Friday, September 30, 2011

Hark.....a bird!

Sitting here on my couch in semi-rural Queensland, I can hear a bird calling from the bushland adjoining my block. It has a distinctive call and certainly not an owl or one that I would generally associate with night-time activities. But nevertheless it is calling across the countryside and I wonder what type of bird it is. Turns out it is a Common Koel. 

This species migrates between Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia, returning to Queensland and New South Wales for their breeding season. And this is the time they appear on our doorsteps, letting me enjoy enjoy their lovely calls in my backyard. 

A useful website that can help you identify the bird calls you may encounter, particularly in your backyard, is the Birds in Backyards top 40 bird song website. 

Enjoy your night-time antics and perhaps it might include a little bird call identification or spotlighting for native animals with the kids!
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Queensland State Library - Positive Futures series

The State Library of Queensland is running a series of lectures/sessions exploring "the kind of positive futures we can make for our children".

There are still three sessions to come:

  • Seriously, renewable?
  • The Great Debate, Are we still the Smart State?
  • Save your Energy!

If you're interested, more information is available on the State Library's Positive Steps Information website. Pin It

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rebates available for you

The Federal government has a website called Living Greener which has a vast array of information about living more sustainably, but I found a particularly useful part of the website today: The rebates and assistance section. This is located at:

When you visit the site you enter in your postcode and your interests (in terms of sustainable living strategies) and the website then tells you what rebates and assistance various governments and organisations can provide to you for these goods and services.

I thought this provided a good overview for the ever-changing government rebates and programs available across the country.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Low VOC paints

I have been researching availabilities and brands of low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints as part of a renovation process for our new home. When I started this investigation I found it quite frustrating. There didn't seem to be many companies advertising the VOC levels in their paints and I also had concerns about the level of greenwashing associated with these products.

I used the ecospecifier database to assist me and found a locally producing company, Rockcote, produced a number of low VOC paints. I was particularly excited about this because they were local. Then the next thing I discovered was the supplier of this paint was geographically further from me than the producer, which I found quite funny.

The next hurdle I discovered is that many of the low VOC paints producers are creating only very neutral colours or just white. What happens if I want a flare of colour? Finally I found the Dulux Wash and Wear paint is actually low VOC and available in a numerous colours and finishes. Wow!

Excellent, now that I have a choice of products, colours and suppliers I just have to get out and purchase some! Then the hard work will really start. Pin It

Monday, September 26, 2011

Solar Hot Water Systems

Today has not been wasted!

I learnt that it is in fact best or most efficient to install your solar hot water system's collector panels facing north.

I knew this was necessary for photovoltaic systems (or solar electricity systems), but thought that because there isn't the requirement to transform sunlight into electricity but rather just heat the water it isn't necessary for solar hot water. But it is! According to the information I have read if the panels don't face north, the efficiencies drop off in solar water heating just as much as in the solar electric systems.

So moral of the story, if you are thinking about either of these systems, orient all your panels as close to true north as possible.

If you have any experiences or comments on solar hot water systems feel free to post your comments below. Pin It

The journey has begun....

As you have seen from some of my previous posts, we moved into a new home recently, with the idea we would become a little more self-sufficient and enjoy the Queensland outdoor lifestyle a little more.

We have now started the transformation of our house from a typical suburban/semi-rural house into my "dream" home.  So, what have we done in the three weeks we've been here?

  • installed a black cold compost bin;
  • started to clean out the gutters on the house to ensure we collect maximum amounts of rain that hits the roof (as we are on tank water);
  • checked out the water tanks and determined they require some maintenance works;
  • got a water filter for our drinking water;
  • started getting quotes for solar hot water systems; 
  • enquired about grey water;
  • put in some herbs and lettuces in small areas in the garden; 
  • investigated heat-retardant blinds for the western facing rooms; and 
  • started planning where other permanent garden features/beds will go. 

All of these have all been done in spare time around work, other commitments and this week around colds (guess it all caught up with us). But it has been fabulous being outdoors, having each morning greet us with visits from the local native birds and a lovely sunset view in the evenings.

No matter whether you've been in your space for a long or short time, view the natural world with new eyes and see what can be done around your place.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Flying foxes and Hendra virus

Hendra virus has been in the news a lot in recent months. This virus is carried by flying-foxes here in Australia, which in some instances can be transferred to horses, leading to illness and in some cases the horse's death. Why is this of broad interest to the community? In some very rare cases there can be transmission between an infected horse and their human carers or veterinary professionals.

I am concerned because some sources have raised inappropriate concerns in the broader community about flying-foxes living in close proximity to Queensland communities, as a result of Hendra virus "risks". This unnecessary concerned has led some ignorant people to harming flying-foxes and/or attempting to move flying-fox camps away from residential locations.

It is important to be educated on this matter and not bring hysteria and misconception into the equation. The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation has some useful information on their website. The important messages that I got out of the information provided is:

  • the virus cannot be transmitted directly from flying-foxes to humans;
  • people that have been infected with the virus, did so from extremely close contact with horses;
  • infection from horses to people requires contact with respiratory secretions (eg mucus) and/or blood from the horse;
  • despite exposure to infected horses, numerous people have shown no signs of infection.

Queensland Health also have relevant information on their website, which is useful to consult to understand symptoms in humans of infection.

As background, flying-foxes play an important role in the environment. They are pollinators and seed dispersers for many native plant species. A single flying-fox is reported to potentially be able to disperse 60,000 seeds in a single night (source). They might be noisy, a little smelly in some instances, but they are likely to be in your backyard for a very short period of time.  Overall, they are vital to keep many species within our environment. Let's look after them and become educated about their role and the likely impact they may have on you, your family and your environment, which in the case of Hendra virus is minimal.     Pin It

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lemon peel missing...update

Here is a photo of the mysterious missing peel lemon that still remains otherwise intact on the tree.

I still haven't discovered the animal that is causing this and I haven't come across anymore lemons missing their peel.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Carbon tax impact on Queensland Economy

The Queensland Treasury has recently released a report that outlines the expected future impact on the Queensland economy as a result of the introduction of the carbon tax. The introduction of this report states the overall short to medium term impact the carbon tax will be minimal to minor on the overall Queensland economy.

The figures stated in the report indicate the Queensland gross state product is estimated to be only 0.4% lower by 2019-2020 and 3.5% lower by 2049-2050 after the introduction of the carbon tax. The report goes on to say that the Queensland economy is still expected to be strong, with an annual real growth of 3.5% by 2019-2020.

The important take home message from this analysis is that the information in the report is based on a Business as Usual model and doesn't calculate or estimate the potential impact on the economy if markets, industry and the government modify and adapt to a post-carbon tax environment. If the modification scenario does eventuate, the economy could move towards a growth situation based on new industries and products and move its reliance away from situations that rely heavily on carbon polluting inputs.

The full report can be found on the Queensland Treasury website at:

Note: The above analysis is based on a particular set of assumptions and an analysis is done with alternate sets of assumptions there will obviously be different conclusions drawn. So it is important to understand the premise upon which an analysis is done before a comparison is done between reports and conclusions. Pin It

Green Building Week

This week, 19-23 September, is a "World Green Building Week". It is aimed at bringing awareness to healthier, more sustainable buildings and communities and is supported by Green Building Councils around the world.

There are a number of events across the world supporting this awareness week and they can be found at the World Green Building Council website.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top 10 green building trends

I just found a press release from the Earth Advantage Institute posted on the Green Architecture and Building Report website outlining the "top ten green building trends in 2011". It was an interesting read and certainly shows that there is so much to learn about and to consider. New vocabulary alone will take me a little while to remember and grasp.

The article outlines both personal and commercial trends for this building industry sector.  The top ten trends for 2011 as outlined by the Earth Advantage Institute are:

  1. Affordable green
  2. Sharing and comparing home energy use
  3. Outcome-based energy codes
  4. Community purchasing power
  5. "Grid-aware" appliances fuel convergences of smart grid and smart homes
  6. Accessory dwelling units
  7. Rethinking of residential heating and cooling
  8. Residential grey water use
  9. Small commercial certification
  10. Lifecycle Analysis

Have a look at the original post and full analysis at: This is an American website, so it is important to note that we here in Australia might be a little behind the times. I did notice the term and concept "right-size" housing, in their analysis, as one that seems to have been covered in a previous year's trends. This is one concept that I think we here in Australia are only just starting to grasp but despite being a little out of step is one that we should all still consider.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Are you letting the cold air out?

My main fridge is about nine years old and starting to look a little daggy. Don't get me wrong I think it still does a marvellous job and wouldn't dream of replacing it, but I was a little concerned that I might be paying a higher price to run it.

Why you might ask? Basically over time the seals around the doors start to deteriorate. This means that your fridge can't keep the cold air in and has to continuously replace this cold air by running the motor which then costs your money in energy usage.

But how do you know if your seals need replacing? I had somewhere in the back of my mind that you place a piece of paper between the door and the fridge, close the fridge door and then try and remove the paper. I did this, but I could easily remove it from multiple locations around the door frame for both the fridge and the freezer. Either my seals were completely dead (which I didn't think was the case) or there was something wrong with my method.

After a quick internet search, another method suggested was to place a torch in the fridge at night, turn off all your lights in the vicinity of the fridge and see if you can see the light coming out of the fridge. If you can see any light you need a new seal. I tried this method last night and couldn't see any light, so currently I am assuming that my seals are ok. See if I can come up with any other methods to test my fridge and freezer seals.

Maybe worth a try at your place.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where is my lemon peel?

My new house has a luxurious lemon tree near its back steps. Another fantastic thing is that this fruit tree isn't currently infested with the sooty mould that quite often affects citrus trees and has seen me running scared from venturing into these fruit crops previously.

My tree is currently supporting about 10 lemons that are ready for picking and then there are about three lemons which are completely intact, except they are missing their peel. These three fruit are completely intact, still hanging perfectly on the tree, but missing every inch of their peel. What is this all about?

I assume there is some very pedantic animal scurrying around the bush and up towards my house to neatly   remove every bit of peel from lemon. I would love to catch this little animal in the act and see what is munching so delicately on my lemons and over time figure out whether I can sacrifice a few lemons to this critter or whether I need to come up with some clever contraception to protect my fruit from them.

Nature is so peculiar. Will post some photos soon. Pin It

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Moving Planet Day.....24 September 2011

On the 24 September this year, there will be numerous events around the world attempting to highlight the  current climate crisis we face and demand action by people and politicians. If you're interested in showing your support you might like to attend one of organised events. You can find more information at:

Here in Australia, the group is organising a rally at Bondi Beach, New South Wales (8-9am). This event would like to get 500 people to fly white kites to indicate their support on a price on carbon. I live in Queensland and there are a number of events, including an ocean walk, a general activity and another kite flying event, organised. Alternatively, if there isn't an event which suits you or none in your town, you could start your own. If you then register your event at the above website you might end up attracting other like-minded people to join you in your public statement on the climate crisis or your particular angle or issue.

Enjoy the lovely spring weather on 24 September and take some time out to show your support for this action day.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Endangered frog stops roadworks

Just came across an article from a North Queensland newspaper explaining that a colony of endangered frogs has just stopped a roadworks project in Far North Queensland. A local conservationist discovered two frog species, the common mist frog (which isn't so common) and the Australian lacelid frog, within the footprint of the construction works resulting in a stop works situation.

The Council now has to undertake a re-design and submit their proposal to the Commonwealth government's environment department for assessment and approval. This is expected to delay the project by at least six months, with local residents expecting that such a delay will result in their isolation again during another wet season. Interesting scenario. Let's see what designs the council can come up with to protect these species.

Original article available from the Cairns Post. Pin It

Forest Stewardship Council timber

Some of you may have heard of FSC timber, otherwise known as timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Council is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which provides standards for responsible forest management and has a mission of promoting environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests. What does this mean?

According to the FSC (international website: timber and timber products must meet 10 principles and criteria as a minimum for their operation and management. These are:

Principle 1: Compliance with all applicable laws and international treaties
Principle 2: Demonstrated and uncontested, clearly defined, long-term land tenure and use rights
Principle 3: Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples' rights
Principle 4: Maintenance or enhancement of long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities and respect of worker's rights in compliance with International Labour Organisation conventions
Principle 5: Equitable use and sharing of benefits derived from the forest
Principle 6: Reduction of environmental impact of logging activities and maintenance of the ecological functions and integrity of the forest
Principle 7: Appropriate and continuously updated management plan
Principle 8: Appropriate monitoring and assessment activities to assess the condition of the forest, management activities and their social and environmental impacts
Principle 9: Maintenance of High Conservation Value Forests defined as environmental and social values that are considered to be of outstanding significance or critical importance
Principle 10: In addition to compliance with all of the above, plantations must contribute to reduce the pressures on and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests (as sourced from the website).

It is interesting to note, that Australian and international products that display the FSC timber come from a broad range of markets and don't just include unprocessed timber, but also timber furniture and  paper products. The Australian branch of the FSC has a webpage allowing you to find a FSC certified products.

Now my quest to find a couple of timber tables (one indoor and one outdoor) that are FSC certified begins. Pin It

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bring new equipment to the Australian Wildlife Hospital

SunSuper is running a competition where someone's dream will be granted. You can submit your own, but there are some already worthy "dreams" available to vote for. The idea is the dream with the highest vote wins their dream.

The Australian Wildlife Hospital at Australia Zoo, here on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, has been entered to win $5000 worth of orthopaedic equipment. This provision of this vital surgical equipment would mean that many more injured Australian wildlife patients admitted to the Australian Wildlife Hospital could be treated and eventually returned to the wild.

To vote for this worthy cause just click on the following link: You can only vote once for one dream and apparently voting from multiple email addresses is against the terms of conditions, so don't ruin their chances! But remember, be active and help out this good cause. Pin It

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Carbon tax legislation introduced to Parliament

Today was a historic day for Australia, with our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, introducing the carbon price legislation to Parliament. This legislation will see the top 500 most polluting companies pay $23 per tonne of carbon emissions they emit during their operations.

The coming weeks will certainly be an interesting period of debate in the Australian Parliament.  The public should be ready for the smear campaigns that will be had instead of addressing the real questions and debate that could be had to bring awareness and understanding of the issues, complexities and ramifications of this legislation for our country.

Other posts that I have previously written on the carbon tax are: A short summary on the Australian carbon tax and Carbon tax - how will it cost you.

Happy Parliament watching! Pin It

Monday, September 12, 2011

Save the Cassowary Campaign

Save the Cassowary campaign website is requesting people sign their letter to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities requesting federal government action to save the cassowary in northern Queensland.

If you're happy to share you details and put your name towards this campaign, you can add your name at:

More information about the campaign and the cause can be found at the Save the Cassowary website. Pin It

Saturday, September 10, 2011

US to remove dam to restore catchment qualities

I just came across a 'green' article discussing the US's largest dam removal project. My first thoughts were that this was just greenwashing putting a slant on this event rather than just talking about the removal as a project addressing an aging piece of infrastructure. But it seems my initial pessimism was wrong.

There are actually two dams to be removed, Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, within the Olympic National Park on the Elwha River. It seems that the sole reason for the removal of these dams is to restore river's catchment.

These two dams were originally built for the purpose of generating hydro-electricity. But it seems that the construction of these resulted in a complete barrier to fish between their upstream and downstream habitats. The main value that will be restored once the dams have been removed is this fish passage.

More information about the dam removal decision can be found at the Elwha Watershed Information Resource website. There are also some cool animations showing how the dams are to be removed at the following websites: Interactive Earth Elwha dam removal and Interactive Earth Glines Canyon dam removal.

The only thing I didn't manage to determine was whether there was another renewable energy source replacing the dams electricity supply (if they were still producing). Hopefully the removal doesn't result in a greater demand for an energy source that isn't environmentally appropriate.

Overall, congratulations! Pin It

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sustainable House Day 2011

It is that time of year again when owners, builders and architects of "sustainable houses" display their works. This Sunday, September 11, will allow you to visit these houses and view their designs and innovations, with the aim of inspiring you to build your own dream environmentally friendly house or add some of the technology or design into your own existing home.

The Sustainable House website now has the general locations of the houses that will participating in this open day scheme. According to the website, they are currently uploading the addresses, which will be available closer to the day. This information will let you determine those homes which are the most convenient to your location or the most relevant to your interests. All of these houses and buildings will be open between 10am and 4pm.  There are also a number of ancillary events this year, with information available at:

My dream is to have my home as an open home in the Sustainable House program. My house would be displayed as a home that shows what you can do as a retrofit to an existing "unsustainable" house. I am however a little weirded out by strangers wandering through my home, but I will get over that, hopefully. Just have to get round to doing all the "renovations" now. Wish me luck! Pin It

Monday, September 5, 2011

Water, water everywhere...or is it?

We are now in our new house...just! This is very exciting, but overwhelming and nerve racking all at once. The first thing I have become nervous about is the level of consciousness I have brought to water use in the house. Why? Because we are no longer on town water. We rely completely on two 25,000L rainwater tanks for our household water use. This is an enormous amount of water, but I have never had a finite resource dependency.

I have always been able to turn on the tap and be assured water with come from some far removed water source, even in drought conditions. I can turn on the light switch and generally assured that my lights will come on or my fridge will continue to stay cool. I drop into a petrol station and I fill my car up with a liquid that continues to assist my car with forward momentum.

Even though a level of paranoia about water use has come over me for the first two days, it has calmed down a little in the last 24 hours given the it has rained quite heavily and I could hear it gushing towards the rainwater tanks throughout the night.

I will however have to figure out the pump that can bring water from the dam at the bottom of the hill to water the few plants I moved with us. The dam is a saving for us, because otherwise we would be completely reliant on rainwater collected from our roofs to water the vegetable patch that I plan to put in the back yard sometime in the future and this in time would be a significant drain on our resource particularly in drought periods.

I also plan on putting another water tank in to collect the water running off the carport, right at the top of the hill and potentially something smaller on the roof of the chicken hutch once it is constructed.

Watch this space as I hope to do a water audit in the future to determine the level of water that we require on a weekly basis.  This will allow me to get a true handle on our water usage and whether I should be nervous about the water we have on our site or whether we can function within our limits.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Photos of new garden

Here are some photos of my new back yard. Hopefully in the future a little more productive in the way of human food production than it currently is.

Looking down slope (west facing unfortunately)

Looking back at the house (upslope)

Looking across the slope (south-east) towards my neighbours and through my native vegetation

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