A Blue Mountains Photographer's Blog
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Monday
Nov022009

5 ECOhomes, 1 day and 50 eco-tourists..

Although we are usually not the types for coach tours, this weekend Mr K and I jumped on a bus and joined the Blue Mountains ECOhomes Tour. Nigel Bell of ECO Design Architects (below), based in the Blue Mountains, is the founder and co-ordinator of the tour, which started out as a handful of people ambling through a couple of houses. It has since grown to a busload of eco-tourists enjoying a day of meeting new people and touring the Mountains. 

Our bus departed Lawson a bit after 9am on its way to Bullaburra, where we saw a new home, recently completed. It replaced a 1950's fibro house on a bushfire prone piece of land. Mr K and I have been creating lovely dreams of buying bushland and building serene, isolated tree houses from recycled timbers. On arrival at this house – our dreams are quickly dashed. A lovely 2 storey house built out of the most fire resistant materials you can find in Australia, with concrete flooring, fire retardant cement block walls, heavy glass windows, Rural Fire Service Regulations constantly changing during the course of building, and a curved corrugated iron roof to prevent bushfire embers lodging in the eaves. The budget had blown out by a third and the construction time by 3 times. It was a great way to start the day. With a reality check. It was a lovely comfortable house that the family was going to be very happy with. It was just as opposite to a light timber tree house as you could get.

A soon-to-be-installed water tank at the base of the fire-prone Bullaburra property.

Our 2nd stop was Kindlehill Community School in Wentworth Falls. Based in an old building that was previously a Yoga School, Kindlehill's teaching is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.

At the one location there were so many different things being done and so many creative, sustainable ways in which they were being generated and carried out. There were carparks being built, vegetable gardens established, school rooms being renovated, a water tank installed, a verandah enclosed, and all without much of a budget.

The busload of eco-tourists split into 3 groups to wander around with Jaime the architect, Matt the carpenter or Jason the eco builder for the project, to get a more personal experience, to ask questions in their area of interest, and for the oldies - for the sake of hearing properly...

A tyre wall will act as a retaining wall supporting the school carpark, and when the wall is clay rendered, it will act as the inside wall of a new on-site workshop. The fill for the retaining wall for ramming into the tyres was obtained for free from a roadworks site nearby. Mechanics usually pay the EPA to remove and dispose of tyres, and Jason takes advantage of this and gets the tyres for free.

Jason Dash was lovely to chat to, down-to-earth (no pun intended), enthusiastic and happy to share his knowledge and passion with others. Jason is a big believer in his clients getting involved in their project. He runs working bees and workshops and lots of the parents from the school have attended. On the Kindlehill School Spring Fair day parents from the school built a temporary straw-bale workspace as part of learning the building techniques.

Cob bricks bake in the sun by the temporary straw-bale workman’s shed. Also, the remains of 18 Radiata Pines felled and cut up using a mobile mill on the property are waiting to be utilised as structural beams in constructions on the site. Radiata Pines are currently classified as a noxious weed in the Blue Mountains. The school children, although missing their handball court, have been enjoying taking part in making cob bricks in working bees.

Our next stop was in Medlow Bath where we met the curious, energetic and proud owner builder Craig Laurendet. Craig spent 10 years collecting the materials for his house from locations all over Sydney.

Craig has spent 333 days so far building his house using 99% recycled materials over a span of 4 years. Obviously time has to be spent working for money and researching and planning as well.

Craig explained that the hardest part was preparing the weathered, recycled materials for re-use, such as planing old painted wood, and pulling out thousands of nails and screws. Above is a hand-saw that Craig has been using for the last 3 years. What was evident in this house was the pride Craig had in his project and that he had managed to almost complete the task he had set out to do and was able to save materials from going to landfill from construction sites and create a totally unique house.

Craig has built his own website for his home building project which is a fantastic diary of how he has done things, and he has shared things that did work and didn’t work along the way so far in his house building journey. It's definitely worth a visit for those toying with the idea of doing something similar.

 

Over the course of the day we had done a big loop and ended up at Lawson at a 1950’s fibro cottage that was being retrofitted with straw-bale walls, poured earth supports, and cob brick walls with earth rendering.

This particular house was Sam Viva’s personal project although his business is in building solar passive houses out of natural materials. I really liked the opportunity to see all stages of the process, the exposed straw bales and how they were being supported, and earth rendering at various stages in the process. I liked the feel of the house and could see that this approach with such a contemporary finish could really appeal to the mainstream as a new way of doing things to save them money over time due to the energy efficiency of the construction.

All in all I had a great experience and it was certainly worth the reasonable price we paid for the day. It was made even better to discover that all of the proceeds from the day were going to be given to Katoomba Primary and High schools' P&C for their environmental education programs. I really appreciated that each of the home-owner’s had opened up their homes in varying levels of completion and shared their stories and experiences with us. It was truly fantastic.

Sunday
Oct042009

Dr Who versus Gepetto

Well, as annsolo on twitter I have been having a whole new addiction, creating tweets about my adventures, there are so many ecotweeters out there to follow too. I won 2 wooden toys for the munchkin from an online eco store called Scamps Boutique based in New Zealand! In our surprise package we found a little Gepetto doll, made in New Zealand, to clamp onto bubba blankies or the pram which munchkin has just looooved to have around with us, and a curious little Haba creature. Haba toys are designed and made in the town of Bad Rodach, Germany. Both toy manufacturers use non toxic paints and I have felt fine about la bub exporing them with her mouth, much happier than her constantly putting different types of plastic in her mouth. What I am unclear of is the origins of the wood sourced for the toys and whether they are sustainable sources or not.

The wooden Dalek look-alike has arrived..

Gepetto was no match...

 

Wednesday
Sep232009

Sydney - the Windy City of Dust

You have most likely discovered by now, via one form of communication or another, be it on the internet, tv, radio or good old fashioned word of mouth, that today started out for many in a peculiar fashion. With a  dusty red dawn and an eerily musical wail of sirens in the air. I sit here now watching the skies turn blue as if the dust storm we awoke to had never happened.

As I woke I peered with one sleepy eye through the gap of the blinds to see what weather the morning was bringing, expecting the usual clear blue to be sparkling in, or perhaps a muted overcast grey. But with a 'wake up! Look at the sky!' I saw only a deep orange pervading every window. In our dressing gowns we rushed out the front and then out the back, bemused, I did not think to grab my 'real' camera. So please excuse the picture quality. It was just too bizarre but I would like to share the pics and our experience with you anyway.

I felt the fine layer of sand coating the bottoms of my feet as we padded around the backyard with out little cameras and quiet, curious comments. I am so glad I ran out to bring in the washing after dusk last night when light raindrops started to spot the paving in the back courtyard!

The silence being cut by sirens felt like I was in a movie being rained on by the fallout of an atomic bomb. Listening to the sirens, we jumped straight on to the internet and only 3 minutes prior had an article been posted on the Sydney Morning Herald website! So, a dust storm. That's a relief. Sort of. Depending on what you read.

The red soon gave way to a dirty, gritty yellow sky and people soon started on their way again.

The view from atop the Ashfield plaza.

I have some images from my iphone which I will be uploading later on. Got lots of editing to do from yesterday's shoot!

Monday
Sep212009

A City of Villages - Sydney

Well, if you live in Sydney's inner city suburbs you may have already received a copy of the City Residents Guide. Recently I had the pleasure of running around the city for 2 days and meeting and shooting random people that resided in the inner city, accompanied by Jo Sharpe, the Editor of the Guide. Although we met a lot of great people and took lots of shots, below is a small snapshot of the suburbs we covered mostly on foot!

From Sydney Park and St Peters..

to the CBD and The Rocks..

from Elizabeth Bay and Kings Cross...

to Glebe and the Fishmarkets. I know it doesn't rhyme.

Last stop. Refern.

Monday
Aug312009

The Hungry Caterpillar..

It seems the succulents in the back courtyard are very tasty.. Over a period of 4 days I noticed one or 2 caterpillars multiply into a writhing mass of munching grubs.. A clump of brown mush has been left in place of what as a lush wall of green.

I guess now we have space for more veggies! The space filled with dead matter was cleared and organic mulch was mixed amongst the soil. Munchkin is very handy with a trowel, and loves feeling the texture of the soil in her little hands.. and her mouth!

Now we have cauliflower, carrots and capsicum to watch grow! I have never in my life had such a productive garden, and surprisingly, this is the smallest patch of earth I have had in my life also!

 

 

Monday
Aug242009

Siva the Diva Shines

Shoot Location: Sydney Park, St Peters/Newtown, Sydney

Weather: Clear Blue Skies, 26 Degrees Celsius, dry as a bone.

Subject: Siva the Diva

Time: After Brunch

What a Sassy Pooch I shot this Saturday! She was constantly jumping, chasing, sitting, waiting, jumping, chasing, pouncing, panting, jumping, chasing... okay you get the picture.

On this sentimental shoot for a private client, I felt honoured to capture the energy and zest of such an energetic creature, and roam around the well kept secret that is Sydney Park! Going past it so many times, I had never realised that it is so vast and varied. I was super impressed to see the new playground with a super duper slippery dip section, a sensory garden, a musical bridge.. and kiosk to provide all the yummy mummies and puppy lovers with their daily serve of caffeine.

If you are a curious parent with a littl'un but not sure you want to trek all the way over to St Peters to check it out, I have included a link to the City of Sydney website, you can download a pdf of a bird's eye view of the tip top Playground (called All Abilities Playground - detailed plan) and all of it's features.

I might even post some pics for you in the future if you ask nicely :)

 

Friday
Aug212009

A Little Girl Star

A quick Friday post before the weekend! Miss Munchkin turned 1 and for her birthday she received a 'Little Girl Star Magnolia' in a pot. To have a plant that you have had all of your life and taken on a journey of love and care would be so special. Missy Moo also inherited the somewhat scruffy 'Big Ted' that yours truly received on her own 1st birthday many years ago.

Although the glistening hot pink has faded to a more sophisticated matte pastel tone, Big Ted is still up for the many adventures ahead, and shall be a wise and patient friend, willing to listen to all the special news Munchkin will share with him.

I was surprised to see the Magnolia starting to bloom so soon, I had assumed it would need to be a lot older before it unfurled some of it's beauty to share.

Enjoy the weekend!

 

Monday
Aug102009

Colours and textures of a Friday sky

What a fabulous sky show Sydney provided on Friday, cars swerved and slowed as mesmerised drivers listened to howling winds, were surrounded by numerous rainbows and watched dark clouds roll in and overtake a clear blue sky.

Bright warm sunshine burst through curtains of cloud to dance on treetops.

Standing still I heard planes overhead, the wind in my ears and sirens wailing in the distance. My skin rippled with goosebumps and my hair wipped about my face. The warmth of the studio was seeping under the door ajar and teasing my bare toes to return. I leapt off the step to snap more frames, energised by the frenetic energy in the air.

Just as I was about to retreat the sun made one last magnificent appearance before retreating and putting and end to the day.

Monday
Aug032009

Plastic People get Trashed in Sydney

On a recent trip to Reverse Garbage in Sydney's Inner West I found a bunch of 'people' just hanging around waiting for someone to come and pick them up - for a fee of course. Scantily clad, some topless, they were gathered in groups or sitting on their lonesome amongst debris. Having been the envy of many on the street in a previous life, wearing the hottest trends and latest fashions, these plastic people were stripped bare to reveal their true selves. Cold and fake, though not without character. The kind, and creative staff of Reverse Garbage had taken pity on them and provided some dignity - a tie here, a pair of glasses there..

Reverse Garbage is a not-fo-profit cooperative that provides industrial and commercial bits and bobs that would have gone to landfill, to the community. I regularly see excited art teachers and childcare workers rummaging through the barrels of fabrics and other random items. I watch them and imagine the creations their lucky students are going to come up with. For me it is a source of props and other randomness. Today the mission began as a search for eco decorations for the munchkin's 1st birthday picnic and it has transformed into an inspiration for images!

I will have to visit soon and see who of the plastic people has moved on to a new home and who is still loitering around the warehouse. I'll let you know how they're going.

Monday
Jul132009

Taking a trip - to the Organic Expo 2009

2 years have passed since I attended the ever-growing Organic Expo in Melbourne, and I am looking forward to a preview of the innovations to be released this year! In 2007 I spent 2 full days wandering around the stalls, speaking with business owners and hearing their stories - I heard of their passion for family, community and for leaving the world a better place. I was truly inspired to find so many amazing people under the one roof.

Peter Syd, the founder of Organature worked for a big company in manchester production all of his life until he fell seriously ill due to prolonged exposure to the chemicals used to make sheets. Having formed his own company and created a production line that he ensures is 100% as organic, pure and Australian made as possible, this gentleman is on the road to better health, and generating a cleaner future for others.

The winners of the 2007 'Best New Organic Product' Award are based on the northern beaches of Sydney. A group of friends (Liesa Dailly, Kristy Carr and Anthony Gualdi, pictured) teamed together to create a company selling certified organic pre made baby food that can be delivered to your doorstep.

Nibbling on tasty snacks and chocolate, dipping gourmet breads in divine organic olive oils, nourishing my hands with homemade organic moisturisers and body butters, I came away with a goodies back brimming and a tummy content.

From recycled pencils to toilet paper, it was a great opportunity to escape the drizzle outside and sample some fine wines. Meandering through the elegant heritage Exhibition Centre in Carlton, I saw many ways that we could leap forward as a nation, led by conscious consumers and producers.

A speakers corner featured, among others, one of the original 'Guerilla Gardners' sharing his challenges and successes in his local community of his radical gardening techniques.

I loved being able to talk with representatives of the Organic certifying bodies to better understand organic certification, which previously, had seemed like an intimidating bunch of symbols I could not relate to. The expo provided me the opportunity to empower myself, in an era of greenwash, to better identify products that are genuinely organic and others that have simply created a 'natural' looking logo to appear to be green. Here is a good article for those looking to clarfy certification and labels for themselves:

http://www.organicguide.com/australia/organic-certification-and-labelling-in-australia

It left me baffled as I wandered, how did we move away from this sense of community and healthy living in the first place? How did chemicals on our fruit and veg become the normal way of life? What is wrong with us? My questions unanswered, I was buoyed by the positivity of the people around me.

With a predicted minimum of 150 stalls this year, it makes the entry fee a bargain. For people that spend their time searching the internet or traipsing from store to store for 'eco' products to enhance their lifestyle with less impact on the earth than conventional products, they can relax, as someone else has done the hard work. Even if you have never even bought a thing 'organic' in your life, if you're in Melbourne on the 25th or 26th of July this year, head on over to the Organic Expo. It might just expand your world and tantalise your tastebuds at the same time.

Feel free to share your experience of last year's Organic Expo in Sydney below, or any other upcoming events you think are interesting.