In the beginning…

So this story starts around January 2011. At that stage we were living in suburban Somerset West, South Africa in a big house on what was considered a large property (approx. 1000m2), with two small children (ages 3 and 2) and two big dogs. We had a small vegetable and herb garden laid out in concentric circles around a single lemon tree. Off to the side we had a medium-sized fig tree that produced well some years. The rest was occupied by ornamental garden.

Due to the long dry Cape summers, we implemented a grey water solution that collected a combination of rain water and run-off bath and shower water – with no regulations to pay attention to, it was easy – just install a big tank, connect whatever you want to it, and pump it out wherever you wanted to.

Going even further back, even in previous lives in most properties I have lived – whether owned or rented – I used to have some vegetable patch going. Small scale, nothing organic, just pottering around. I also recall my parents had a very productive compost heap producing soft warm moist pitch black compost – in fact, at certain stages of the year we used to jump off the garage roof into the compost heap, feet first of course. That no-one got injured is another story, possibly involving some protective little angels that were kept overly busy by yours truly. My parents also had peaches, grapes, some vegetables, but used pesticides quite liberally.

For a few years I rented a little cottage on a large and very well known “industrial” wine and strawberry farm near Stellenbosch, where I also had a productive little vegetable and herb garden going. I can distinctly remember how appalled I was at how those farmers raped the earth – spraying poisons, ploughing the large plastic sheets on which they planted the strawberries straight into the ground, over-producing on every square inch they could… that must have sowed some seeds somewhere in the back of my mind somewhere.

Fast forward to 2011… after a very short period of some very fast change we were packed up and on 9 March we landed in Melbourne with a rental car and a furnished apartment at our disposal for two weeks, thanks to my IT company, which sponsored our relocation. Buying a car and finding a house to rent with no credit rating, no bank account, no references and a trial employment contract was challenging, to say the least. Buying a car and finding a house to rent with a three and two year old in tow, and no family support structure in place, was interesting, to say the least.

Move to Australia

Sightseeing around Melbourne

For a year and a half we marked time in a small rental property in one of Melbourne’s posh suburbs, with boxes piled to the roof and the excesses of furniture we brought with us totally crowding us out. Like, we had 21 big removal boxes filled with books alone. With nothing to do around the postage stamp sized garden, mostly due to strict rental regulations, we explored the bay on bicycles, got to know the local pub (where the little one once wetted, no soaked, one of the chairs) and the local coffee shops and markets. Neighbours might as well not have existed… However, as we got accepted with wide open arms by the Wellspring Wesleyan Church community, life took on a bit more meaning.

Move to Australia - humble beginnings

Humble beginnings in Melbourne

In the spring of 2013 our Permanent Residency came through, and we were again property hunting – with a five and four year old in tow this time round, still with no family structure in place. We were looking for a place where we could establish a garden, a healthier place to live, affordable and with a reasonable public transport commute to Melbourne. We looked at many, many places, in many different suburbs, both on-line and also trying to juggle between 30-minute inspection time-slots on opposite sides of the 20 square kilometer metropolis that is Melbourne and its surrounds. We looked at run-down 5 acre places in the South East, we looked at new developments with small plots in the North East, old places that shook as the trains rolled by, revamped and revitalized old charm, and more – it is a massive area to cover, especially while you still trying to sort out what you really want vs what you can reasonably afford. To cut a very long story short, in October 2013 we were again packed up and moving out to a smallish but very suitable and well-built house in rural Lara.

Moving into Lara

DIY moving to Lara

What providence wanted us in Lara, we are still wondering about, but with a one acre property on a battle-axe stand nestled between a school, a four-and-a-half acre run-down left-over mostly open fields piece of the original farm, and two sets of the nicest neighbors you can ever wish for, we found air to breathe, views to take in over the flat fields, stunning sunsets from our patio, space for the kids to run and play and of course, what this story is about – space we could plant and grow fruits, vegetables and herbs to attempt to become more self-sustainable and live more healthily and organically. We also found a friendly community that accepted our strange accents and expressions without questions, and a welcoming church at Lifeway Christian Church.


Our “Homestead” in Lara – what a find!

However, we searched for and acquired our property in Lara in September / October when everything is green and lush. We didn’t inspect the soil, we didn’t research rain belts and patterns – in effect we bought with our hearts and not our brains, and we ignorantly presumed what was happening in Melbourne happened the same all over the state. Little did we know – Lara has really, really hard and poor clay soil, and it sits slam bang in a dry belt between the coastal rain area and Melbourne’s relative high rainfall and it has icy cold winters and harsh dry winds. Great was our dismay when December arrived, the small tanks on the property started running dry, the soil started cracking up, and the full heat of the typically late Victorian summer wasn’t even upon us yet. Did I mention it was dry…?

Lessons learnt

  • Study soil structure, rainfall, temperature and wind patterns before you decide to settle somewhere.

But having said that, sometimes God has a particular destiny for you in mind.

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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