2019 12 07 Network News

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Saturday 7 December 2019

In this issue

– Preparing for Bushfire, with useful links
Love your soil
Wildlife protecting your garden – and an invitation to the village
$8,000 Garden design scholarship awarded
Sustainable Building
Natural owner builder
Greenhouse homes in Sweden and Narara
Opportunities & Events
School holiday kids activities at Narara Ecovillage
Visit the Village
Contribute to this newsletter
Suggest activities for the Network in 2020
Two actions you can do today: help make some noise
Recommendation: ALA- check out your local wildlife
Long shot: the Audacious Project

Preparing for Fire, and some useful links

Improvised firetruck and yellow sky NEV Nov 2019

Narara Ecovillage’s improvised fire truck stands ready as the sky turns orange on 12 November, the first time ever that the RFS declared a “Catastrophic” fire danger warning for Sydney.  Photo: Richard Cassels

-Liz Bassett

For the last few weeks, wide areas in NSW have been devastated by bushfires. Currently close to 2 million hectares of bushland have been burnt, severely impacting plants and animals as well as human life and property –  and the fires are continuing, possibly for many weeks to come.

The residents of Narara Ecovillage, like many others across NSW, have been preparing for possible bushfire attack. Preparations include mowing and trimming grass, clearing dead leaves and debris, setting up and checking equipment, and planning who will do what in the event a fire gets too close. The clear message is: If the alarm to leave comes, don’t muck around ‘Get out ASAP!’

The village has also established a key group of members keeping a close eye on the bushfire situation, and set up an emergency communications channel by creating a WhatsApp group (this is a free phone app for groups up to 256). We’ve had to learn not to use it for social or appreciative chat, and it has been in active use in recent weeks: as fires approach (or might approach) whoever hears of it first informs the rest. It is a huge benefit to be preparing with a group of people, rather than alone.

The village also recommends Fires Near Me: a phone app that shows fires in real time on a map of NSW (the same info is available on the website, if you prefer a computer).

If you can, connect with your neighbours, and in any event make a bush fire plan. The RFS website has guidelines (link below).

And if you are suffering from breathing smoke haze, it might be advisable to get a respirator mask. Example: catalogue from a Sydney vendor, and here is some Air pollution masks information

Image: Fires Near Me screenshot Thursday 5th Dec 2019.

In the app, you can click on any fire icon for more information about that fire.

Useful links 

NSW Rural Fire Service

  • Website:  for current fires and a range of other useful information
  • Facebook    Twitter    The phone app: Fires Near Me
  • Phone: Emergency: 000; Bush Fire Information Line NSW RFS: 1800 679 737

Other states

ABC Australia-wide 

Other links

Village information and bushfire survival planning session in November


10 Ways to Love Your Soil (World Soil Day Thursday, 5th Dec)

-Richard Cassels

Soil may not leap to mind as one of the most ‘lovable’ things in the world. But it should. At the “Mad About Dirt” weekend in May this year, a terrific range of experts talked about the ways they love their soils.  

Here are 10 things I learned:

  1. Appreciate it  (start by noticing it everywhere you go; pick it up, smell it. Soil is heavily under-appreciated).
  2. Talk about it (discover how many of your friends are secret soil lovers!)
  3. Learn about it (join a permaculture or gardening or bush regen group, watch television gardening shows, learn about Regenerative Agriculture,  or just look up “soil” in Wikipedia).
  4. Protect and shield it (e.g. with mulch and /or cover crops).
  5. Minimise disturbing it, protect roots.
  6. Nourish it (e.g. with compost or worm wee).
  7. Use no poisons, soil is full of life (and much of the biodiversity in soil is still unknown to science, which is shocking for an ecosystem we so rely on!).
  8. Integrate with animals where possible (e.g. chickens).
  9. Read and think about “soil security”.
  10. Have a go: every backyard makes a difference!

Whether it’s just in a pot, or in a backyard vegie patch, you can create your own biodiverse ecosystem, a miniature in-ground national park, and get good and healthy food at the same time.

Mad About Dirt was a project of the Narara Eco Living Network, generously supported by the Central Coast Council, Bendigo Bank (Lisarow Community Bank branch), SESL Australia, BuiltSmart Group, Viva Living Homes, Narara Valley High School, Narara Ecovillage and its members, and keynote speakers Angus Stewart and Tino Carnevale.

Soil lovers at work, protecting their soil with mulch, labelling plants for learning, and making a permaculture swale at the Narara Ecovillage.

Joan’s raised vege garden: vibrant colours and healthy food

Wildlife Patrols in the Garden- and an invitation to the village

– Andrew and Megan Dobson

Winter is a good test of a gardener’s patience, but when the growing season commences, a different form of patience can reap untold rewards.

For example, this year at our home in Wyoming, our rose bushes were bombarded by aphids. 

First, we hosed them with water, which cut the infestation in half.

Then we waited two weeks for the arrival of our ladybird colony. Within three days, only a few aphids remained. 

Shortly after that, hoverfly patrol commenced and there was no escape for our sap sucking visitors – aphids last no more than a day in our garden since then.

We have witnessed the same and more from animal helpers at the Ecovillage “Triplespan” greenhouse.

A fledgling ladybird colony and a number of hoverfly constantly patrol the flowering vegetables scattered throughout the growing beds. 

 A hoverfly. Source: ALA (see recommendation in this newsletter, below)

A blue banded bee! These solitary creatures love all blue and purple coloured flowers. I was thrilled to see one buzzing around the holy basil. I’m hoping that my 100 slips of holy basil will strike successfully so we can plant a long row of this fragrant herb to provide this creature with food.

A blue banded bee. Source: Aussiebee

We are also having regular visits from a number of tiny blue wren, up from their colony in some nearby tall rushes. They are beautiful to watch as they hop along the paths of the beds, and every now and then hop a little higher and grab an insect snack from one of the plants. As a result, we have witnessed very low levels of caterpillar, snail and slug infestation. I hope that our wren colony will continue to provide their meticulous insect management services throughout the growing season.

We also cannot miss mentioning Biskit, the resident Black Shouldered Kite, regularly harvesting rodents in the area around the Triplespan. 


We expect our recent plantings will begin to mature over the next four weeks,so we can offer fresh grown produce for sale… keep an eye and ear out for more information soon.

More: https://nararaecovillage.com/2019/12/observations-of-wildlife-in-the-triplespan/

Seedlings in the nursery

Garden Design Scholarship awarded

-Richard Cassels

The $8,000 BuiltSmart modular garden design scholarship has been awarded to Narara Valley High School student Bree Akhurst.

BuiltSmart Group CEO Sean O’Hara said he was delighted with Bree’s work and her problem solving approach. Student Sarah Borg was awarded the runner-up prize. 

In association with Mad About Dirt (held in May this year), The BuiltSmart Group offered the scholarship to year 11 and 12 students of the Narara Valley and Lisarow High Schools.

Students were asked to design gardens that could be made at the BuiltSmart factory in Lisarow using spare materials from the construction business.Bree’s design offers a range of options in regards to hydroponics, soil, sizes and watering, while utilising leftover construction materials.

Bree has gained entry into Equine Science at Charles Sturt University and will be using the scholarship to help pay for this. 

The Mad About Dirt event was part of the program of activities organised by the Narara Eco Living Network, the not-for-profit, community outreach arm of the Narara Ecovillage. 

For more information about the scholarship, contact: 

  • Sean O’Hara, Chief Executive Officer, BuiltSmart Group, ph. 0474 002 501
  • Sarah Anderson, Narara Valley High School.0419 688 258
  • Joan Cassels, Organiser, Mad About Dirt event, Narara Eco Living Network Inc.  0400 601 668

Image: Kerrie O’Heir (former Deputy Principal, Narara Valley High School), Bree Akhurst, Sean O’Hara (CEO BuiltSmart Group), Sarah Anderson (TAS Faculty, Narara Valley High School), Sarah Borg, Joan and Richard Cassels (Mad About Dirt event organisers).

Sustainable Building

Why be an Owner-Builder?

Why on earth would you want to build your own house?  All that effort, handling of thousands of dollars, organising trades, getting materials delivered?  Many people do, for many reasons. Read on for the pros and cons.

-Linda Scott

An owner-builder is an individual who holds a permit to manage the construction of their own residential building project. The owner-builder might do much of the labour as well as the coordinating and contracting roles usually done by a licensed builder. Some tasks can only legally be done by licensed tradies such as electricians and plumbers.

There are currently nine owner-builders at Narara Ecovillage, with one completed, two others nearly finished, and the rest in various stages of development. 60 houses are planned for Stage 1, and 40 for Stage 2, so there will probably be many more owner-builder projects over the next few years.

Some have hired foremen or builders to complete or consult on the build, others are laboriously constructing the dwelling themselves, earthblock by earthblock (no standard house bricks have been spotted).  What all have in common is determination, commitment, a sense of adventure, and perhaps a touch of madness! 

Two house designs from Narara Ecovillage

The reasons for choosing to be an owner-builder are varied and interesting:


There are financial rewards in managing the project. Possibly 20% of your build can be saved! Obtaining trade discounts and not paying a builder’s markup means considerable savings. Other savings can come from sourcing bargain materials (e.g. by using social media sites such as freecycle or online marketplaces), recycling and repurposing.  Spotting council clean up items on the side of the road. Doing as much labour intensive work yourself or with the help of workshops or volunteers.


Being an owner-builder gives you control over the project. Your good project managing skills can reap rewards and be extremely gratifying. However, you also need to be flexible, as things don’t always go to plan. Problem solving abilities are also desirable, as are the skills of looking outside the box and thinking ahead.


You are in charge of the project and make the decisions, supervising tradies and ensuring the work is high standard, follows regulations and with good work safety. This full involvement is tiring, yet extremely satisfying. You’ll stand back at the end of the project and admire the job you have planned, worked on and supervised. It’s one of the most fulfilling parts of being an owner-builder.

Excavator, architect and consulting builder conferring on Linda’s house, 2019


The good news is that to be an owner-builder doesn’t mean you need building skills (of course it does help if you have familiarity). But if there was a position description for an owner-builder, it might include: Good organizing skills, love of building, ability to work with others and communicate well.  Flexibility. Good negotiation skills. Good decision making, problem solving. Good at budgeting. Hands on approach. Learns quickly (or takes lots of notes). Enough skills to be a CEO!

At the ecovillage, we are in a unique position to be able to share the wisdom of those who have already built or nearly completed their houses. Builders, consultants, surveyors and engineers have become familiar with the village, got to know the people, and are keen to continue.  Plumbers and electricians in particular have become familiar with our infrastructure and have worked with village personnel on many tasks and can be very helpful to inexperienced builders. We can take advantage of other people’s experiences, good and bad, which are being documented on the village’s wiki website. 

Ben and architect Will laying blocks, 2019

There’s a scarcity of builders who will work with natural materials such as hemp, light straw, strawbale, rammed earth.  Mainstream builders are unlikely to be familiar with alternative building products, and are usually more motivated to achieve a speedy completion of tasks, which is a good thing, but a natural builder (if found) tends to come from a different school of building.

And getting tradies to work for you, let alone quote on a job is not always easy. If they are good, they often prefer to work with familiar builders who provide regular work. So why would they work for you, an unknown quantity?  However, some of our owner-builders have engaged the assistance of local licensed builders who have helped them navigate some of the difficult areas and recommended good, local tradies who are happy to be involved because of the connection created. Sometimes those tradies can recommend other tradies.  It really is wheels within wheels.

Tips from Narara Ecovillage owner-builders

Carefully evaluate your unique circumstances, including:

  • your finances and contingency allowance
  • time you can devote to the project
  • your capability of carrying out jobs yourself
  • how patient you are


  • if you don’t have the time to manage the entire build yourself, look for a project manager experienced in builds similar to yours. You will still be needed for decision making, but will have little responsibility for the day-to-day management of the building site

Design & Project management

Study and become familiar with the project scope, regulations and milestones:

  • aim for an owner-builder-friendly, manageable design (rather than the Taj Mahal)
  • find a like-minded architect, agree on concept
  • learn about building regulations, required documentation for council and for construction, including engineering and certifying
  • aim for a construction completion date
  • create a spreadsheet of building milestones that need signing off for occupancy certification
  • keep a spreadsheet of all costs (estimated and actual) and make sure you pay contractors promptly so they are keen to continue working for you

Do it yourself

  • For example, DIY painting, rendering, mixing mortar, mixing paint


  • ask for help from friends, family and volunteers.  It’s a big project!
  • provide good nutritious food for workshops and volunteers, (they’ll come back and also tell their friends).


Two greenhouse homes – Sweden and Narara

-Liz Bassett

Network News reader David van Kool has sent in an intriguing story about a Swedish family home built entirely inside a glass greenhouse, providing warmth and food in one of the harsher climates in the world. The full story is on the “Return to Now” website, here: Swedish Couple Builds Greenhouse Around Home to Stay Warm and Grow Food All Year Long

Narara Ecovillage has a completely different climate, but we also have a sort of integrated greenhouse-house, in the form of Candy’s earthship, with its glassed-in corridor along the north side. The windows catch sun in winter, but eaves prevent sun from entering in summer. This set up effectively reverses the growing seasons, with the plants thriving in the winter.

Last week, researchers set up monitors inside the earthship to capture a range of data about its performance year-round, as part of a joint project run by the Universities of Wollongong, Newcastle and New South Wales. We look forward to reporting on the progress of this research over time.

Top image: Winter sunlight in Candy’s new-built north-facing corridor ; bottom, plants growing, 2019

Click for more info about Candy’s Earthship.

Opportunities & Events

Invitation: school holiday activities at Narara Ecovillage

-Vanessa Huang

Each school holidays, the village children gather to learn new skills and enjoy activities together through a school holiday activity program. This summer we are opening some of these activities to friends and community members. 

  • If you would like to know more, please email the co-ordinator Vanessa at nessesque@hotmail.com

Images: Kids, worms and food at Narara Ecovillage

Visit the Village

Click for full details about visiting Narara Ecovillage

  • Hands-on volunteer opportunities are available at Narara Ecovillage, including bush regeneration and food-growing opportunities. 
  • The next Village Open Day will be January 18th
  • Keep your eyes peeled for a wide range of activities onsite during 2020, including sociocracy and natural building workshops. You can even have a cuppa with village founder Lyndall Parris.

Contribute to this newsletter and suggest activities for the Network in 2020

We would love to hear from our readers.

  • If you have any comments, an idea for a short article, or a ‘letter to the editor’, contact Network News <network.news@neln.org.au>.
  • Are you a member of the network? We are looking for your suggestions for network activities in 2020. Please contact Liz Bassett riverteller@gmail.com. To join the Network, see email footer, below.

Two actions: make some noise

Sign a petition: 5 minutes 

This petition from Greenpeace calls on some of Australia’s biggest electricity-using companies – like Woolies, Telstra and Coles – to switch to 100% renewable energy: Click here

Write a Submission: 15-30 minutes

The Wilderness Society is calling for community members to write submissions for a review of our national environmental law. Community input is now open and will close on Feb 14 2020.

Every 10 years, the Australian Government must independently review how well our national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC), is protecting the wildlife and places we love. 

No need to be a technical expert or a lawyer to have a say. The Review needs to hear your stories about the natural values you love and the changes you’ve seen in them. Personal stories powerfully illustrate the larger problems we’re talking about and demonstrate the breadth and depth of Australians’ love of their natural world. You can back your experience up with data or studies to link it to national issues like Australia’s deforestation or extinction crises if you like.

Recommendation: ALA

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA)is a government-funded collaborative, digital, open infrastructure that pulls together Australian biodiversity data from multiple sources, making it accessible and reusable in a number of ways. 

  • Just one of those ways: Discover who also lives in your local area, check out this tool: Explore your area

Long shot: The Audacious Project 

In case this inspires you:  funding is available for projects aiming for social impact on a grand scale (from the people that brought us TED talks:The Audacious Project).

Coming up next issue:

Rafaele Joudry writes about establishing Sociocracy in her business. 

See you at the ecovillage!

Liz Bassett

Together let’s make the world a better place

About the Network and the Village

The Network

The Narara Eco Living Network is a not-for-profit educational and outreach body established by members of Narara Ecovillage to promote more sustainable living in all its forms.

Become a supporter of the Network – 12 months membership is only $20 an individual or $40 a family. Networkers are offered discounts to a variety of events at the village, and free entrance to Open Days. Click here to check out upcoming events. The network is 100% run by volunteers so we really appreciate your support!

The Village

The village is located at 25 Research Road Narara NSW 2250. The Narara Ecovillage Co-operative was formed to establish Narara Ecovillage. Joining the co-op costs $30,000, and requires the intent to purchase a lot and to contribute a minimum number of working hours at the ecovillage.  Click here for more info about the Narara Ecovillage 

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