The tour continues…
After we had visited John’s hydro generator, taken a ride in the veggie oil van and marvelled at the beautiful mud brick house, it was time to see some environmentally friendly creature comforts.
Just outside the house was a small oval swimming pool, which John picked up at an auction for $20. The bottom of the pool was murky brown and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of tadpoles nibbling at the sides. “They eat the algae,” explained John, sweeping the wooden decking with an old broom. With an army of amphibians scouring his pool each day, he doesn’t need to rely on using chemicals or running the filter. (If you want to learn more about the swimming pool, check out this article John wrote.)
Next to the pool was the front garden – a specially planted rainforest of more than 150 different species, most native to the area. John wandered among the greenery, muttering botanical names. “Ooo, there’s a vine!” he exclaimed, reaching up and rubbing a finely veined heart-shaped leaf between thumb and forefinger. “Pearl vine. Sarcopetalum harveyanum . Remember that one!” He stood back and surveyed his domain of ferns, lilly pillies and indigenous palms. “Everything I want in a rainforest is right here in my front yard,” he said.
Then we hiked round the side of the house and up a slope onto the roof, which was covered in native grasses and black wattles. When the site was excavated 20 years ago, the top soil was dumped into a dune nearby. Recently John spread the dirt across the reinforced timber roof. The original seeds, which had lain dormant for decades, suddenly sprouted.
Here’s a picture of the house from the side, so you can see the trees on top:
As we stood among the grasses on John’s roof, I noticed poo on the ground. “Oh, wallabies get up here,” explained John. He paused. “They haven’t fallen off the edge yet.”
We moved to the cellar, which stocks jars of preserved fruit and some rather unusual wines: blood plum, blackberry, cherry, feijoa and even native lilly pilly berry. Most of the fruit comes from the garden, each bottle costs about 15 cents to make, and John reuses the corks. He also makes wine from deadly nightshade, which, he says, tastes a bit like aniseed. Is it dangerous to drink? “You can end up with heart problems,” he admitted, chuckling. “I started getting skip beat.”
Finally, we visited the workshop. John mounted an exercise bike fitted with old washing machine motors. Attached to the base was a standard 240-volt power point. He pedalled furiously and a power drill in his hand started whirring.
After we climbed the stairs to the workshop’s mezzanine floor, John showed me the battery bank for his various power systems, talking about amps and volts and currents and kilowatts, murmuring calculations, trying to come up with a precise figure …
It was too much. John is 53 and I’m 28, but I just couldn’t keep up. I asked John if we could take a break. He agreed.
As we walked back towards the stairs, he pointed at a brass fireman’s pole suspended from the workshop roof. “Have you seen this?” he asked.
Suddenly he leaped off the mezzanine floor and slid down the pole to the ground, several metres below.
I took the stairs.
Yep. A remarkable place – and person – indeed. I’ll be talking more about John in the future, including some of his tips for living cheaply and creating your own self-sufficient home in the bush.