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Changing Gears - book review and some changes of my own

Some you may have seen Greg Foyster's blog "Simple Lives", which documented the experiences of himself and his girlfriend, Sophie, as they travelled from Melbourne to Cairns, via Tasmania, by bicyle, arriving around this time last year, and using the journey to learn about various aspects of simple living.  I kept an eye on the blog, so I was keen to read Greg's book when it was released recently, and his publisher very kindly posted it to me a few weeks ago.  It did not disappoint, what an amazing story!  Its just the right mixture of funny and insightful.  I was amazed to learn that Greg and Sophie had never cycled long distance before and had very little experience with camping (or simple living) prior to their trip.  Along the way they met with many well known characters of the simple living world, Gavin Webber, Rhonda Hetzel, Clive Hamilton, Costa Georgiadas, and many many others.  I really really enjoyed reading about their journey, as they travelled north, their understanding of simple living grew.

eight acres: Changing Gears book review

I had actually invited them to stay with us, but I understand we are a little out of the way, although they came within 80 km of our place when they turned off at Tansey!  What a shame, but now reading Greg's description of some of the people he met, I wonder what he would have written about us!  Nevertheless, the offer still stands, I'd love to sit down with Greg and Sophie and have a chat about simple living.

One of the of the strong themes of the book is the difference between city and country life, connection to nature and the dillema of where and how to live.  I wonder if I identified so strongly with the book because I've been spending more time in the city lately myself.  Pete and I decided it would be a good idea for me to change jobs (for many complicated reasons that I won't bore you with) and unfortunately that means I am away from the farm through the week.  I did find a very accomodating company, that doesn't mind me arriving later on Monday morning, working late through the week and leaving early on Friday.  I didn't want to tell you until I'd tried it for a while, I didn't want you to all feel sorry for us, but honestly its not too bad, we spend all weekend together and its only a few days apart.

I lived in Brisbane for a few years about 7 years ago, so its weird being back here and I have noticed a number of the things that Greg discusses in the book.  I didn't realise how difficult it was to live simply in the city.  Last time I was on a student wage and living with other students.  It wasn't weird to be stingy, to wear op-shop clothes and make-do with what you could find or borrow.  Living here on a decent wage is very different, as Greg says, the temptations to spend money are everywhere, and I have to keep reminding myself that I don't need to buy food or drink, I bring plenty with me from the farm.  Everyone here drinks coffee, but I'm sticking to my herbal tea.  I am surrounded by people wearing expensive clothes, both at work and just walking around the city, and I keep having to tell myself that I don't need to buy any new clothes, I have plenty of "out fits" (I went to the op-shop before I started work and picked up lots of nice work blouses!) and I can sew more when I need them (my last job had a uniform, which was so much easier).  I'm lucky to have found a 1 bedroom furnished unit, so I don't need to buy any new things for that either, I am making do with what is here and its very comfortable (actually its nearly as big as our tiny house!).

The people that live in the house above the unit have told me how difficult they found it to grow a vege garden, even though they did really try hard.  I didn't realise how much more difficult it is to produce your own food in the city.  They have a
decent size yard and tank water, but apparently the possums ate whatever they planted!  We don't have any trouble with possums, because their native predators keep them under control.  Animals and pests in the city are more difficult to deal with because the eco-systems are distorted.

There are some things that are easier in the city though.  The main one is public transport and human powered transport.  The unit where I stay is very close to a bus that takes me straight into the city and I am amazed by how much the public transport has improved over the last few years, it is incredibly quick and easy to get around (from this suburb anyway), which means I could live here without a car..... except that I have to drive back to the farm!  But I can see how you could get by without a car and I didn't have a car when I lived here last time, so it is possible.  Its also possible to walk or cycle to where you need to go because with the population density, things that you need to get to are usually not very far away.  In the country we need a vehicle just to get around our property, not to mention to get to anywhere else!

Everything here feels very very densely packed, and I notice it more than ever.  The people, buildings and cars all feel too close together.  I have to conciously remind myself to lock my car (because we never lock cars at home), and the door of the unit at night, which is not something we bother with in the country.

I notice that people here use more water, the family upstairs has very long showers.  Pete and I had an egg-timer in the shower for a while, but we struggled to stay in the shower for the full 3 mintues, so it wasn't much use to us.  Greg had some great thoughts about habits and getting used to using less.  We are really stingy with our water, and I forget sometimes that "normal" people use so much more.

I am determined to continue to live simply, even though I don't have as much time at home to cook, I've been making huge batches of slow cooker casseroles, curries and soups and stocked up the freezer, so we can both eat homemade meals through the week.  I'm also bringing milk, eggs and bread to Brisbane with me, so I don't miss out.  I also want to make the most of this time in the city.  I'm going to join the library and read even more books.  I'm going to join a yoga class and learn meditation.  And I'm going try cycling the 8km to work.  I'm going to do some more sewing.  And I'm going to enjoy every minute of my weekends at home with my husband.

I don't want to go on about the book too much, I think all I need to say is that if you're interested in simple living, whether you practice it now or you want to, you will enjoy this book.  You will probably learn something and you will have a laugh too.  Its less than 400 pages, which is just shows how Greg has somehow managed to distill months of travel and interviews and experiences down to the key messages, arranged by the categories: shelter, community, food, work, clothing, technology, money, health and spirituality, to create a fascinating book.

Thanks Greg for giving me some things to think about and making me take notice of the world around me.  I'm also thankful in general for the opportunity I have to live on the farm and this city interlude brings that into sharper focus.

Read any good books lately?

*Greg asked me to tell you that the book is available from booktopia, or from Dymocks and independent book stores, and its hiding in the autobiography section because I guess they didn't know where to put it*


  1. Wow Liz some big changes are afoot at your place/new place. I am off to work in Brisbane too this week and I soooo understand what you are saying about the coffee and clothing factor, the feeling of closeness and the locking of the car etc. I still work for the same company that I did when living in Brisbane and when we first moved here I used to commute in each day. But after a year of that I chose to change my role and they allowed me to work from home. I still head into the office 2 days a month and when I do I stay with my inlaws so i am very lucky. Because I work from home i have dramatically reduced the number of work outfits I have and I often wonder if my colleagues in the office notice I wear the same thing most of the time, not that I really care : )

  2. i was just wondering about you today! so glad that things are going well.

  3. Wow, quite a change, but it sounds as though everything is working out fine. You are well grounded in your wonderful life on your farm so I dont think you will be too swayed by the coffe and shopping.

  4. That must be quite a culture shock, but it sounds like you're making the best of it with a positive attitude. Two of my sons lived in Toronto, Canada, and they biked and walked everywhere. It was too expensive to run a car in the city, and with traffic and parking it would be a nightmare! The bus prices in Toronto are also high, the equivalent of $3.12 AUD. I'm not sure how that compares to Brisbane. It was interesting reading your observations about the difference in water usage--so much waste!

    You know that I'm living back in town for the winter, although it's only a small-ish town, not a big city. There is a time for everything and these are just seasons of our life that will always be in flux. You call your time there a "city interlude" so I hope that you'll be back on the farm full-time soon ~smile~.

  5. What a change for you! I never thought about how much harder it is to grow veggies in the city, but you're right! Possums eat a lot of what we have (even some things with cages on them). When we lived in North Melbourne we didn't have a car. It was so lovely walking to work everyday, going past all the frustrated people in their cars. Even now we don't use the car much. Hubby gets the train to work, but I do think it's a lot of money. I think he pays $12 a day. I've never understood the buying coffee thing either!

  6. Hi Liz, The change in lifestyle will be exciting but do what you are doing and pack away the money for that day when you have had enough. Amazing how we adapt very quickly and although only spending two days on the farm the chores still get done. I did this for 7 years with Jean picking up the slack on the farm mid week. The most difficult time was after giving up the away job and spending the entire week at home. Our routines were so different and it took 6 months for us to acclimatise to the new situation. I still don't know how Jean managed the farm on her own while still working and then making the transition to me being around full time after such a long absence.

  7. Thanks for all the lovely comments, I'm sure there will be interesting times ahead!


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