Dreaming the good life

I have collapsed into a post-exhibition slump which explains my blog absense for the last week. At times like this it is far easier to not blog than it is to blog. So I am forcing myself to get back into the swing by telling you about the book I am reading.

Living the Good Life” by Linda Cockburn is a diary kept by an Australian woman about her family’s experiment with self-sufficient living on a (largish) suburban block for a period of six months in 2004. Their aims (full list here) were to go for the six months without spending a dollar (bar unavoidable expenses such as rates, mortgage, insurances and medical expenses), to see how much difference they could make to their personal lives (health, relationships etc) and to see how much difference they could make to the environmental impact that one family creates in daily life. And it’s great! While I slob about, heat up ready made ravioli, munch on a packet of biscuits, listen to the (too much) bath water gurgle away down the drain, and partake in numerous other unsustainable habits, I am reading about Linda struggling to keep her garden watered through the dry Summer, keep her young son well fed and happy, and experiment with creating delicious little treats to make the six months more bearable. I have only read as far as February (they started in January) but I can’t tell you how much this stuff is already getting into my head.

The family follow the principles of Permaculture, which is not a just a gardening practice, but a principle for life – the idea of attempting to leave the smallest footprint on the Earth as possible while we are here:

* care of the earth
* care of people
* the sharing of resources to help others achieve their needs
* and reduce consumption.

What they can’t grow or make they barter for – swapping wheels of feta cheese for flour, sugar and so on. But just look at this list of what they do grow, and this panoramic photograph of their garden. Just incredible.

Although it sounds like incredibly hard work and I am not sure if I would be up to it (certainly not while I am 6 months pregnant), it certainly is a reminder of how much more simple (pure? functional? what is the word I am looking for?) life can be and how little happiness is actually attached to the amount of money we make or spend.

Rather than making me feel guilty for our over-indulgent lifestyle, this book makes me feel inspired – not to go out and live out of our garden necessarily (which would be impossible given the amount of space we have) but to make small changes to our life and our habits so that we too can tiptoe lightly.

The Cockburn family have a great web site, and are undertaking a second adventure in Strawbale House making. What they really need is a blog! How great would that be?

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34 Responses

  1. This exact thing has been on my mind lately: recycling, composting, growing. I’ll have to check to see if the book is avail. in the US.

  2. Claire, thanks for sharing this book. It sounds like a “must read” book.

  3. I’ve always had this crazy notion that one day I’d be self-sufficient.. & permaculture is so interesting: I did a bit of my own study on it while studying Horticulture at TAFE. There are lots of public farms, markets etc around if you know where to find them.
    How great is it to find new a new source of inspiration in life?

  4. It sounds wonderful – it must take a lot of time and work to tend the garden though. It sounds a lot more exciting than the plants that will grow here in northern Europe! I really like the idea, it’s a lot like the River Cottage project. Inspiring.

  5. I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting our own garden, something I’ve never done before, but I can’t imagine living without ever going to the grocery store! That’s just amazing. And I agree–life needs to be less complicated, more simple, something! Glad to see you posting again!

  6. theriverisland@yahoo.co.uk says:

    WOW! thats amazing, thats my dream. thanks for sharing i must get hold of this book

  7. Oh, I followed this wonderful family’s journey, in I think it was Organic Gardening Australia Mag. Like you it started me thinking and I too have started taking little steps…rinse washing water on the garden, buying less packaged food etc. Not much I know, but far more than I have before. Thanks for the post.

  8. That looks really interesting, thanks for sharing. I have always had wild dreams of moving somewhere for a year to live ‘off the grid’, but I don’t know if I would have the stamina. It’s nice to read about other people doing it though!

  9. Wow, I think I’m going to have to go hunt this book down today, it sounds like an amazing story. Thanks!
    I hope while you are in a post-exhibition slump you are patting yourself on the back, the exhibition looks incredible!

  10. ingridriv@gmail.com says:

    Thanks for sharing the book with us. Something you said struck a beat with me.. part about making small changes in our lives to “tip toe” lightly on this earth. It’s been on my mind lately too. Thanks I’ll have to check this book out. Of course I can kill an indoor plant so there goes the garden idea 🙂

  11. Wow, thanks once again for bringing something inspiring to my notice. I will be checking out their website next. I too worry about sustainability of our present lifestyles and the future. I read about the concept of “Footprints” in New Internationalist a few years ago, but as I live in an tiny flat in London with a weenie balcony, I feel there is not much I can do except recycle, buy fair trade and try and be ecnomical with heating and water. Hmm maybe I’m not thinking about he box enough. Any of your readers got ideas of urban Footprint living?

  12. no@mail.com says:

    I would like to live more down to earth -kind of life. At the present time it`s quite impossible, but the amount of trash people (also I) make everyday is terryfying. And I admire people who can make tha change.

  13. Yes, I would love to read that blog – if they had one!
    And thanks for showcasing this book. It sounds really interesting.

    P.S. I really like the illustration that goes along with this comment box! =)

  14. Wow. This is enthralling. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve only recently started reading books again, and have been quite excited about getting recommendations from various sources. This seems like something I would really enjoy reading.
    Many thanks.


  15. Claire! I love this. It is such a good idea. We had a series in the US on PBS about four families who were taken back in time to the 1800s to life. It was called “Frontier House” and it was amazing! They had to learn how to tend to small farm animals, grow a garden, bake from scratch, etc. It was so interesting watching the families change with time. They lost weight, gained perspective, worked so much better together at the end. Several were actually sad they had to leave. I try to follow the Girl Scout motto of always leaving a place nicer than you found it. Every little bit helps.

  16. Blogging would take up way too much of that family’s precious time!! That sounds like such a great book to read and use as a reference toward the goals you mention.

  17. I heard their ABC interview some weeks ago, so it was good to be pointed to their website; thanks. As I was looking through it I thought ‘they should really be blogging this’, so when I got back to your post I smiled to see you had the same reaction!

  18. julie@waxwingpress.com says:

    Thank you so much, Claire, for this post. Inspiring and thought provoking and fabulous.

  19. they sound very interesting and i wish they had a blog too. that would probably kill their mission though, no bills at all at this point. what they are doing is incredible. i’m too much of a city girl to even attempt to try though.

  20. EEEEKKKKK im buying it…go looby go looby…

  21. Sounds like a very inspiring book. I wonder, though…funny that they’re espousing ideas regarding not spending any more money than necessary, but they seem to be working under the supposition people will ignore that mantra long enough to go out and buy their book…

  22. i have read this book too – posted it up on my blog as it happens! – and was so inspired by it. loved the recipes in there too. good to see ppl are discovering it!!

  23. Sound like a great book – I am going to see if I can find it here. We getting ready to put a new veggie patch in and have been reading alot about permaculture. And have been inspired by a project similar to the Cockburn family here in southern California. Check out their blog if you have the chance…http://www.pathtofreedom.com/journal/

  24. Sounds Amazing! Also – I stopped by Hudsons on Wednesday – and the peices are beautiful. From all 3 of you. All of your paintings were sold though :o( – I loved the bunny one!Congradulations.

  25. Thanks for sharing this amazing book. It’s something that I think about a lot and am very interested in. My hubby and I talk a lot about living in a completely eco-friendly home someday! This book sounds amazing!

  26. emmalinnia@yahoo.com says:

    Hi Claire, I must say that I did live for 12 months in a share house in brunswick where we grew a large potion of what we ate and got the rest from a food co-op. We had virtually no rubbish at all (e.g. we made soymilk rather than buy bottles of milk), and it was reasonably bearable once the routines were established. But the good bits could only be managed over a long term period – we really needed to bottle a *lot* of tomatoes in the summertime to be able to eat them on pasta through the winter. Also, after a while it was obvious that really strict self sufficiency is a bit of a crazy hardship and it is better to share, swap and trade than to be rigidly independent. I think its much more fun and gentle to try to eat mostly seasonal, mostly local, food and to grow those things that are fun and beautiful to grow than to devote one’s life to this stocism … but I am fascinated by those determined Cockburns…

  27. You are like my bookclub leader! I just finished ‘Julie & Julia’ last night and am not sure I can cry myself to sleep with ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult just yet. I will head of and buy this book! After buying my partner ‘The Weathermakers’ last christmas we have attempted to make lighter footprints, more bikeriding, saving water, more recycling…small things like that. If only we had a yard half full of grass not concrete to contemplate attempting a vegie patch. Maybe soon?

  28. My ten year old son and I planted our first veggie patch last year, it was great fun. The six foot sunflowers were the best surprise, with flower heads as big as dinner plates.

  29. anthony.baker@gmail.com says:

    This sounds brilliant. Now if I could only find the book here in the United States… damn you, Austraila! (Heh.)
    Don’t know if you’ve written about it here before, but there was also a couple from Canada who took on a 100-mile diet for a year and wrote about their adventures. The idea being that they’d live off of food grown or animals and animal-based products raised within a 100-mile radius of where they lived.

    I’ll have to dig that link up for you.

  30. I just tried to find a way to order this book, but couldn’t… how do I go about ordering it?

  31. dewi22nyc@yahoo.com says:

    “Living without” is something that continually interests people of financial means and the well educated, only an over indulged population of people would find this something to aspire to (to not spend money)!
    Poor people make due without contributing to the consumerism culture by default, we do not have any money, some of us barely sustain themselves on meager earnings, and forced to grow food and barter with neighbors to have delicious fresh food or trade our services.

  32. This reminds me of my favorite T.V. show “Good Neighbors”, or as it was known in Britain “The Good Life”. A middle class suburban couple decide to become self-sufficient, to the disdain of their neighbors. It was one of the best British sitcoms ever. All eps are on DVD now, so check them out!

  33. thank you so much for sharing this book. i have been reading “the guide to simple living”, which sounds like it has some similar themes as this one. I will definitely be checking this out of the library