Our place – Hill House

Hill House, looking down through the chicken yard

Looking down at the house from above the chicken yard. You can see the solar panels and water heater on the roof, and three of our 5 tanks to the left.

We moved onto our 20 hectare block in May 2014. It’s a beautiful spot at the top of a hill, hence ‘Hill House’, in the Tweed River district of northern NSW. The house was just what we were looking for, modern, built high on steel poles, bright and airy, which is what made our mind up to buy. The property is much bigger than we had planned for, about 10 times bigger. It had been left a little run down, with very high grass in the paddocks, and lantana, camphor laurel and other weeds making slow but steady inroads.

Way back in the 70s, an aunt came home from overseas and bought a similarly overgrown orchard, which she made a good business of, and later my father also bought a lifestyle property, so I guess the ‘tree change’ is in my culture, if not in my genes.

batteries for stand-alone solar power

Our bank of batteries and the associated electrics. Already outdated but working well.

Hill House is off-grid, powered by stand-alone solar panels and a bank of batteries. This works surprisingly well, with a few adaptions to living. For instance, electric heating has to be avoided, including kettles etc, and the dishwasher and washing machine only get run on sunny days, during the day. For extended cloudy spells, and we can get weeks of cloudy weather, there is a generator which gives the batteries a couple of days of boost. The hot water is also solar, with a gas booster for those cloudy days. The stovetop and oven are gas, and we have a gas barbecue (all from bottles). In winter we have a wood fired stove for heat, which is nice to have going in the evenings, even if it’s not specially cold.

The water is also self sufficient. We have a bank of rainwater tanks off the house roof which feed the house and immediate garden, and a solar pump at the dam, which pumps to the vegetable patch / kitchen garden half way up the hill.

Hill house morning view

Looking down the hill on a typically misty morning. Most of the surrounding land is heavily forested.

The block is mainly forest, with a few cleared paddocks in stages of regrowth. The forest looks to be reverting to the original subtropical rainforest, after it was probably cleared for timber and dairying. The block is kind of a half-bowl; several gullies lead down to a central valley which has our spring-fed dam at the bottom. All the drainage to our dam comes from our property, so we know what the input is.

Hill House is just a few kilometres from our local geological feature, an extinct volcanic core called Wollumbin or Mt Warning. It is a distinctive peak about 1000 metres high, and visually very prominent in the region. It was a shield volcano and the surrounding hills are remnants of its eruption cycles. The country rock is a mixture of basalt, ash beds, and quartz, all with their derived soils, which are moderately fertile with good structure, easily improved for gardening.

The climate is subtropical. Rainfall is high at around 1600 mm/y, and is biased towards Summer, with Spring usually dry. We get a few cold days and the occasional frost in July/August, but a typical Winter day ranges around 10 – 20 C, and in Summer we get days around 20 – 30 C.

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