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A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

The buildings, growings, gatherings and storings of this regenerative age

It’s been a busy 6 months of building, producing, gathering and crafting, so busy in fact that we haven’t had a moment to blog. Until today.

Teaching younger folk to build has been our focus over the past year, starting with James and Zeph building The Cumquat, then more recently, Connor, Jeremy and Marta helping with the north-facing greenhouse.

We’ve built a number of other buildings too, including the Yause (named after Jeremy Yau, who came to SWAP with us in February and has been here ever since).

Jeremy moved into the Yause after just 7 weeks of building.

We also built the Cookhouse, the name we gave our low-tech sauna.

We used local cypress timber and discarded sheep’s wool to line the inside of Zeph’s old cubby, and we found an old wood heater at the tip which we bought for $30 and restored with a lick of stove paint. Thanks Zeph!

It works a treat!

We also installed more water tanks for further veggie production (nearly everything we spend money on is intended to take us away from further requiring it),

To preserve our gifted old timber windows (thanks Vasko!), Connor painted them before the rains set in.

and we started work on the Smithy, where Jeremy and Patrick will be setting up a blacksmith and wood crafting workshop to teach others.

There have been many other smaller projects we have worked on this year, such as completing the cellar – building more storage for our preserves, ferments, booze and cheeses. We are so close to going fridge-less now! Just a cool cupboard to build and a fridge to offload.

Home production has also been extensive with many hands making light work. Buster, who rode her bicycle from Brisbane, came to SWAP with us and hung about with Woody, decking the trampoline with summer fruit to sun-preserve. Thanks Buster!

Our bees have had a remarkable first season, storing food for themselves and for us in the near completed anti-aviary.

We robbed them of a third of their summer production,

obtaining a whopping 15 kgs out of a total of 45 kgs of honey that they produced in just 6 months. Astounding! Thank you beautiful creatures.

The annual veggie production began to ramp up again too,

and not only did we learn more about bees from our friends at Milkwood Permaculture, we learnt a thing or two about intensive veggie production too. We have begun to double dig all our beds.

Home production of perennials has also increased this year with plants such as hops for brewing and for sleepytime tea,

and kiwi fruits, which tease Woody with their unripeness well into early winter.
We have been gathering other perennial crops in the garden too, such as acorns – harvesting them for pancake meal and beer making,

and gathering together for all sorts of events with kin and community. From community garden working bees and free workshops that we’ve organised,

to fermenting workshops, including Culture Club’s wonderful community pickling day,

mushroom and weed foraging workshops that we’ve led,

and Friday night local food gatherings, which we’ve hosted weekly at Tree Elbow.

We’ve had so many remarkable guests stay with us over the past 6 months. David Asher came from Canada to share his passion for wild fermented raw cheeses,

permaculture teacher, Penny Livingston-Stark, came and feasted with our community and shared her remarkable story alongside David Holmgren,

cousin Pepper and Ra were regular visitors,

comedian Lawrence Leung (who slept in the Yause) and independent filmmaker, Celeste Geer, came with a crew to film for Catalyst,

and of course our three long-term SWAPs, Connor and Marta (here stacking a fine compost on the nature strip),

and Jeremy (here working on a forge blower he’s making from discarded material), have all been stalwarts at Tree Elbow this year.

Long term resident Zero, a huge personality in a little dog suit, will turn 49 this winter, rendering him the most significant elder of Artist as (extended) Family,

and while Zeph has been extricating himself from Artist as Family collaborations, he still makes regular appearances (often with friend Owen) to Tree Elbow, bringing his zest for disruption, bravado and beautiful independence, and keeping us all on our toes. Onya Zeph!

The way we get around and retrieve resources, or go out to participate in the community is very much about our continued practice of a low carbon consciousness. Bikes are essential for this cultural and economic transition. We’ve been car-less now for seven years!

Riding and walking into yet another wet and cold season means we are once again hardy to the change of weather. While community friends and other loved ones fall sick around us, colds and flu will be a long time coming into our neo-peasant home.

Walked-for, dug, and directly-picked food, dirt on hands, active and accountable living and mobility, goodly sleep, and generally being outside all gather as the ingredients for a health-filled, resilient and low-carbon life. While this is not THE solution to the many varied problems of industrialisation, it is for us a genuine response to the predicament of our age.

We hope you have found some spirit here, spirit to aid your resolve as we find strength and inspiration in yours. For those interested in a deeper unpacking of our practice and of our cultural fermentations, Patrick has an essay just published in Garland magazine. If you have similar life hacks you would like to share with us or any other Qs related to how we live, please leave a comment or send us a message. (NB: Trolls will be composted.)

Over for now,
much loving and flowing of gifts to you, and from and to the worlds of the world,
Artist as Family

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.
In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 
A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.

We hadn’t developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.

Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.

The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.

Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.

After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn’t done since his home-ed days.