses in the front paddock. At a bend in the road, a flannel-shirted farmer helped two men in blue overalls wrestle an alpaca to the ground. We were entering the countryside – or so it seemed.

Then, just as we passed the hill into Drouin, I looked to the right and saw something that shattered the illusion. Nestled among a gully of gumtrees was another brand new housing estate, tiled roofs glinting in the midday sun.

Even 100 kilometres from the CBD, you can’t escape the sprawl.

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Cycling through the suburbs – Pakenham, Victoria

Melbourne’s spacious south-eastern suburbs. Wide, blue skies. Roomy three-lane highways. And endless rolling hills of…housing developments.

Today I toured what Victorian urban planners call the “Casey-Cardinia Growth Area”, though if you’re from Melbourne you probably know it by the suburbs of Cranbourne, Officer and Pakenham. About 50 kilometres from the CBD, this is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, expected to cram in 400,000 people by 2031.

The sprawl is seemingly endless. Cresting a hill in Berwick, I could see a patchwork of grey tiled roofs spreading into the distance.

When I rode into one of the housing estates, everything looked immediately familiar: tidy brick houses, neat green lawns, shiny cars in concrete driveways. These are the gumtree-lined avenues of suburban Australia, the typical streetscapes of commercial television. A Neighbours sort of neighbourhood.

In Australia, millions of people live in houses and streets and suburbs just like this. First home buyers choose a free-standing dwelling with an average 243-square metres of floor space and a $280,000 mortgage, then spend decades paying it off. That’s the norm in our country. It’s the way we do things.

And because it’s the way we do things, I think we can fall into the trap of believing it’s the only way to do things.

In a previous existence, I had a 9-5 job in advertising, adopting some pretty bad habits: staying back late, eating takeaway, drinking every weekend, wasting too much money on useless stuff. I was staring down the decades at a house in the suburbs, if only I could scrape together the funds for a deposit. But the whole idea of living that way left me feeling trapped and unhappy, I’m not sure why. It was only when I met some artists, many of whom lived like modern-day nomads, that I realised there were other ways to structure a life. Their examples gave me the strength to leave my job and try something different.

Now I work for myself as a freelance journalist, mostly writing about environmental issues. Although I still haven’t kicked some of those unhealthy habits – especially working late – I feel free and happy. Or at least more than I did before, anyway.

And so here I am, cycling through the suburbs on the way to visit a man who also chose to sidestep the 9-5 lifestyle. John Hermans built his own house, and now he grows his own food and generates his own electricity so he doesn’t need to work full-time. He’s never had a mortgage or even a bank loan. When I found that out a few months ago, I just had to meet him.

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