Motivated by rising electricity prices and environmental concerns, many Australians are making the switch to live off the grid.
With many houses now capable of functioning on solar power alone, those living off the grid (choosing not to be connected to basic utilities) say it’s more achievable than ever before.
Cartoonist, writer and environmental campaigner Jill Redwood has lived off the grid in Goongerah, East Gippsland, since 1983.
A waterwheel on Jill Redwood’s property.
She refers to her self-built house as “relative luxury” after her previous years living in a van, tipi and shack, often without running water or electricity.
“I built it myself using salvaged sleeper offcuts and poles from the nearby forest, so the cost was about $2000 all up, mainly for roofing iron and floorboards,” Redwood says.
It feels fantastic not to be part of the system that is destroying the planet, and to be independent from the whims of the big power companies.
“Traditional cow poo and lime fills the awkward gaps, with lime and sand render for the internal walls, with salvaged doors and windows.”
Jill Redwood is happy living off-grid.
Redwood’s electricity is supplied via a solar array and inverter, and her water from a waterwheel on the river that pumps to a header tank to feed the property.
“It feels fantastic not to be part of the system that is destroying the planet, and to be independent from the whims of the big power companies,” Redwood says.
“Relying totally on a personalised power system also encourages the economic use of energy and makes me appreciate being able to use technology like a washing machine and bread maker when the sun shines plentifully.”
For Redwood, the off-grid lifestyle is “hardly a challenge” – simply a case of keeping an eye on the weather and battery voltage.
“Having lived under candles and kerosene lamps, bucketing water up from a creek and hand washing for years, this is luxurious living,” Redwood says.
“Not only is it cheaper, less damaging for the planet and climate, but it’s a great feeling to stick it up the power authorities and big business!”
Herbalist and holistic nutritionist Louise Plant has recently returned to traditional western living after 18 years off the grid in Western Australia.
Over the years, Plant has lived in a caravan and tin shed, eventually building a home in her last year of off-grid living.
Her three young children also lived with her, followed by her husband and his children, and hundreds of farm animals.
Starting out with a twin cylinder engine that required cranking by hand, the family later invested in eight solar panels with a backup generator that kicked in when hot water was low.
“It ended up costing us about $20 a month once the solar was installed,” Plant says.
Water was collected in three dams and rainwater tanks and distributed across the property with pumps powered by petrol.
What most appeals to Plant about off-grid living is the “sense of freedom” and energy savings.
“It was a lot cheaper to live. After the initial set up of solar power and generators, it quickly pays itself off. It also taught the children and myself what goods use what power and how to be energy efficient.”
The off-grid lifestyle is a community standard of the Goolawah Co-operative, a land sharing venture near Crescent Head, NSW.
Close to 30 households make up the off-grid co-op, including carpenterJames Galletly and photographer Alicia Fox who moved there eight months ago.
Power is sourced from PV solar panels, water from tanks and dams, and toilets operate on a composting system.
Carpenter James Galletly moved to the Goolawah Co-operative eight months ago. Photo: Alicia Fox
“Once you have your systems in place, off-grid life can feel rather normal,” Galletly says.
Living in the co-op has allowed the couple the opportunity to control where their resources come from.
“[We’re] not being railroaded into supporting systems we don’t totally agree with,” Galletly says.
“Our council did need educating on alternatives to a septic tank, grey water treatment and the operation of a composting toilet, but there are many successful examples in Australia and overseas to draw on, so there’s no reason not to be allowed.