Humans of Solar: Virginia
13 Oct, 2021
We speak with everyday Tasmanians who are living off sunshine.
by Virginia, Golden Valley
After Gerry and I were married and living in Launceston there was a transport strike. Supermarket shelves were bare. This was in the 1970s and straight away we thought, okay, we need to be a little more self-sufficient.
We decided to move out to the country. We only wanted five or ten acres but, being a single income family with four children at the time, we had to come as far as Golden Valley to be able to afford it. And so we’ve lived here since 1978.
The property had a little house—two bedrooms on 50 acres—and we couldn’t afford to do it up so we subdivided and built our own house. The only help we had was a few people with cement mixers laying the slab. We designed it and constructed it over a period of eight months with six children underfoot and Gerry working full time. Gerry is an electrical engineer and I’m a year 11-12 maths/science teacher, so we did walk into this with our eyes open!
We inherited two cows with the property, so we got into milking cows. We had chooks and ducks and geese and a pony, pigs too. We embraced the country way of life. Since 1978 we have had our own milk, and made our own cottage cheese, yoghurt, butter and bread. We’ve always grown our own vegetables, so much so that I’d count the metres of carrots that we’d need for the year. We have a small underground cold room that we dug out of the rock where we store our fruit, our apples, all year ‘round. We have bottles of fruit and we run a big fridge-freezer and two other freezers.
We have nine children and I started homeschooling in 1998. We were living out here where, all of a sudden, a tree would go down over a powerline and you’d lose power, sometimes for 48 hours. That is quite devastating when you’ve got a house full of people. Gerry has always been interested in alternative power and so we took the plunge and decided to get solar panels. It’s so windy here and not always sunny, so we also installed a backup wind generator. We have wood heating, cooking and hot water, and gas cooking as well.
Quite a few years before we even entertained the thought of solar we installed a standard, old fashioned windmill over our water bore. That’s been going for 20-something years and still provides some of our water.
We’re not super emotional people, so our energy decisions were always made on the basis of some kind of rationale. There had to be benefits and we weighed them against the costs. We also value our autonomy.
There is a price to be paid for the lifestyle we live. It is a lot of hard work. We have been ridiculed for that. We’ve been ridiculed for having so many children—we just happen to love kids, love educating them, we’re not religious at all in that regard. We’ve been ridiculed for living out here, we’ve been ridiculed for living off the grid. So we are looked upon as a bit of an oddity. But we love it! Our children too—they are all deeply interested in conservation and environmental issues. We wouldn’t change our lifestyle for anything! It’s meaningful to us.