Warning: This post is a little long, and at first it might not seem homesteading related. But I want to tell my story as I move deeper into the homesteading lifestyle and share more of myself here with my readers. This is the story of how I evolved into the person I am today: a homesteader, writer, country girl, small business queen and so much more.
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I turned 40 in January. It was uneventful. I went to my fave cafe with my husband in the morning, but it was grotesquely hot to do anything else. Queensland in the summer. Need I say more?
It certainly doesn’t compare to my 21st birthday, full of drinking, meeting new friends and travel (I lived and worked in America when I was 18 going on 19). Instead, 40 is – as my mum said – the age you get where you finally feel comfortable in your maturity and as a woman. And of course, my mum is right.
But as I reflected on my life until now and on all of the stages I’ve gone through, I thought hard about this homesteading journey that I’ve found myself on. Is it really a forever thing? Is it just a phase? A stage in my life? Will I still want to live this way at 50? 60? 70?
Ten + years ago, the word homesteader wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary, let alone a title I gave myself. I knew of homesteaders, and knew of the word, but it wasn’t something I applied to myself. I thought of a homesteader as a uniquely American persona – the person who lived off-grid, or did home schooling, or raised and grew their own food. The idea of a homesteader was very particular.
Back then I defined myself as an analyst (which is what I do for work), and that’s pretty much it. It has taken me the best part of at least two years to unentangle myself with that persona, but in doing so I realised I was actually a homesteader all along but had been blinded by the sparkle and shine of something which seemed as if it were more important.
Because at the time, it was.
I’ve always been a homebody. I’ve always enjoyed my own company. From as far back as I can remember, I always felt a little different to everyone around me. When all my friends in high school were boy crazy, I wanted to do martial arts. When all my friends got to their sweet 16’s and beyond and had these idyllic wedding planner books with magazine cutouts, I was researching university programs, whether I could take any part of my course overseas, double majors, and which university was more me.
I always felt as if I had to fake it a bit to fit in. And I learnt to do so just enough to not stand out – but inside – I never felt a true kinship with anyone…even the person who was my childhood best friend. I loved her more because of our history, but not because we shared anything remotely similar (other than maybe our fangirling over the Backstreet Boys).
So when the day came to head off to university, I was beyond excited. I finally got to learn and study the way I wanted to. Uni had the best structure and timetable and was the first time I enjoyed school.
Two degrees and tens of thousands of dollars later, I’m finally no longer a University student. I am definitely still a writer, but I write analytical reports mostly – and as of the last couple years – this blog. Deep down I still feel different, but at this point in my life it doesn’t take up as much brain power as it used to.
Along the way, I stumbled into this homesteading lifestyle and finally felt like I found somewhere to land where I fit in. And the rest, as they say, is history. It is now a huge piece of me and a large part of how I define myself. Have I changed? Did I used to be someone that now I’m not? Am I someone now that I will no longer be ten years from now? Of course! But I prefer to use the term evolving to describe the continuous transformation.
Branding myself as a homesteader
As kids we go through phases. We grow and learn and love lots of things along the way. We love certain bands, or music genres, or film types – and all of that makes up who we are down the track.
But the one thing that didn’t change for me was my history, and my family’s history. As migrants to Australia in the 70s, my family came from Eastern Europe where it was still totally normal to have a root cellar, milk your own cow or goat, raise your own livestock for meat, tend to a garden, preserve the bounty, mend your clothing (and many times sew it as new yourself).
I used to feel embarrassed – as kids do – that I was different. My food looked different, my clothes looked different, and my name was different. There were no other kids at school from where my parents were from, so nobody spoke my language.
But there were other first generation Aussie kids there from different nationalities: Polish, German, Italian, Maltese, Middle Eastern – we may not have been able to speak the same foreign language, but we all had strict parents and weird food nobody else could pronounce (by nobody else, I mean the Aussie kids).
And by different, I mean, my family would get together to make sauce for pasta. And it wasn’t unusual to have a butchered and clean suckling pig in the bathtub for a big family gathering. We would drop our torn clothing off to one of my grandma’s, who would sew it back together. And sometimes, they would even knit us house slippers (natikache) or sweaters. We ate food that was made the ‘traditional’ way – we ate food that was different to Aussie food and listened to our parents music.
We often had family members ‘going back home’ to the motherland so to speak for yearly vacations, where we would get clothing and shoes brought back in European styling that didn’t match what was happening here in fashion. So we always looked out of place in school because we were dressed different. Even though we were also Australian.
As I got older and went through the motions of pre-teendom, to teenager, to young adult – some of those things that we used to do, some of those traditional skills, started to scale back. Our parents were more comfortable in themselves as individuals and in their careers, there was more money, and less time. So in came the sliced breads and premade pasta sauces, and people stopped making homemade phyllo because you could buy it easier from the store.
And the more this level of convenience increased, the less we did the things that were so natural to us – that was embedded in us from our history. As adults, we slipped further and further away from those skills and the mentality of the people that had the guts to get on a plane and migrate to a country where they knew nobody and couldn’t speak the language.
But as an adult, I yearned for going back to those roots. To have something of my family’s legacy as part of me. I wanted space to have a garden and lots of animals, and I wanted the peace and quiet to be left alone.
As a student of international relations, strategic policing, intelligence and criminology, you might say I held a deep association with power in its varying forms, and of how power is abused – whether by a transnational organised crime syndicates, a mega power country, or a transnational business with earnings that exceed some country GDPs or any other person in power. I respect power, but I also believe it is abused more than it isn’t.
And I’ve never believed in having power or regulating power through legislation or rules or procedures just because. Arbitrary laws and practices that exist to benefit the rich while taking power away from the poor and marginalised only serve to create tears in the fabric of society. Arbitrary anything is just bureaucratic red tape designed to give somebody somewhere in a government department something to do.
I got more and more into learning about corruption, and understanding how corruption infiltrates and permeates through society. I held issue with so much being hidden ‘behind red tape’ – where governments and large corporations were working with each other to make money on external deals made to seem as if it somehow benefited society broadly, or was ‘in the national interest’, and not do the right things by its citizens. I held issue with the revolving door of CEO’s who ended up in politics to then turn into consultants and shareholders of businesses damaging our environment, making us sick along the way.
I dealt with my angst by rebelling through food security principles and a small backyard garden, where it started off with a few containers on a suburban block where I planted a few radish and lettuce. Soon enough I was that child again racing out to my grandpa’s meticulous garden to get vegetables for dinner, but I was doing it in my own backyard.
I started making other changes in our lives as I continued to grow in mindset. I always cooked at home but made a concerted effort to be more present and do more with my cooking. I wanted to replicate the simple joy of my grandparent’s food, writing recipes down along the way. I started making sauerkraut again, whipping up jams and preserves and trying to understand what my grandma meant when she said the dough for making bread needed to be soft (I know now the difference in feeling!)
And it worked. All of this going back to your roots stuff helped. For a while.
Taking that first step
When the house we were renting in 2009/2010 was put up for sale we submitted an offer to purchase that house that the owner didn’t accept. When they didn’t accept the offer, we suddenly had 30 days to move out and find a new place to live. My husband was working in the mines at the time which is a very lucrative job in Australia, and we had saved quite a lot of money for a deposit. I ventured out one Saturday morning to our Tamborine property for a viewing and fell totally in love.
The property was totally overgrown with lantana and weeds. Nobody had done any maintenance on the property in excess of 10 years, but in order to get reduced rate fees, slapped on one of those ‘for wildlife’ green diamond signs on the front gate. As I walked through the property in my sandals hoping to god I didn’t encounter a snake, the real estate agent asked me what my thoughts were and I said ‘yep, I’ll buy it”. No negotiation. I paid the price they asked for. And my poor husband freaked out.
“But I said only 1 acre!”
“How will we manage 4 acres?”
“Who will do all the work?”
All I could tell him was I had a good feeling and we were buying the ugly duckling in the best street. 10 years on, and that property on its own has increased in value x4, so yes, that good feeling paid off.
Everyone laughed at me. My grandmother said I was insane for wanting to live ‘so far away’ from everyone, and I told her it was precisely why I wanted to go live there because they would all get out of my face. Because whilst I do have extended family here in Queensland, I am generally No Contact with them because they are toxic, mean people, and I don’t need to be around that kind of drama.
We were laughed at, we were made fun of – to the point that my dad called me and said, ‘sweetheart, what the fuck is happening up there? Where is it you are looking to buy your home because what Aunty and Grandma tell me seems over the top, as if you’re going to live in a slum somewhere’.
Of course, the gossip train that is my aunt and grandma were making up stories – which they still love to do – to make it out like everyone in the family is less intelligent and knowledgeable than they are. About anything.
They wanted to put us down at every turn. They wanted to make us out to be the idiots, that we had no idea what we were doing.
And it was far. It was wild. It was untamed. It was away from everyone. But it was still close-ish to my work, and that was all that mattered. I was going to go out and live in the bush. On 4 acres. With my husband and our dogs. And we had no clue what we were doing, but we were going to do it anyway.
The first years as homesteaders
The first few years as homesteaders was nothing too extravagant. Like anyone making the move, we invested in quality-of-life improvements on our property first.
We did things like paint the inside and outside, replace the water tanks, and redo some fencing. We already had a chicken coop onsite, and a woodshed, so we used to spend our spare time tending to chickens, clearing the block and chopping wood for the woodfire heater.
We cleaned the place up well. Without investing too much, we were able to really transform the landscape of the place.
Whilst we lived there, we continued to invest in our knowledge of traditional skills. Our immediate interest and needs were learning about how to live on an almost off-grid property.
We had to really step our prep game up because we were subject to a lot of major flooding events at the time where we would end up being marooned on our property, unable to be unable to even leave because of either flood waters, road damage or no power to our area.
We also lived a good 20-minute drive from the nearest town, so there was no late night dipping out into the grocery store to get something you were craving or needed for a recipe.
These experiences very quickly humbled us into working with our environment, and learning about the best way to live where we lived.
Despite all the hardships, we never once regretted the decision. We became hardier and more resilient as people and we noticed in general, that we were finding it hard to associate with people not like us. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but people who were not homesteading just didn’t get it.
“Why go to all the effort to make bread when you can just buy 3 loaves for $5 at the bakery?”
“Couldn’t you just buy that jam in the store?”
“Aren’t commercial eggs cheaper?”
“Why do you live so far away? Don’t you like being around people?”
“I could never live the way you do…”
All of these comments and statements and perspectives only pushed us more into homesteading as we realised our goals and aspirations in life differed to a vast majority of people we knew.
We didn’t go out and spend money.
We didn’t holiday a lot and we didn’t go off property much.
We saved our money, invested it into our property and used our time learning how to do things. When we first started homesteading, we knew a bit of this and a bit of that from a few old-time farmers and longtime homesteaders that lived in our area, but we didn’t get into it with a clear-cut plan or a romanticized view of what it was.
All we knew at the time was, we wanted freedom. We wanted freedom from regulation. We wanted freedom from being told what to do. We didn’t want to be tied down or connected to the world in a way we were dependent on it. We wanted to be able to make choices about our lives that benefited and suited us and were not in the framework of what was best for everyone.
And that seems like a bit of a dichotomy considering we were both still working full-time off the homestead. But in our plan, we needed to do this to ensure that the financial freedom and independence we so greatly yearned and desired to achieve needed some sacrifice, and if that sacrifice meant being in society to work and earn money to achieve this goal later down the track, then so be it.
The IRL job and last remaining connection to society
I had grown up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. When my parents first bought our family home, my backyard backed onto farmland, and there are early pictures of me standing in my nappy on the fence petting the cows and horses.
I did all my schooling in Melbourne too and that’s where I started working. I worked in banks in a variety of roles, before moving to state and then later federal government roles where I still am now.
In the middle of all that, my husband and I moved interstate to QLD, where I also completed my masters degree and really focused on my career. I did every training I could, worked in roles at level just to get the experience, and job hopped with a promotion in mind every time.
In 15 years in the job, I am a mentor, a senior analyst and incredibly experienced in my tradecraft. I do the job of the boss often, and there was a period of time in my life that all I wanted was to get to that point.
That changed just prior to covid, when we lost our beloved dog Milo in 2019, which also happened to be the worst year of our lives. After that, I realised I didn’t want to be part of the grind anymore.
Those career aspirations I used to have meant nothing. I mentioned earlier that it took me the best part of two years to unentangle myself where my identity was that I was an analyst, but I finally feel at peace knowing that I don’t have to do that anymore to be happy. And that whilst I love it, went to school for it, and busted my ass to grow in that industry, it isn’t for me anymore, and that is totally ok.
How my alignment with homesteading values merged
I mentioned earlier that my need and desire to uphold traditional skills linked closely to upholding family history and values.
It’s true that homesteading isn’t bound to societal norms in many ways. You can come from all sorts of backgrounds and still be a homesteader and still bring something of value to the table.
And whilst I quietly sat at my Singer sewing machine learning to sew straight lines and pinning simple design layouts, I also enjoyed other domestic activities like cooking and crafting.
For a long time, I felt I was not a typically creative person, but I realised only recently (since covid) that I actually was ridiculously creative but the white noise of everyday life – the travel to and from work, the mindless bullshit in the office and the bureaucratic red tape that engulfed every day and every fibre of my being prohibited me from using my creative brain.
And so I had it shut for so long thinking all I could do was be analytical until finally the white noise stopped, we were all working from home, and my brain exploded with creativity I never knew I had.
Even though we’ve been living the homesteading life for at least 15 years now, it hasn’t been full-time homestead living until recently (due to covid). And I realise now that what I did before was surviving in a world I didn’t fit in, to thrive in a world I did.
Homesteading for me started off with food – food security is incredibly important to me. In my downtime, I started watching a lot of documentaries about the food industry and factory farms and how it’s all produced. I got angry, and cried – and even became a vegetarian for 6 months – as I continued to watch how big companies like Bayer and Monsanto were decimating the earth with their chemicals and GMO. How they ruined the lives of farmers and made money through deceptive practices.
I raged at the notion that company executives were getting employed in the highest levels of federal government, only to come back to the company full of knowledge, information, and connections to continue to spruik their agenda at the detriment of the earth and of the farming community – and by extension, society.
I quickly and immediately changed tack. I stopped buying fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy from supermarkets, and sourced all of this from local farmers and our local co-operative. I kicked off another garden, found groups to share seeds with and people who were like minded. This wasn’t that long ago, but it was much harder to find Australian homesteading groups to do this with. Of course, now it’s become trendy, and so now you can find lots of people getting in on it. But more on that later.
Youtube was an excellent resource, but a lot of the content was American. And even then, there wasn’t nowhere near as many YouTube channels dedicated to homesteading and traditional skills as there is now. Regardless, I finally felt as if I was in my niche. In my little special place of the world where people liked similar things to me and were willing to share their knowledge. I finally felt excitement about not having to fake it to fit in. Deep down, these feelings and beliefs and values I had were not totally obscure, and I finally found a word to describe what that was.
Homesteading aligned with the analyst in me who was able to sift through the bullshit and see what was really happening. I was able to quickly deduce and assess the status of the world I was part of, and how I could change it for the better even if it was just our patch of the world.
It aligned with my quiet, rural soul that longed to find peace somewhere out in the country, closer to nature and far away from the traffic sounds and bright lights of the big city.
It aligned with the values I held on food security and traditional skills. There were other people who preserved their harvest, who raised or grew their own food to support their family, who stockpiled, who lived simpler lives sewing, baking, crafting, creating.
As we locked into the homesteading lifestyle, we realised that our small parcel of land was not enough, and the dream to move onto much bigger land emerged.
The plans ahead
We’ve always had a plan, a long-term plan. And with covid happening, and 2019 happening, we had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment I suppose you could call it, where we realised we were so different. And we had changed so much from our first days as homesteaders.
With all the changes to house prices because of covid and everything that has followed, we are now in a very good position to achieve a few things by selling this property. Paying out the small mortgage left on the first homestead and leaving us with a very healthy balance. My husband ‘retired‘ from full-time work in 2020, and if all goes to plan, I will be ‘retiring’ this year.
During our time here, we really dove in deep to the homesteading lifestyle and continue to dive deeper. While we don’t grow nearly all of our food at home, we do grow a variety of fruits and vegetables each year and have acquired all sorts of homestead-y skills over the past years, like organic gardening, canning and preserving foods, baking bread from scratch, candle-making, DIY-ing many of our home and body products, building our own garden beds, greenhouse, composter, hoop houses and indoor growing stands, and much, much more.
In general, we have become much more self-sufficient even with our skill sets, with much of the work being done onsite by my husband or I, instead of calling in other people to do it. This has been valuable in allowing us to free ourselves of needing professionals to come in to do work we can now do on our own.
No, we still won’t grow all of our food for the year on our little plot of land when we get back. And no, we still aren’t quite in a position to have other livestock yet. But with every day, week, month and year that passes, we continue to move deeper into this homesteading lifestyle, and even on the most difficult days, I never doubt that this is the right path for me and my family.
Our plans to move on though relate to us moving onto a few hundred acres, anywhere up to or over 1000 if we can find the perfect block. The land can be naked, or just have a weekend shed on there. As long as there is ample water, and that the house site can be away from the road.
We’d like to run a few head of cattle and pigs for our own meat, raise and breed some gorgeous layer hens for eggs, grow a huge garden for fruit and flowers, get some beehives, and have an orchard. We believe we will likely be entirely off-grid to achieve this, but we are not fearful. We are opening up our land to a multi-generational home, already inviting a few key people in our lives who also live this lifestyle who would love to live in such a community.
The writer in me has found a niche as well, and has flourished with passion ever since I launched this homesteading blog a year ago. I’m working hard to write educational and informative content because I would like to eventually be able to earn a living off homesteading entirely. I want to run workshops, courses and write everyday. I want to be out there planning photography shots and running my own social media strategies to support my various endeavours.
So as I sit here, now 40, reflecting on my past and on all the things I’ve done and people I’ve been, I wonder “am I really a homesteader?” The answer? Yes. Yes I am. And I always was.
As an individual I will continue to grow and evolve over time. And just like when I was a kid, my likes and dislikes will change. But all of this makes me who I am today. All the things I’ve experienced lead me to this point in time now writing this post. I am very proud to call myself a homesteader, and to explain what the identity of an australian homesteader is to anyone that asks me.
At the end of the day, I’ve built my character over the years. That person that was faking it, trying to fit in to a world that was so varied has finally found a place. A place where there’s great people. Not some of these fake newbies who have started homesteading 5 minutes ago. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge them for their efforts because at some point in time, someone thought that maybe I wasn’t as serious about this lifestyle as they were.
The important thing is that the values of homesteading are within you all the time. They don’t just manifest because you start living on some land. They’ve always been inside you in various manifestations. The trick is to pull them all out of the hat at once, and then wear them proudly like badges of honor.
I’ve spent time really getting to know who I am and what my purpose is. I’ve travelled the world in search of myself. I’ve studied, rebelled, experienced and written for years trying to find the right path for me and my soul. Now I’ve found it, and while I don’t know exactly what that path will look like 10, 20 or 50 years from now, I know that I’m headed in the right direction, and that, in fact, I always have been.