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June 2013

Speed Date a Sustainable Designer

I recently went on a speed date. I wasn't searching for a new husband - but rather was hoping to pick up a few sustainable design tips.

Speed Date a Sustainable Designer, hosted by the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), gave me the opportunity to discuss our home plans with some of Australia's leading architects and building designers.

We're planning to build a small, passively designed home. Rather than rely on expensive energy guzzling heating and cooling, we're hoping to keep our home warm in winter by capturing winter sunlight and cool in summer by excluding the summer sun and encouraging heat loss. I want our home to be easy to live in.


Our passively designed home will capture more than views, with the north facing windows capturing sunlight to warm our home in winter.

I described our objective to my dates as "an economical two-bedroom small (but spacious) passively heated and cooled low maintenance home". I was armed with a list of questions and hand-drawn plans for a north-facing rammed earth home with a polished concrete floor.

I was particularly interested to learn that many of us live in inside out houses. Almost half of all homes in Australia are brick veneer, with a skin of bricks on the outside and panelling on the inside. The external bricks heat up in summer and radiate unwanted heat into the house, and in winter they stay cold and absorb heat from the house.

In contrast, if we place the bricks on the inside and an insulated lighter material on the outside, a construction technique known as reverse brick veneer, we put the thermal mass where it's more useful and our homes would stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Thankfully, there's plenty that can be done to improve the comfort of existing inside out homes. Walls, ceilings and floors can be insulated and windows double glazed or fitted with curtains or even window blankets. Draughtproofing strips can be fitted to windows and doors if needed. Ceiling fans can cool in summer and in winter when switched to reverse they can push warm air from the ceiling back to floor level. If you need to install an airconditioner or heater, choose wisely (see for tips) and restrict it to one small zone that can easily be closed off from the rest of the home.

I'm looking forward to building a house that's not inside out.

{Initially published in the Newcastle Herald Saturday 22nd June 2013}

ADD YOUR VOICE to the call to protect our national parks TODAY

Six year old Hunter valley resident at Sydney No Hunting in National Parks Rally 18th April 2013

I imagine many of you are aware of the poor decisions being made by a number of state governments regarding the management of our national parks. 

Perhaps you have signed a petition or two - but were planning to do more?

Today is the day to act.

It looks like cabinet are meeting today to consider what action to take, if any, to increase the federal government's involvement in the management of national parks. 

I'm going to make it real easy for you to add your voice to the call for our national parks to be truly national

If you have only 1 minute to spare sign this petition

If you have 5 minutes to spare also send a letter to your local MP

If you have 7 minutes to spare also send an email to Environment Minister Tony Burke

If you have 10 minutes to spare also call Environment Minister Tony Burke on 02 62777640.

An email from the Nature Conservation Council of NSW this morning motivated me to make the call, telling me that a direct phone call is one of the most powerful ways we can tell our decision makers what we want.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of making a phone call, but it was easy. I wrote down a few short sentences as talking notes: My name is X, I'm from X, I'm concerned about X, and I would like X. I made the call and asked if I could leave a message for the Environment Minister. The friendly receptionist listened politely to my quick spiel, thanked me for my call and said she would pass on my message. She suggested I follow up my phone call with an email (she provided an email address) which I then did. 

Here's my short email: 

Dear Tony Burke,

I'm a resident of the Hunter Valley NSW and and am a regular visit to Yengo, Wollemi and Werakata national parks.

I would love to see the federal government act now to ensure protection of our national parks. The NSW government's plans to allow hunting in National Parks deeply concern me. My 6 year old daughter is also concerned by these moves and chose to accompany me on a recent No Hunting in National Parks rally in Sydney (image attached).

Please amend national environmental laws to ensure greater protection of our national parks. Our national parks need to be truly national.

Kind regards,


Do you have the time today to add your voice?  

Edited to add an update from Getup 21st June: "This wasn't a good week for national parks. After intense lobbying by the country's mining and gas lobbies, Cabinet folded and chose not to introduce legislation that would have given national protection to our national parks. With overwhelming public support, now is not the time to give up. Federal protection for parks is still under consideration and we can help put it on the agenda for both parties and their pre-election commitments." Getup will be releasing a bumper sticker to help the campaign. Find our more and vote for your favourite design here

Eying off the car next door

My car sits unused for 23 out of 24 hours most days. Apparently mine isn’t the only one sitting idle, with most cars used on average for only one and a half hours per day. In an ideal world we’d happily share our idle cars, perhaps even making a little money doing so, so that others could get by without owning a car. This idealistic dream may soon be a reality.

The Car Next Door  collaborative consumption project lets people share cars with their neighbours for the mutual benefit of both.  Tricia Hogbin-001

I spotted a car with a ‘Car Next Door’ sticker on it during a recent trip to Sydney. Intrigued, I looked up their website and discovered an exciting new collaborative consumption project.

Car Next Door lets people share cars with their neighbours for the mutual benefit of both. The car owner makes a little extra cash, offsetting the costs of their car and the borrower has access to a car that would otherwise be sitting idle. The benefits extend beyond the owner and the borrower – with each car in the project keeping an average of eight other cars off the road.

The project was founded by Will Davies, a long time car-share member. Will realised it would be much easier to borrow one of the dozens of cars parked near his home, sitting doing nothing – rather than walk to his nearest share car, about half a kilometre away. He started Car Next Door so that he and others could do just that – borrow a neighbours car.

The idea of renting out my car appealed – but then I wondered about the practicalities and risks. What would stop someone from stealing my car? What if a borrower crashed my car? It seems Car Next Door has all bases covered. If you sign up as a car owner, they install a GPS tracking system and immobiliser in your car – delightfully named Fred. Fred enables keyless access to your car when a booking is made, so you don’t have worry about meeting borrowers to hand over keys, and he also ensures that your car is incredibly hard to steal. Fred apparently can even detect and dob-in reckless drivers. But if a driver does crash your car you are covered by a fleet insurance policy.

Car Next Door is currently being piloted in Sydney – but they plan to expand the platform throughout Australia. To find out more or register your interest visit

(Originally published in the Newcastle Herald 15th June 2013). 

Learning to be a slow spender

With the rise of the slow movement we’ve seen people embrace slow food, slow travel, slow fashion and numerous other ways to slow down and reduce consumption. I’m thinking many of us could also do with a good dose of “slow spending”.

If my grandparents wanted something they saved for it. They lived in a garage in their early years of marriage and slowly built and improved their home over the following decade, raising the funds as they went. My Dad doesn’t recall them yearning for more than what they could save for. They seemed content with the little they had.

If my parents wanted something when I was younger they used lay-by. I’d actually forgotten about lay-by until questioning my Mum recently about her earlier spending habits. Her reminder brought back memories of us popping in each week to pay a little off the Christmas lay-bys.

These patient spending styles contrast considerably with how many of us spend money today. I can think of many instances where I’ve bought something on credit that I was perfectly capable of saving up for. I’m impatient. There have also been many purchases, that if given a little extra time, I would have found a more economical, ethical or sustainable option, and in many cases may have realised that I didn’t really need the item after all.

I’m trying to embrace slow spending.

I’m learning to resist the urge to buy everything I want immediately on credit and instead take the time to consider whether I truly need it, and if so, save up and find the most ethical and sustainable option.

Slow spending pays off - this preloved cubby didn't cost a cent

Little Eco's cubby house is my favourite example of slow spending. We spent months watching ebay and Gumtree for the right pre-loved cubby to come along. We spotted exactly what we wanted new – but resisted the urge to type in our credit card number – and instead kept searching. Then a friend, not even knowing we were searching for a cubby, turned up at our place with the most delightful pre-loved cubby. It’s almost like it was made for its new home and best of all it didn’t cost us cent.

If we had rushed into buying, what we thought was the perfect new cubby, then we would have missed out on this sweet and very loved cubby.

I like to think that all slow spending could be like this – give spending the time it deserves and what you will end up with is something far more meaningful than an impulse purchase could ever be.

{Originally published in the Newcastle Herald 8th June 2013}

Speaking of gorgeous cubbies - have you seen the Foxs Lane patchwork cubby? Cuute!

Autumn was.....

Autumn at our little farm 2

Autumn 2013 was the season we finally took a deep breath and looked beyond the struggles of living in a shed and started to appreciate how lucky we are to be creating a home in such a magical place. 

Autumn at our little farm 1

I shared one of my favourite childhood memories with Little Eco - damper twirls cooked on a campfire and filled with golden syrup. She enjoyed them so much she promptly declared Monday night is camp fire night. I can live with that. 

Autumn at our little farm 8

We celebrated the inaugural dunny move. 

Autumn at our little farm 7

The garden is slowly growing, with a little help from our chooks, free stable manure from Cessnock Showground and cheap mushroom compost from Gromore Mushroom farm near Singleton. As an added bonus, we're now harvesting loads of mushrooms from our garden and are regularly enjoying mushroom risotto, mushroom soup and mushroom rissoles

Autumn at our little farm 3

We've welcomed six more chooks to our little farm. Little Eco fell so quickly and deeply in love that I was worried for a while there that she was going to move into the chook pen. 

Autumn at our little farm bees

We also welcomed two bee hives. Yay! After saying goodbye to my backyard bees a few years ago I'm thrilled to finally have bees again. 

Autumn at our little farm 5

Autumn at our little farm 6

We're increasing the number of worms we have so that we have enough to feed to the chooks, so Little Eco's cubby now has it's very own worm farm. Speaking of the cubby....

Autumn at our little farm 10

Little Eco's pre-loved cubby has become the focus of her outdoor play and she often redecorates and rearranges. 

Autumn at our little farm 9

Despite our living conditons being pretty basic (still no running water!)- Little Eco has never been happier and I love that she's blossomed into a creative outdoor kid. 

Autumn at our little farm 11

I especially love that she's forever covered in mud - literally. My absolute favourite moment has to be when I sprung her swimming in a puddle. 

Autumn at our little farm 13

Autumn was when I started to truly appreciate that happiness does not come from having what you want - but from learning to be happy with what you have. 

How was your Autumn? 

Summer was..

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