Buying a rural block

We found that buying in rural NSW was a pretty big change from buying a house in town. There a few things to look out for, and some of them are more important than what the house looks like, or whether there’s a DLUG or induction cooktops or fancy power outlets. Of all the things to consider, access is usually the first hurdle because if you buy a property, you probably want to be able to get there. Zoning would be the second and both of these can be checked online if you're happy to do some backyard conveyancing.

Access

There is land for sale all over the place and some of it has no legal access. We found an incredible block early on, we even spent a couple of weekends there with friends but after talking to the neighbours and conducting title searches we found that there was no way of legally accessing the land. It was too bad because the block is incredible, rising up to 1500m (that’s just under 5000 American) but it was a bit too far away to be any more than a weekender. So sure, physical access is usually possible through neighbourly gentlemen’s agreements but when ownership changes or the neighbourly relationship take a turn you’re out of luck if there’s no established legal access.

There are at least two main ways, and one theoretical way to access land. I’ll cover the theoretical bit last.

Council roads

Council roads are public roads that anyone with a corflakes card and a barina can drive on. They can be dirt or sealed. Access via a council road is the most convenient and well defined form of access. It’s great because you don’t have to maintain the road, the council does and there’s no uncertainty about how you get to your block.

In the areas we were looking this kind of access generally lead to former sheep country that had been subdivided into 100 acre lots.  The blocks often had big houses on flat land with few trees. Access was easy to establish but the prices were high and the topo was mundane.

Easements

An easement is a right of passage or use that a person has over someone else’s land. Through easements you can cross another person’s land to access your own. In NSW easements are listed on land titles and registered with Land and Property Information. There’s a good overview of easements here.

To establish legal access, your lot will need to be benefited by easements over each lot you need to cross to get to it. To check this, your conveyancer will need to pull the titles for each lot and check there’s an easement that benefits your land. If you’re keen you can do this too using  SIX Maps to identify the lot and DP (Development Plan) number of the lots you need access through. Then, you can do a land title search through one of the LPI’s information brokers.

Easements are a common and practical way to access rural land. There are limits today on how many easements can be in place to access land, but back in the day there was no limit so it’s not uncommon to cross 5 or more other lots.

Crown land, road reserves or paper roads

Theoretical roads. These exist on maps. Some of them have been surveyed with the future of flying cars in mind and they can traverse cliffs like they’re as flat as croquet lawn. They’ll abruptly end in the middle of the bush and then appear on the map a kilometer (0.62 American) later. In other words, they often don’t really provide practical access to the land.

Land use zones

Another critical factor. Councils make the rules when it comes to what you can and can’t do on a particular block of land. There are a range of zones that will be detailed in a Local Environment Plan for your area available on the local council’s website or www.legislation.nsw.gov.au. You’ll need to check the zone land is in, and the restrictions and types of development that are permissible in that zone. Some restrictions may also be on the land title. Restrictions for environmental zones can include things like not destroying, moving or burning timber either fallen or standing, so it’s definitely worth checking the zone if you’re relying on building anything or a supply of firewood.

Who to talk to

Agents and owners are not reliable sources of information on this so it pays to do a bit of fact checking yourself. This will also mean you’re more informed during discussions with your conveyancer if it looks like a deal. When it comes to conveyancers, choose someone local with experience in the area and contacts in the local council. There are intricacies in every council’s rules and confusing old system and torrens titles numbering for blocks and lot numbers. Conveyancing rural land can to be more complicated than urban work, so finding the right conveyancer is worth a few phone calls. The neighbours and others in the community will also be helpful, so knock on some doors or go have dinner at the local pub on a Friday night.

There’s a lot more in this but it’s Christmas party season and there's revelry to attend to. Leave a comment if you want to share your experience.

- Adam

 

 

BRE - Before Rollick Era

 

Hi, I'm Miss C. Partner in this rollicking adventure. 

I guess that Adam and I always had a predisposition to this whole living in a rural location caper. Upon his move to Canberra around 2009, our weekends were filled with parties and indulgence, but somehow no sooner were our bleary eyes adjusting to the harsh light of a Sunday morning, we were piling into the deathstar,* hurtling down Brindabella rd and before you could say, ‘Holy hangover Batman!’ we’d be halfway up Mt Gingera, among the snowgums and the tufty alpine grass. This was the place we loved to be, high on a mountain, being blasted by the alpine air, watching the clouds make shadows on the landscape below.

I distinctly remember the moment I realised that I just felt different having reached a certain elevation above sea level. I was driving to Mt Hotham to pick up Adam after a particularly formative walk from Walhalla. I had been listening the the Eels and Bob Dylan at volume and winding my way up to my destination, and at a particularly sharp hairpin turn I caught a glimpse of Mt Feathertop and the positively eye watering topography that surrounds it. It took serious effort to watch the road. We’d always loved bushwalking, especially around the tree line where the snowgums morph into twisted gigantic bonsai. And that was the moment it clicked.

Snow Gum, Mt Gingerra

Snow Gum, Mt Gingerra

We have since been lucky enough to spend multiple trips touring the high country, exploring interesting tracks and places of sublime beauty. Most recently we were at Mt Lovicks (probably the most beautiful of them all) where we decided we’d either have to never leave or find our own freaking mountain.

These adventures and the others that followed could have been enough to keep us happy had our home been a more peaceful place to inhabit. But after a year and a half of arriving at a home that was no longer a place we’d chose to be, and having no control over how long this would continue, the urge to jettison ourselves from the situation became overwhelming and the point at which we could exist happily in suburbia passed.

This may seem like a strange conclusion to arrive at. The making of satisfying decisions is not purely a rational process, especially when it comes to decisions like where you live. Now that we're about to embark on this move, I can explain it thusly: while our current house is really small, too small to have a dining table - it was a great place to live while we were making it better and changing it so that it worked better for us. Enter deck and shedstension. When we were no longer able to make changes to our place, it became an uninspiring place to be. We just felt kind of stagnant. Us humans can exist in all sorts of situations, but  this sense of working towards something and improving your lot is something that seems to drive us no matter where we are.

So the decision to buy rollick farm was arrived at. I think the main drawcard for us is that it will require work. We want to be in a place we have made our own, with our ideas and our hands. It has enough of what we need to be comfortable: the two bedroom cottage is cute enough for me, and functional enough for both of us as well as a shed that’s maybe twice the size of our current house for Adam.

Big fire in a small backyard

Big fire in a small backyard

There’s enough cleared land to be able to grow all the walnut trees my heart desires, and the mountain range to the rear of the house has the topography and nature that provides us with our own version of national park, for mountain bike trails and hunting. Most importantly, there are snowgums, boulders and tufty alpine grass at 1350 metres above sea level. Yes, that means we’ll get snow up the back in winter, on our own mountain [drool].

As well as having the bones of the things we want, it’s also enough of a blank canvas to provide us project after project. In the first two weeks, we hope to have added filters and a pump to the house water supply, replaced a missing door on the shed, replaced the asbestos rope seal on the wood stove, painted the two bedrooms, among others.

Within the next 6 months or so, we’ll have hopefully sorted out shelving or storage for the living room and spare bedroom, built a bench height dining table, an outdoor kitchen and replaced the inside kitchen as well as done enough soil improvement and observation to start setting up the gardens so that they’ll one day be a permaculture paradise.

Yeah, I know, aren’t we the optimists? But it’s the most exciting thing to go from having no projects to as many as we can think of.

*the adventure starlet, which has seen more dirt than your average SUV.

- Miss C. 

Intro

 

Welcome to rollick farm. Come in, sit down, pour yourself a glass and pass me that bottle. This will take a while and there’ll be all three types of fun.

In June 2016 this text rendered to you in pixels and photons is the most tangible Rollick Farm has ever been. For a long time now it was a thought entertained in idle time, a ‘what if’ shared on Sunday mornings. Then slowly and with tectonic pressure the wisps and vapours coalesced into something we looked forward to and worked towards.

To know how this presently intangible farm came to achieve even this previously unlikely status we’ll need to see where it’s come from and like many good things, it came from a dark time.

The Dark Time

The dark time wasn’t really that dark in the world’s broad and varied spectrum of shitty things, but it brought the weight of uncertainty to bear on us for a displeasurable length of time. Back in January 2012 we purchased a little townhouse in Canberra’s lentil belt, the 2602 inner north area. It was double brick, very basic but close to a good local and it had the potential to function for us with some work put in on the weekends. We built a deck ourselves in the the tiny backyard, planted hops and veggies and put a wall on the carport to make a small shed and workshop. That’s about as far as we got before we received a letter informing us the the house had loose fill amosite asbestos insulation, also known as Mr Fluffy, probably installed sometime in the 70s.

Before we bought the place we had checked the building file and the ceiling space for signs of the Mr Fluffy remediation in 1988 and it was all clear.  So we contacted the Asbestos Taskforce and the ACT Lands and Planning Authority to find out what was going on, surely this was a mistake.

And it was, Mr Fluffy had never been installed in our roof and our house was not actually on the ‘Affected Houses’ register. The letter was incorrect but put away the champagne because the place next door, which we shared a wall and roof with, had once had the deadly fibres in it like stuffing in a paddington bear. Most of it had apparently been removed in the 1988 remediation by two guys in safety thongs smoking durries and flicking their mullets. As it turns out they missed a few billion fibers, some of which found their way into our side of the roof.

It took a year for an asbestos inspection to confirm the contamination. We were then an ‘impacted property’. Because asbestos was not actually installed in our roof directly we were ineligible to be part of the ‘affected property’ buyback scheme. Semantics with great effects. We had to wait for the ACT Government to make a policy for impacted properties. That took two years.

We couldn’t access our roof space because of the asbestos and initially that wasn’t a big deal. But then our gas heater broke. The unit is in the roof and now we’re into our third winter using an electric column heater.

Rats from the empty properties next door that were long ago purchased by the Asbestos Taskforce found their way into our roof. There was not much we could do but listen to them scratching around up there all night, making their nest for winter over the warm room with the column heater – the bedroom.

The Asbestos Taskforce was and is dealing with over a thousand properties that had loose fill asbestos installed as roof insulation while Canberra was governed by the Commonwealth. People who purchase houses generally sign a contract accepting the house as it is, contamination and all. So, the the Government could have left this up to the owners of the now worthless Mr Fluffy properties to sort out.  They didn’t do that, they stepped in to help people out and for that we’re grateful but along the way we learned that a bureaucracy is not for people.

The Farm

The scale of farming in Australia is literally bigger than Texas. A farm can be anything from a few hundred hectares to Anna Creek Station, the largest station in the world at 24,000 km2.  

Rollick Farm is not one of these farms. It will not produce a reliable income from traditional primary production and will not require a gyrocopter expedition to muster its livestock. At the Doodle Cooma Arms Hotel in Henty or the Shamrock Hotel in Balranald it would not be considered a farm at all.

The land would be described by a real estate agent as a lifestyle block, which is kind of like calling wingsuiting a hobby.

Rollick Farm is a bit over 500 acres of crinkly topography that ascends from the Murrumbidgee River through ridges and gullies to a mountain at 1350m above sea level. It’s 3km as the crow flies from front to back with around 1100m to cover if you’re walking. 

There’s room for 20km of mountain bike single track, a 600m rifle range, five hounds to patrol the boundaries, a few rows of beer hops and a productive garden. None of this is there now, so there’s really just the potential for significant but discretionary manual labour.

The Mission

With a big and diverse place there’s always the tendency for efforts to be divided among many half completed pursuits. Like a labrador in a butcher’s shop licking every prime cut and leaving with an empty belly. And there’s a reason not everyone lives out of town. Actually, there’s a lot of reasons: It’s isolated, commuting is arduous, the weather will have an inordinate impact on your existence. It’s not an easy life, but really, it’s not that hard either.  

This blog is for us, to keep our objectives clear when the fun is type 3 and to help us remember why we jettisoned ourselves from the lentil belt to a cottage and a shed in the snowy mountains region. There’s no Mount Majura, Ainslie IGA and Old Canberra Inn, but we know there’ll be other pleasures to discover.

We’re doing this because wanted to be more than the opportunities presented to us in the absurd situation we were in. The mission is to get out of town and make the connection between us and the world more immediate; to undo the life mechanical.

- Adam