Our ‘New’ Recycled Shelter in a Shed- Anything is possible

Dear Friends,

Over the past 3 months I have been busy creating a new shelter for
Pacha, Yani and I in the forests of Woombah. It has been full of adventures, challenges, insights and lessons.

The large ‘Shed’ came with the land my friend and I recently
purchased in northern NSW. It was open on three walls when we first ‘moved in’. When it rained (and it rained most of the time), the moist cloudy air came in and made everything damp. We lived in a tent under the shed and cooked with a small gas ring on a simple table.

My Father, Karsten, saw the potential in the shed and came up almost immediately with an idea to turn one third of it (6 mt by 8 mt) into an enclosed space with a mezzanine floor. I couldn’t resist a new building project, the practical hands on challenge seemed to be exactly what I needed after the exhausting election campaign. We went ahead and drew up some plans for pre- fabricated frames and found a company who could make them.

■Challenge brings growth

Now, ‘normal’ people would probably find a place to rent while paying someone else to build them their place to live, certainly not in a shed. I wanted to be involved and learn and do, I wanted to use the resources on hand (the shed was already here when we bought the place) I wanted to save money (that means less debt and more freedom). I wanted my children to experience what it is like to live simply while something is being built. I want them to know they can do this one day if they like…anything is possible. So, we over the past months we found ourselves moving around the shed as we manouvered the frames and other materials we needed to use around us.

This is a *SLOHAS (Slow Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability)
construction. So, it needed to be low cost (recycled materials where possible and free labour – me and my Father!), sustainable (we used either recycled materials and plantation timber for the framework) and healthy (getting very fit doing the construction work and the wonderful sense of satisfaction in building by ourselves). We did it at our own pace. I nurtured and expanded my relationships with my family and neighbours as they helped or watched this latest project grow.

In the early stage of the project I decided to search for recycled
sliding windows and other house fittings. I was even able to find a complete kitchen bench with sink etc that had been recently torn out of a building.It feels so good to be using materials that would otherwise have been thrown away. I found the cheapest place for
recycled materials was on the Gold Coast (3.5 hours away) so I
arranged to rent a large (3 tonne) truck to drive all the materials over. This went very well ( I like driving trucks) until we arrived at the land where it had been raining for the past week.
We got bogged.

First our next door neighbour tried to help us out using steel cables attached to trees. We went down deeper…I tried to keep breathing and not panic – but I was wondering how expensive it would be to rent a crane to get the truck out of there. Next, the neighbour two doors down came with his small suzuki 4 wheel drive and said he would try.

I just kept digging out the mud (which by this time was up to the
axles) to try to make things easier. I was pretty sure his tiny car would not be able to pull out this big truck. We hooked it up,
revved and hooray – the truck was on the road again.

Community Resilience, helping each other, sharing with each other.
Afterwards we sat with our nighbours over a slow home brewed beer (my nerves were a little stretched!) and talked about Woombah,
constructions and neighbours. I felt in debt of gratitude but their attitude was that some day they would need my help and that this is what makes our neighbourhood/community strong. They are so right.
Knowing my neighbours well and sharing what I can with them creates a strong web of support no matter what lies ahead. Since this
experience we have had at least two other bogged cars.

My neighbours have also ‘saved’ us when my own old van broke down at our favourite beach (Shark Bay). We were stuck at night with no
mobile phone range on a lonely road. Pacha and Yani and I had to wave down a car to take us to town so we could make a call to be rescued!
(Interesting reflection for me was realisingbefore children I was not nearly as ‘fearful’ in these situations – somehow things would be ok – the difference was feeling responsible for two other defensless human beings, my children, in these interesting situations we would find ourselves in. Hopefully they will learn that there is never any need to panic and that somehow we can survive anything).

The next step in construction was erecting the frames. They were
already put together – but were heavy to move around and lift. We
used out imaginations as well as strength and borrowed Pacha’s
skateboard and a small hand trolley to move them into place.

We had ordered plantation pine flooring for the mezzanine, but it
arrived in the rain and seeing it was particle board (not very
resilient) made me search for another option. I called the secondhand shop and found they had some used marine plywood (from concrete formwork) and quickly arranged to pick this up instead.

This meant borrowing the neighbour’s trailer and connecting it onto my old van and driving back to the Gold Coast again. Everything went pretty well except on the way home the mud guard came off the trailer and sheared into the tyre on the super highway…very stressful…I calmly stopped the van and looked around me. We were in the middle of sugar cane fields – but I could see a house abour 800 metres away up a hill. The mobile phone had no credit and no range in that area and I tried to stop someone (passing by at 110 kms per hour) …noone stopped. So off Pacha and Yani and I went, trekking through the bush and muddy ditches. The kids seemed to enjoy the adventure. When I stood in a deep muddy puddle up to my knees, Pacha said: “It could be worse Mummy, the mud could be up to your neck.” I smiled and thought that Pacha and Yani would be fine in returning to Ecuador!

We found a friendly man called Robert in the house at the top of the hill – and although I just asked if I could use his telephone, he slowly said – ‘so what seems to be the problem’ - and soon started gathering materials to help remove and replace the tyre, driving us back down to get us back on the road. What a great person with a wonderful attitude. After talking about the state of the world he said: The problem is people are not really ALIVE anymore’. And I thought – Yes – he knows.

■Reflections on DNA

Now the recycled marine plywood is on the ceiling and I can look up and think about the campaigns we had in Japan to try to stop using
tropical timber for concrete formwork…I love that we were able to use a stronger and more ethical material…But before the floor could be put down we had to put the 9 mt beams into place. My Father was
impressed by my hammering style and talked about his own grandfather who was a blacksmith. He was convinced my talent in hammering nails had been passed through my DNA.

I love my Father mostly because I choose to love him. He is one of
the most difficult people to be with that I know. Much of our
childhood had an underlying climate of fear because of the demons he was wrestling with in himself (and still wrestles with).

Controlling, opinionated, larger than life, intense – but when I look at him I see myself and I know that if I cut my connection to him, I disconnect some part of myself and my children (and their children to come). Of course he taught all of his children to love and respect nature above all – and this was one of the few things that he and our mother were in absolute agreement about. He loves to be useful, he loves challenge and loves to share his knowledge and skills. He felt a strong sense of commitment in helping me create a good shelter to live in.

He is, like many of my family members, both critical and proud of my actions. One of his recent comments was: “Anja, you look your
age” (which was not meant to be a compliment – but just honest I
guess). I thought about this for a while (and the added stress that perhaps he did not realise that he contributed, the weight of my
responsibilities, the physical hardship in how we were living etc,
etc) and came to the conclusion that: Yes, I may look like I am 40
years old, but I should look this old with the many experiences I
have had in my life. My age is how I feel and how I think, not that surface of skin that the modern world is so obsessed by. Sure, I
could live a less stimulated life and put some kind of crème on my
skin if I wanted to or smile and frown and be less ‘alive’ – but my appearance is not so important to me (especially in the shed where we have no mirrors!).

My Father and I had big ups and downs in the stress of this building project and one rainy morning (after a disturbed sleep), I reacted when he teased my son (the 50th time!) . I told him to go away if he was not able to contribute in a positive way to my children…so he went away…Soon after I rang to make sure he got home ok (2 hours away) – and wrote a letter explaining what I thought of the incident and welcomed him back at anytime. Our connection is still open.

In some way this is the same reason I will continue to keep a contact with Pacha and Yani’s Father. Marcelo. It is not easy, it is complicated and brings up many difficult emotions, but it is a story I started and is now written into the DNA of our children. And it is not only Marcelo the children deserve to know, but his own large and colourful family, the 300 men, women and children in and around Bahia de Caraquez in Ecuador.

I guess it is part of the process of learning to cope with this rich tapestry of life. How can we ever find Peace in the world if we don’t find a way to keep our connections open with our own family members?

So, now Pacha, Yani and I live in a partly built house, with lots of space and freedom. We still use buckets for toilets (and feed our wastes to our quickly growing fruit tree orchard) and there is no plumbing or electrics installed yet. But we are very comfortable and feel safe and supported here. It is a paradise of wild nature with the security of community and services. And we are very excited about returning to Japan and Ecuador next month!

*SLOHAS – A new term to describe a healthy and sustainable lifestyle without needing to spend a lot of money.

1 comment:

Soccer Womyn said...

What a great story! I can just imagine the whole thing. Fortunately for me I cannot afford to visit, and by the time i do, i guess you will have a fully functioning toilet! yes!