Well, they arrived.

Yes – the new arrivals are settling in as I write. They arrived, got unloaded with no dramas, said hello to the other two and off they went in search of food. Cost for two wethers, two pregnant females with babies was $3,600 delivered. Could be worse.

Woohoo… the Alpacas are coming!

I had a call last night from Harvey at Milpaca to say they are ready to deliver the animals I ordered way back at Easter! Longish story (again) but worth retelling for completeness as it’s not been covered anywhere else yet.

I think I might have mentioned already that the 5 acres is currently a  ‘hobby farm’ and so not producing any income. It’s likely to stay that way for some considerable time, but even so we figured we’d like to have animals around so starting looking for something suitable. I very quickly discovered that Alpacas were ideal. They are very gentle on the fragile Australian soils so cause little damage. They are *very* easy to look after since they rarely seek cover, or food supplements, or even regular veterinary checks. They don’t spread manure all over the place but choose a few favoured spots and use those to the exclusion of all others and are all in all very hardy animals. Their only vice is that they can… and do… spit if annoyed. :)

So when the Easter Show came around I went off to make enquiries and do some research. While there I met a couple of guys who run an Alpaca stud in the south of NSW and eventually ordered a few animals from them. We wanted two wethers (castrated males), and two pregnant females with babies. This we felt would give us a fighting chance of establishing a bit of a herd without costing us a fortune. I think we’re going to be paying around $3,000 but even at this late stage I’m still not exactly sure how much!

Whilst all this was going on I put a few feelers out to see if there were any other animals around that needed rehousing and got a call from Bossley Park High School that they needed to rehome theirs… so up came two free ones! They sent up a wether and a female which have been here for several weeks and seem comfortable enough so far.

That’s the state of play as of 9:00 today. I’m awaiting a call to say they are on their way and to find out exactly how much they’ll be costing us. It’s all quite exciting really!! :D

First steps.

The sellers wanted 3 months settlement time, which suited us because we needed to decorate our old house ready for sale so made good use of the time. In fact we were on the cusp of selling it just as the settlement date drew close and it was settled not long after we moved which was ideal.

It was after we arrived that the full extent of the problems we’d face renovating the property became more apparant. The previous owners had effectively gone bankrupt so they’d been unable or unwilling to do anything to the property that cost them money. Simple straightforward maintenance had been ignored and essential remedial tasks had just been ignored. I’m not going to pass on a catalogue of the problem areas we identified fairly early on but yes, they were ‘many and various’. One however bears mentioning.

We learned very quickly that the reason the dam smelled so bad was that the septic tank (situated directly above it) hadn’t been maintained. The system required a working pump for almost a year and the previous owners hadn’t had it repaired with the result that the ‘second tank’ was over flowing with untreated water. Our immediate task was to call in the experts, have the tank emptied and the pump repaired. It took nearly 6 months for nature to work on the surrounding ground and make it sweet smelling again, but it was a task well done.

So what was onsite?

I have to admit the place was a mess. Almost every room of every building was filled with ‘junk. So much so that we really couldn’t get a fair view of what was where. I could see damp patches on the ceilings of a few rooms,  and lots of small issues such as leaking taps, non-functioning motors for the spa bath etc… and that was just in the main house.

There was far more to the property of course other than ‘the main house’. There was a ‘barn’, a huge ‘shed’, an ‘office building’, a ‘granny flat’… and an entire second house!! There was also an empty swimming pool. Let’s discuss one by one, it might make it easier to understand both why we wanted the place and what we were up against when we bought it.

The ‘barn’ (we decided later) was actually an old ‘chicken shed’. The roof had all bar collapsed and the sides were clearly also on their way. The agent told us the best bet was to demolish it and rebuild.

The ‘shed’ was leaning at a crazy 30º angle and seemed in danger of falling at any minute. It was also filled with an assortment of odd boxes, pieces of wood and unidentifiable materials. Again the agent told us the best bet was to demolish it and rebuild.

The office building was also crammed with junk, but clearly had potential. It has a reception area, a fair sized office room and a ‘workspace’ large enough to hold several staff in comfort. It had built in cupboards and a ‘kitchen area’. The externals left a lot to be desired so required a lot of work to bring up to a good standard, tho nowhere near as much as the other two outbuildings.

The ‘granny flat’ was a surprise. It was occupied by the son of the family so was in good repair but it was it’s size that we didn’t expect. It had a kitchen/diner/study area, a double bedroom and a large lounge room with a toilet/bathroom/laundry room. More surprises were in store, but they came much later.

We were told the swimming pool was in good working order but needed a coat of paint to make it ‘pretty’ again. We were told the reason it was empty was because council regulations regarding the fencing meant it couldn’t be used and until the fencing was repaired the pool had to remain empty. We’ve had dealings with that part of the council before so it seemed authentic. Later we discovered they’d been a little economical with the truth but that’s for a later post.

The additional house was the *original* house and the ‘new’ one was added after the property had been sold a couple of times, but nobody wanted to remove it because, let’s face it, it was useful where it was and would cost a lot to remove.

That pretty much covers the buildings.

The ‘garden’? Well pretty much most was unkempt grass, with an area at the bottom (it slopes away from the house) that is a ‘bush area’… about a quarter of an acre. Some of the ground has trees on it which makes it all bar unusable because the local council refuses to allow felling for any trees other than those deemed dangerous. This bush area was filled with Lantana, a noxious weed plant covered in vicious thorns but which burns beautifully when chopped down. However it’s hell to eradicate.

Oh yes – there’s also a dam. When we arrived it was surrounded by a fence which had become overgrown with weeds and the whole are stunk to high heaven… more on that later as well.

So that’s pretty much what we saw when we arrived, and yet with all the quite clear and obvious problems it presented I fell in love with it at first sight. When I tell people we found it online at 8:00 a.m., visited it at 10:00 a.m. and signed the contracts the same day at 11:50 a.m. they think we were insane. It’s not perfect by any means but I feel that good about the place I think it’s where I was *meant* to live and despite a year dealing with the problems it’s thrown at us, I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to find it, let alone move in and call it home.

The search.

So I looked… and looked… and looked realising very quickly that ‘Google is Your Friend’ wasn’t just a slogan. Armed with the blurbs from Real Estate Agents and Google Maps I was able to work my way through a myriad of possible con tenders, none of which were ‘quite right’. We visited a few ‘potentials’ in person but even when my wife and kids were enthusing I held back because, again, nothing felt quite right.

One weekend we were preparing to visit yet another couple of properties and whilst everyone was getting ready I found myself chatting to my father in the UK via Skype. As we chatted I carried on browsing and found myself looking at a ‘new listing’ on the site of Rance Blamey a local Real Estate Agent. The specifications looked reasonable so we added it to the list. In fact it went to the top of the list because their ‘Open House’ was starting at 10:00 a.m.

We arrived, looked up the driveway. It was a corner block so we walked around the property to look from the side then went in to check out the house etc.

I walked in through the front door, looked at the dining room and lounge room and as I walked up the stairs I turned to the Andrew Blamey, the agent, and told him I wanted it. He seemed a bit shocked and told me to at least wait until I’d seen the rest of the place before making any decisions. Sorry but my mind was made up even before we viewed the rest of what was on offer.

The requirements of the ‘new’ house.

With permission to look for a new home finally granted (as the breadwinner the wife holds the purse strings) I started making lists of features the new place should have. To begin with the new place had to be within fairly easy reach of public transport. The wife works in Sydney so needed to be able to catch a train or bus into the centre and park her car nearby. We still have two children in school so not disrupting their education was another important consideration. Then we needed to add in the practicalities of what I really wanted.

To begin with I wanted acreage… 5 acres minimum. I’ve always wanted ‘space’ around me. I love gardening and like animals so the space needed to be usable but not necessarily to the point of being prime agricultural land. The new place needed to be near ‘bush’ to make sure we had some wildlife around us, but not to the extent that the block was covered in trees. The other requirement was that the new house had outbuildings. I’ve collected a *lot* of junk through the years and it takes up a lot of space. In fact, our double garage in the old house was filled floor to ceiling with books, tools, etc so this was a ‘must have’. If those features were met, there was little else important. Even the style, age and size of the house we were looking for was highly flexible. As long as it had 4 bedrooms it would do.

The self imposed restrictions meant our search was carried out in a 10 – 15 kilometre circle centered around the small town of Dural, which was close to the children’s school.

The ‘old’ house.

Around 15 years ago the wife and I bought a 700 sq metre block (and an oddly shaped block at that) in a suburb called Rouse Hill which was a greenfield development around 40 minutes or so from Sydney CBD. On this block we built a huge house of the type known around Sydney as a McMansion because of it’s size and location.

We modified it to suit our needs, as far as possible, even adding a swimming pool but essentially as we changed, our needs changed. To be honest, even though we lived in the house for such a long time and despite it being to a design we chose I was never really happy in it, even though everyone else was. The result was that after several years of nagging, the wife agreed we could afford to move and I started looking for an ‘ideal home’.

Where to start.

Where to start writing about the farm is a task in itself. Do I ramble a little about the old house? Do I witter on about why we wanted to move? Or do I just dive in and write up whatever comes to mind as I go?

On balance I think a mix will have to do or I’ll spend hours just trying to work out the ‘best’ way forward and never move on aw all.

On your marks…

Hi everybody. This is the first post of the new blog called ‘Green Acres’. In here I’m hoping to create a record of our ‘daily doings’ as we spend our days working on and around our small ‘hobby farm’. Where possible (i.e. when I work out how) I’ll be adding photos to make a visual record of the changes we hope to make. It’s also intended to be a history and/or working record of our mistakes which might help other people avoid making the same ones in future… tho I admit this is unlikely.

I’m not sure exactly how to blend in the events of the past year but I think I’ll probably just write short ‘histories’ of what we’ve been up to interspersed with what we’re doing currently so please bear with me if you’ve already seen or heard these stories before. :)

I’m also likely to diverge drastically from the ‘hobby farm’ discussion into wildly different areas, such as politics or cooking so agai, please bear with me. Blogs are often very personal affairs so they can be a tad idiosyncratic in style and content.

Anyway, as the title says… on your marks… get set… let’s go!