His name is Spot, for fairly obvious reasons. I have no memory of actually playing with this toy dog, only of having him, of knowing he was mine. His tail is chewed, as are the edges  of his ears and his right front foot. I don’t know if that was done by a proto-version of me, by a real dog with a taste for soft plastic, or by a toy-destroying-sibling. What I do know that it was me that wrote my name across Spot’s brown and while rear end, irrefutably claiming him as mine.

In all my moves, from house to house, across continents, Spot has been a constant. Relegated to my memory-box, he grins up at me whenever I make foray into that Aladdin’s cave. It’s as if he’s asking me what I’m looking for, as I ferret around amongst birthday cards, diaries, theatre programmes, children’s drawings and report cards.

Spot keeps me company as my fingers wander idly through my past. I drift, lost on a sea of memories, oblivious to the the fading light as I take a brief holiday from the reality that is now. For a while we travel back to other times, other countries, shows I’ve seen, people who have disappeared from my life. Wisps of memory cling like fairly floss, leaving a residue of half-remembered moments that slowly dissolve, little more than a taste and a yearning for more.

Any time in the past 40 or more years I could have ‘re-homed’ Spot, passing him on to a child or dropping him off at a Thrift Store. After all, he’s faded and worn with time, my autograph is barely legible and his little body is no longer flexible. But somehow the moment of betrayal didn’t arrive. I’ve never been able to relinquish this one tangible piece of proof that Nicky-the-child, owner and protector of Spot-the-dog, really did pre-exist the Nicky of now.

How desperate was that little girl to assert ownership if she was prepared to forego the household rule of ‘do no damage’ and actually scrawl her name on this one toy? Was she punished for that, Spot? If so, it was worth it: the predator siblings left you alone. We are still together to share our past.

My first adventures into mosaic were under the guidance of the wonderfully talented and eccentric Evi Ferrier in 1998. She facilitated a workshop series in which a whole lot of volunteers helped to mosaic the front of the art shed at Glyde-in Community Centre in East Fremantle. That’s me in the purple tie-dyed shirt and hat, creating my very first gecko mosaic, with Evi sitting alongside me filling in some of the background and offering encouragement.

Some years later I attended another workshop with Evi, this one at her home in Mosman Park. She introduced us to a book called The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. It’s a rather cute children’s picture book and Evi read it to us to encourage us to be bold in our creations. The main character in the story is Mr. Plumbean, a man who paints his house to reflect his dreams rather than fitting in with the rest of the neat little box-houses in the street.

It was clear from Evi’s (very unusual) decor that she had taken Mr Plumbean’s example to heart. The house is mosaiced from top to bottom, inside and out, and it clearly does reflect her dreams. The bottom of the swimming pool, the garden walls, the sides of the house, internal walls – it’s a visual overload. That day, I came home and created my own orange splot house mosaic – both as an homage both to Evi and as a reminder to myself to remember be more like Mr Plumbean.

Having said that, I must confess that my own house is actually pretty mundane. It’s my garden that reflects my reluctance to be boring. It’s random and untidy and completely at odds with my oh-so-tidy neighbourhood – and I revel in it. This even extends to the verge outside our garden wall, where I grow sweet potatoes, loquats, strawberry guavas, rosemary, pigface (carpobrotus glaucescens) – and the grass I can’t quite seem to get rid of.

Every season brings something new in some part of my garden. Most days I go outside at least for a while, sometimes with a cup of tea and a book or (more often) to play with the hyper-active dogs. I inevitably see something I can tweak: a branch to prune, a plant to move or repot, some herbs that need picking, or a flower to photograph. The whole thing is an ever-evolving work-in-progress that makes me smile every single day. No exceptions.

Do you have dream – and does your house or garden reflect that vision?

Just down the road from our house there’s a new development – a veritable suburban mansion that’s just about ready for its new tenants. It’s taken about two years from the demolition of the pre-existing house to completion of this new epic abode – and I certainly hope the new neighbours will find it to be all they wished for.

local suburban mansion

For my part, however, I see it as something of a monstrosity. It fills the block of land almost from edge to edge in all directions and has great big columns out the front. They’ve also painted it a sad shade of grey that, whilst apparently the colour of the moment, I find most unappealing.

Coincidentally, I recently watched a documentary on tiny houses – and they were the cutest, most practical little abodes one could imagine! The tiny house concept is apparently a relatively new one to Australia, largely due to building regulations, but it’s really starting to take off. This is hardly surprising, given the current housing and rental costs!

These little houses are the polar opposite of our local suburban mansion. They tend to be under 40m– which is definitely pretty cosy, given that the average house size in Australia is somewhere around 227m…which means many of the tiny houses are probably not a lot bigger than some lounge rooms I’ve been in!

So they’re small. But they’re also adaptable (can be moved to a new location if necessary), are relatively low cost to build and maintain (due to size), and are very functional. Starting at a base price of under $30,000 for the tiniest of houses, you can then option up to include any number of convenient extras, such as solar panels, loft space, composting loo, appliances, and so forth – depending on your budget.

What I really fell in love with was the idea of a converted school bus. This one, for example, ticks most of my (all new) tiny house boxes. Really, what’s not to love about this?


There are a few things that need to be thought out carefully before going down this pathway, of course. I’ve listed a whole bunch of them here as they’ve occurred to me, so that we can think about them if we ever take the leap.

  • downsizing and dejunking
  • general storage to maximise the space and minimise chaos
  • deciding whether the tiny house would be on wheels (so that it could be relocated if we chose to move elsewhere)
  • where would we park it? (DaugherDearest’s property is starting to sound rather appealing….)
  • designing in appropriate lighting, heating/cooling, and sanitation
  • then there’s the layout: a loft bed wouldn’t really work for me, so we’d need a cunning plan that wouldn’t involve ladders (or hammocks or stairs)
  • the biggest gotcha of all is building/local government approvals, particularly if we buy some land and plan on parking the house on it as our primary dwelling – this would need a lot of attention and could be a right headache!

Further to this, it’s worth having a look at the planning codes for your state to establish what the general rules are – and then following up with some research into local council rules as well. Some councils are coming on board with the idea and I imagine that more will over time.

I think the biggest challenge for us would be to adapt to a compact, tiny lifestyle – because it would mean downsizing in a big way from our current 4×2 (etc.) house. I think I could do it… but Himself is super attached to his workshop and garage and we are midway through a number of renovations on our house… So it’s not a scenario that would play out well for us at present. But who knows what the future holds… so I’ll start keeping an eye out for a retired school bus… and on successful bus-to-tiny-house conversions in Australia.

For many years I was convinced that living rurally would be fun, that moving to a lifestyle/hobby farm and getting back to basics Some of the backyard trees at Menagerie10would suit me to a T. I’d have the space to do my own thing, perhaps set up a proper art studio, get involved in the Country Women’s Association, start a co-op. The children could have horses and help in the veggie garden and we might even get a small cow… the possibilities seemed endless.

But by the time we moved to Australia (20+ years ago), I’d come to realise that I’m better suited to being a backyard farmer. I enjoy growing things on a small scale, so we planted lots of fruit trees and set up a vegetable garden. Since all of that keeps me on my toes, it’s pretty clear that the sheer scope of the day-to-day work entailed in establishing and maintaining an acerage would leave little time for anything else.

So why do people choose to move to the country? Is it because land is more affordable further from the city,  living costs can be relatively low and that living on an acreage promotes a task-focused approach? Perhaps it’s because of reduction in distractions allows one to live the dream… but is that enough? It’s such a huge step, often impacting work, family and social networks. Then there are issues such as whether the property is part of the integrated water supply scheme – and whether a dam or borehole is feasible if it isn’t (and even if it is). What about public transport, access to the nbn and availability of emergency medical and/or veterinary help?Gallifrey Forest Farm chickens and guinea fowl

I thought about all this quite a lot whilst house-and-animal sitting at Gallifrey Forest Farm for DaughterDearest over Easter. Relaxing on the verandah, gazing out across their small farm in the Perth hills, I could finally absorb just how much she and K have achieved – and understand their move more clearly.

From the first they devoted large chunks of time to laying the foundations on which to create their future food forest. Whilst this may sound straightforward, it was anything but as they were still living in the city. This meant that for a few years most weekends involved very early starts, filling water barrels, loading up gear and heading out for yet another day of improving the soil, digging swales, planting, watering, maintenance  work on the firebreaks, fencing, chasing the kangaroos and whatever else needed doing that particular week.

They put in beehives and planted more seeds, trees and shrubs, erected sheds to store their equipment – thereby limiting the amount of loading and unloading required each week, and put in their first water tank to reduce the need for weekly water deliveries for the plants. They made friends with their neighbours, erected chicken runs and, in due course, designed, built and moved into their house. This was the last step in the transition from being city-dwellers to living an hour outside the city in a semi-rural environment. They’ve solved so many of what I thougGallifrey Forest Farm Permablitz Dayht might be overwhelming problems with sheer determination, inventiveness and networking – and they’re having fun doing it.

A couple of weeks ago was testament to this. They held a permablitz event, inviting like-minded people to come round to help out on the property and to enjoy morning tea, lunch and camaraderie. And people came… even some complete strangers (who are no longer strangers) came. They (we) planted trees & seedlings, pulled out weeds, moved piles of sand and gathered fallen timber from the wooded areas. We got rained on from time to time. We met new people, laughed, ate delicious cake and generally had fun.

And I guess this is what makes it all worthwhile. It’s seeing a dream come to life, enjoying the magical sunsets and the quiet, kicking back in a hammock after a days work and sharing a meal at least part-made from what their land has produced. They’ve dared to dream big, they’re working hard to achieve their goals – and they remember to take time out, make new friends, connect with old friends, get help when they need it (permablitz days), hold dinner parties – and to pat their kittens.


Sunset at Gallifrey Forest Farm


I’m pretty sure we all have at least one guilty pleasure – that thing we do or enjoy, but we’re not sure that other people would approve of if they knew about it. Mine has lasted most of my life.

I can’t remember a time when books were anything but a core part of my environment. Our parents’ bookcase(s) provided us with an early introduction to fiction, fact, travel and poetry. Titles I remember in particular are 1000 Beautiful Things (Authur Mee), Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (ed. Francis Palgrave), The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. We all learned to read before we went to school and were encouraged to join the local Public library at an early age – both great strategic parental moves to keep children entertained and occupied.

However, even once I could read, I always enjoyed listening to one or other parent reading stories or poems out loud. They both had a gift for it, their voices clear and their delivery paced for our enjoyment. So it’s not surprising that, when my younger brother and I were given Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland first story records1965 Disneyland read-along storybook records, I was hooked. Each title was on a 33⅓ long-playing vinyl record and came with an illustrated Disney read-along book of the story.

They all started with a similar preamble: This is the story of <Alice in Wonderland>. You can read along with me in your book. You’ll know it’s time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this: <the sound of Tinkerbelle’s chimes would ring here>. Let’s begin… It was a very effective format, enabling children of any reading age to follow the story via a combination of words, sound and pictures. They were narrated by Robie Lester and mine included the songs Alice in Wonderland and I’m Late (which I still sing to myself when I am running late).

Several years later I was given a small cassette tape recorder and, soon after, found that some libraries stocked ‘talking books’ for vision-impaired readers. Feeling more than slightly guilty, I tried adding one to my selection of books. To my surprise, the librarians simply issued the cassette like any other book. It was the start of my guilty pleasure. I call it that because, as an adult, I do sometimes feel slightly sheepish listening to stories instead of reading them – as though I’m taking the easy way out. In some instances, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, this is actually true. I’ve tried to read this classic on a number of occasions, but simply couldn’t get past the first chapter. As an audio book, however, I could finally tick it off my bucket list.

This is because I find it enormously satisfying to sit and listen to a story, to have a tale narrated by someone who can bring the characters alive the way my parents used to when I was a child. The difference is that I can pause, rewind and replay these stories at will and can listen to them whilst gardening, knitting, driving, doing mosaic and so on. Audio books (and headphones) are also an insomniac’s best friends at dead of night, when turning on a light to read a physical book might disturb other family members.

Although I now subscribe to a paid audio book service, I still regularly borrow talking books (at no charge) through the public library system. A few of my recent favourites are the Girl Genius series (Phil & Kaja Foglio), Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion), A Conspiracy of Friends (Alexander McCall Smith), A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki) and Nation (Terry Pratchett). All are beautifully narrated, either by the author or by talented voice actors, and each provided me with hours of enjoyment.

I suspect that my slight feeling that talking books are an indulgence simply adds to their attraction, as with most guilty pleasures.