Healthy homes, rats, resilience, tours, problem-solving & vollie opps. Network News, June 2020

The Narara Eco Living Network is a community outreach association established by Narara Ecovillage to foster sustainable living in all its forms and promote the vision of the village.

Feature article: Healthy homes series #1 – Age and Foundations

-Mikala Dind

In this six-part series, Narara Ecovillage member Mikala Dind shares her knowledge about what makes houses healthy or unhealthy. While this article is about existing homes, the information will definitely assist anyone seeking to build a home.


The age of a house can give clues to potential hazards.  For instance, homes built:

  • before 1970 may have lead paint
  • before 1987 may contain asbestos

In contrast, homes built recently are likely to contain multiple items that may off-gas for up to several years.

Older Homes


You can get a lead test kit from hardware stores which will give immediate results, so you can find out if the paint you are about to sand back on the window frames contains lead.  Don’t forget that if your home does have lead paint, there is a very high likelihood that your household dust (including in your carpet) and/or soil will also be contaminated with lead.  This is particularly important when there are small children in the home whose breathing space is close to the ground (and who put everything they find into their mouth).  

Also, if you are growing vegetables at home it is worth having the soil tested for lead contamination, especially if there is lead paint or you live by a main road or industrial area. One way to test your soil is Macquarie University’s VegeSafe Program, which is free (they do ask for a donation). Simply collect soil samples following their instructions and mail them to Vegesafe. More info here 

Image: Vegesafe

Other areas around the home that may contain lead are solder on water piping connections and flashing.  The Australian Government has a helpful booklet about lead and how to work with it safely, here.


According to the Environmental Protection Authority, bonded asbestos (that is, asbestos that has been completely covered/sealed eg by paint) can be relatively stable if it is undamaged, such as by drilling/external weathering [Source].  However, if you are thinking of renovating or replacing asbestos, there are strict guidelines to ensure it is handled and disposed of safely.  One very helpful web-site with lots of information is here.  It also has an asbestos finder tool to help identify which items in your home may potentially contain asbestos (Finder tool here).

Image: NSW Environment Protection Authority Link


Not only can poorly maintained carpets be a home for dust mites and mould, but they can contain debris, pesticides, pet dander, faecal matter and other toxins that have been walked into the home over time.  Where possible remove old, soiled carpet.  Bare floors are much easier to keep clean than carpeted flooring.  However, if your preference is for carpet, ensure it gets vacuumed weekly and any water damage/fluid spills are completely dried within 24 hours.

Image: Old soiled carpet [Source]

Damp wood – loved by termites

As damp timber is easier for termites to chew through, ensure that all timberwork that has been in contact with water (from flooding/leaks etc) has been thoroughly dried to reduce the likelihood of termite attack.


Older homes may not have insulation in the ceiling (and sometimes not in the external facing walls either).  This will lead to increased heating and cooling costs.

Newer Homes

If you’re looking at moving into a brand new home, remember that most new carpets, paints, cabinetry, flooring etc will off-gas for up to several years, and thus rooms need to be well ventilated to ensure these gases escape.


Cement slab

If a house is built on a cement slab, then the layout of the surrounding slope becomes an important aspect of the site to address.  That is, if the cement slab is on the top of a hill/mound, it won’t have drainage issues (ie from water seeking to ingress into the home from surrounding soil) to avoid.  However, if the site is flat or has one or more sides higher than the slab, then it becomes very important to get the external drainage right.  I always recommend to my clients that they over engineer their drainage so they don’t have to spend multiple times that extra cost to remediate a damp wall/room/home (with all the health consequences that can come from living in a damp house).

With brick homes, the damp course (a barrier, usually made of plastic, that gets laid across one of the lower levels of brick) also needs to be intact, as this prevents moisture wicking up and into the room(s) above.  In very old homes this may have broken down (or may never have been installed).  You can see the result from the photo below.

Image: Rising damp [Source]


Even if a home is raised on, say, brick piers, the layout of the site (whether it’s flat or has one or more higher sides) is still important as it will determine whether water coming towards the house from the surrounding ground can get away fast enough, or whether it will pool under part (or all) of the house.

Homes built close to the water (ie on sand), even if on piers, will generally have some form of impact from the constant presence of water below the home and this will require extra thought given to drainage (and may involve installation of a sump pump).

Time and time again I have done audits on homes on piers where, for whatever reason, water pools under a room or two.  Invariably those rooms will be impacted by mould due to the increased internal humidity.

Any mould that grows below a room (eg on the dirt, piers or underneath the subflooring) will be sending noxious gases into the room(s) above, either through the joins in the flooring, or wall cavities (especially where there are holes in the walls, such as for power points).

I did an audit for a home by the water in Empire Bay which was nearly 100 years old.  The owners could not work out why they had a continual problem with ants in their bedroom (even crawling on their pillows at night).  When I did the exterior inspection I noted that the ant caps (on top of the brick piers) were quite rusty and the one directly below their bedroom had actually rusted through, allowing ants easy access up and into the house.

The next article will discuss the impact of location and orientation on the health of your house.

Upcoming Narara Ecovillage Events

My Favourite Ecovillages – Zoom with Lyndall Parris, Fri June 26, 8pm

Narara Ecovillage founder Lyndall Parris seeks out ecovillages wherever she travels. Here we chat about some of her favourites, and some of the more curious ones she has come across!

To be part of this conversation via Zoom, please register here for the zoom info. Or you can join us Live on Facebook here 

Open Day: Themed Tours at Narara Ecovillage

This Sunday, 28 June from 1-4pm

Corona closed life down for millions, but for Narara Ecovillagers it somehow opened up creativity and collaboration. 

Members of all ages made and posted short films; crafts and cooking flourished; gardens were planted; we offered Q&A sessions via Zoom; we experimented with an online alfresco Open Day; learning opportunities on topics of special interest popped up; a steady trickle of curious neighbours walked through, and every weekend we offered personalised tours. 

 Image above: Natural Building

Image above: Family life

With restrictions lifting, we can now offer an Open Day within safe limits, kicking off at 1pm this Sunday.

Our Visitors’ Centre is closed to large groups, so … 

This month we are offering ‘themed tours’ to reflect areas of particular interest. Tours will focus on Family Life at Narara Ecovillage; Collaborative Living (eg sharing a lot); Natural Building; Permaculture/Food Growing; and Ecovillage Overview (for an introduction to putting our ideas into action)

  • Tours of Narara Ecovillage must be pre-booked Here, and are restricted to no more than 20 people in a group, including children.

There is time to join up to two tours during the open day


1.00: Check in in front of the Visitors Centre and find gathering spot for tour groups 


  • Family Life at Narara Ecovillage 
  • Collaborative Living 
  • Ecovillage Overview 

2.30: Check in for more tours


  • Natural Building 
  • Permaculture/Food Growing
  • Ecovillage Overview 

Our fabulous Coffee Cart will be open until 3.00 for hot drinks and healthy food. 

  • Come prepared for all weather and please leave your pets at home.

Image: the coffee cart

Sociocracy Picture Forming workshop: Sun June 28 (NEV Open Day)

-Rafaele Joudry & Scilla Sayer

Sociocracy in Action: Nailing Picture Forming 28 Jun 2020, 10:00am–12:00pm 

NOTE: This workshop is on site at Narara Ecovillage, and has a maximum of 20 participants due to the Covid-19 social distancing requirements.

  • Learn Better Ways of Working Together and make problem solving a positive, creative process

Sometimes when we come to solve problems as a group, there can be competing agendas and very different ideas of what the problem is. Getting everyone on the same page and thinking creatively together can be quite a challenge.

Sociocracy has worked out some good ways of approaching group problem solving. This two-hour workshop gives you the opportunity to learn and practice skills essential for fully understanding an issue and all its elements and then generating potential solutions that include everyone’s best thinking.

What will be covered in this workshop?

  • The importance of fully understanding all the issues involved in a decision or proposal
  • How to include the voices of different stakeholder groups
  • Generating a wide variety of solutions with everyone’s buy in.


  • Observe and participate in a picture forming process. Learn the steps and essential elements of effective picture forming so that the needs of all stakeholders are considered in solutions.

Zumba Classes in the Narara Ecovillage Visitors Centre – Restarting Tuesdays

Tuesday evenings, 7- 8pm, $10 per lesson

  • Contact Haruko – 0402 731 922
  • Limited to 15 participants. COVID 19 restrictions apply.
  • Bring your own water and towel if required.

Do a Thing a Day

Join in: volunteer opportunities

-Rafaele Joudry 

Help us set up, and then join a workshop for free

As we begin to emerge from the COVID crisis, Narara Ecovillage is ramping up its eco learning programs and planning a variety of courses, tours and workshops for specific groups and members of the public. 

If you are keen to participate and have a little extra time, there is an opportunity for a limited number of volunteers to attend some courses for free. You need to be a member of the Narara Eco Living Network (cost of $20 per year) to take up this opportunity.

What does volunteering involve?

Volunteers for workshop support are asked to arrive an hour or so beforehand, help with room set up, possibly cleaning, registration and welcoming. At the end, they help clean up.

Currently we are running a two hour course about once a month, but this will soon be ramping up. Future topics will include a wide range of sustainability subjects, including collaboration, natural building, horticulture and permaculture, new economics and sustainable development. There’ll be a great variety of courses offered at Narara over the coming years.

  • If you would like to register your interest in being a volunteer, please contact Rafaele 0416 057 271. 

I will put you on the list and let you know when opportunities come up. We usually just have just one or two volunteers per event so it’s first in best dressed!

What our volunteers have said:

“I felt a lot of satisfaction feeling you’re really doing something worthwhile and contributing.”Etel Fletcher

“I enjoyed being involved in the workshop. It was a fantastic way for me to be able to be involved without having to pay the fee — but I would have paid anyway. I found it was quite an eye opener into the methodology of Sociocracy. 

It was like learning to drive a manual car—you have to really concentrate on what are the steps—it was challenging but that’s a good thing—I don’t get enough challenges! It was a lovely group of people and certainly whet my appetite to drill into it further.” Anne Walton 

Rat catchers vs Rat poisons. Please help Biskit – deadline July 17.

-Richard Cassels

Image: Biskit with a rat at Narara Ecovillage

The Government is reviewing the use of rat poisons, and specifically the disastrous long-term effects they are having on owls and day-time birds of prey (eagles, hawks, falcons, kites etc).

Here are other things that Birdlife Australia recommends you can do

Make your house and garden less friendly for rodents

  • seal potential roof/wall cavity access points that rodents might be using
  • pick up any fallen fruit
  • ensure excess pet food isn’t accessible
  • rodent-proof chook pens and aviaries
  • replace rat-friendly palms with owl-friendly natives, and
  • tidy up garden waste and limit access to compost heaps

Encourage native predators

  • plant native trees, and
  • install nest boxes for owls to breed in

Reduce dependence on poison baits

  • consider other, non-poison pest control, like snap traps,
  • only put out baits when you actually need to,
  • read the labels on any poisons you buy and make the change to first generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARs) or other alternatives. Look for active ingredients like Warfarin and Coumatetralyl or natural constituents like Sodium Chloride, and
  • leave second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) on the shelf.

Many thanks from Biskit!

From our network

Become a Mentor

Are you interested in sharing your skills and experiences with young people as a volunteer mentor or do you know someone who is?

Youth Frontiers is an initiative of the NSW Government that targets students aged 12-16 years with the capacity to benefit from the support of a mentor. Each year, more than 1,200 young people have the opportunity to participate in the program.

Young people participating in Youth Frontiers are matched with mentors who spend at least 35 hours over six months supporting them to achieve their goals. The program gives mentees an opportunity to build life skills and self-confidence through mentoring support and by undertaking a community engagement activity. If you are interested in this program,  check out more detail here


If you live near Narara, mentors are sought for students at Narara Valley High School

Last year, Narara Ecovillage founder Lyndall Parris mentored  a group of young students at the High School. It was much appreciated by the students and Lyndall found it a rewarding experience. 

Rhiannon Anderson is the Youth Frontiers Co-ordinator from YWCA Central Coast and would appreciate another Central Coast local taking up the opportunity again this year.

  • Please contact Rhiannon if you would like to find out more. Ph: 0498 394 852

Think resilience: a free 3-hour online course

Think Resilience is an online course to help you start doing something about climate change and our other sustainability challenges—starting in your own community.


The world is flooded with information about our nanosecond in planetary history, and the mess we’ve made of it. What’s much harder to find is a clear, cogent depiction of the much, much bigger picture… That’s what I got from the Think Resilience videos: the context of everything. It colors everything I’ve read since about the climate and our future. – David Pogue, New York Times columnist and technology writer

I really like how systematic Richard is at explaining concepts, systems and interactions. I also really appreciate how he emphasized the need to bring everyone in the community to work together. Thank you to the PCI team for an eye-, intellect-, heart- and action-opening class! – Gabrielle P, climate scientist

Book review

“Founding a Life and an Ecovillage” by Lyndall Parris, Narara Ecovillage

-Rosemary Leonard

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Founding a Life and an Ecovillage” . The book kept me totally engaged from the first page. Lyndall tells her story with openness and humility and I laughed and cried as I followed the many twists and turns of her life.

Unlike most autobiographies this was not a “Boy Hero” story where the individual has a goal which they single-mindedly pursue, overcoming all obstacles in their path. It is a story that realistically places Lyndall in a network of family and friends of work and social obligations.

Choices were made from the options available given life constraints – like studying accountancy when living in Cooma. It was not a driving passion or seen as a necessary skill for founding an ecovillage nor was it easy, but it was a sensible career choice given the place and life stage.

The story also recognises the importance of other life events like becoming a grandmother and mourning the death of her mother. These are not asides – they are integral to life. 

The book is also frank about Lyndall’s struggles with her personal doubts – especially when things go wrong and it is generous in its recognition of the role of the many other people who made contributions to making the vision a reality. 

As a relatively new Nararian, I was fascinated to read about the early days of the formation of our village and appreciative of the courage and persistence of the founders. As a researcher of women’s life course, I recognise the importance of not separating the story of its formation from the complexities of life. Building community must, first and foremost, be about recognising, valuing and nurturing relationships which give life to the physical structures.


Contact the Network News

Liz Bassett Editor

About the Network and the Village

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The Network

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

We publish the Network News and run networking & educational events and community projects.

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!

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The Ecovillage

The Narara Ecovillage is a community that blends the principles of ecological & social sustainability, good health, business, and caring. We are located on the NSW Central Coast at 25 Research Road Narara, 2250. Click here for more info about the Narara Ecovillage