What’s 5 foot 10, bald, wears gumboots, hangs from trees, has facial tattoos and scares our neighbours?

If you said this small thing it the red t-shirt, you’re close…


nah, this one’s about 3 foot 2


not very sunsmart, Dawn

Dawn, our scarecrow, that’s who.

We made this cool scarecrow using an old wetsuit, a bail of straw, some old gumbys and some gloves. We also had an old head lying around (who doesn’t) which the kids painted a while back.


See? not a bird in sight!
(and none of our friends seem to visit anymore…)

How to make her:

1. get a wetsuit, from the 2nd hand shop

2. get some gloves from your shed and some old boots/shoes

IMG_6890 IMG_6889

3. Before you stuff it with hay, put the boots and gloves on the wetsuit and stick some wire through them to hold them on.

4. Stuff it with hay

5. Get that old plastic head that’s sitting in your loungeroom (or you might find one at a 2nd hand shop, or there’s new polystyrene ones at Spotlight type shops, but they’re not particularly great for the environment when theyre worn out. You could probably make a cool (and less bleedin-scary) head from a balloon, or a balloon paper-mache crafty effort, or just a plastic bag filled with hay.). Stick it in the neck hole. We shoved a stick down the body for the head to sit on so it didn’t loll around.


she’s so beautiful… in a completely horrific kinda way

6. Hang her from the zip cord and wave goodbye to those pesky birds (and door-to-door salespeople to hopefully!)


Are you a gardening nerd? If you are interested in the best, cheapest (ie. free) GARDEN TIES for your garden, you are.


this tie is holding up one of our trombone zucchinis.


a bunch of ties


here’s the tree. Please tell me what it’s called!


The best garden ties available are from this tree. Its a palm-like tree, possibly in the pandanus family. Anyone who knows what species it is and lets me knows gets a prize. The prize is 100 amazing, biodegradable (they breakdown after about 6mnths-perfect for whatever you are tying), totally natural, strong, knottable, splittable (into 10 ties from one blade-like leaf), inconspicuous (looks natural in the garden) garden ties, that are in a constant stream from the tree in our front yard.

This particular tree is very common in Melbourne, so next time you are walking along the footpath, keep your eyes open and you might just see some lying on the ground. They are awesome!




An $8.39 quarterly power bill… But why are we using so little power?

Why are we using so little power???

Well lets take a look at our power usage first…


This is our smart-meter power monitor thingy that we got free from Origin the other week. It shows your power use for the moment, the day, the month, etc.

(CHOICE magazine has done a great review of how to choose the right solar system. Check it out here)

Here’s our latest power bill.


$8.29 – Not bad for 3 months!

Our power bills were about $100 a quarter. We got solar panels about 4 years ago. Now they are about $8 a quarter in the summer (maybe double that in the winter). So I reckon we have saved about $90 a quarter since we got them. Conservatively, that’s about $300 a year. That’s about $1200 over 4 years. That’s half of what it cost to install the panels ($2,500). So we should pay them off in about another 4 years. What other products do you buy that pays themselves off? Gotta love it.

And our’s isn’t even a big solar system. It’s probably the smallest you can get nowadays. It’s a 1kw system.

So why is our bill so teeny?

It seems we don’t seem to use much power.

The average Australian household uses 16.4 kilowatts per day in the summer. We are using about 7 kilowatts. We make about 2.5 kilowatts from our panels. So we buy about 4.5kw from origin a day.

Why are we using half the national average? Here’s 5 reasons why…

1. Well a big thing is we don’t have an air-conditioner. This means we experience between about 4-12 hot nights every year. We are pretty used to it and we don’t really care that much. Sometimes I sleep on the floor with the back doors open and its actually quite nice and reminds me of living in the tropics. Our two little kids are used to it too (they’ve never had an aircon I guess). This saves us about $162 a year (based on the average yearly output of a standard aircon in Australia) That is a lot of money for us and a few hot nights are worth it. This is not to mention the lower impact it has on the planet. But really, it’s a financial decision first and foremost. Over 10 years we will save $1,620. That’s airfares for a winter trip up north where we can actually chase the heat!

We have aircon at work and I love it on hot days. But as being a teacher, I feel justified chucking it on with 25 people in one room!

But at home, we just think that it is a luxury that we can’t afford…

2. Our house is pretty small by national standards (not world standards I’d be quick to point out). We live in a 2 bedroom house with 1 bathroom, a short hallway and a medium-sized open plan lounge. Less house means less power use. It’s easy to see things that are left on in a smaller house, and then turn them off. You own less appliances in a smaller house because there is less room to put them and you spend most of your time in 1 living area (so you don’t need say a few tvs scattered throughout the house, or fans for every room, or multiple sound systems, etc).

3. We turn off most things at the wall. The main culprits for standby power use are our tv, cordless phone, sound-system and microwave. The fridge obviously stays on permanently and is our biggest power user.

We got a cool gizmo free from the government a couple of years ago. looks like this:IMG_7151[1]

It turns anything off (“at the wall”)if you don’t use it for 10 minutes or so. You can turn everything back on with your remote so you don’t have to get up and switch on the power every time you want to listen to music or watch the tv. Its awesome. It must have saved us heaps over the last couple of years. It’s a bit mischievous at times (turns the tv off unexpectedly) but its a small price to pay for the power and money savings. Think you can still get them free from the government. Google it.

Did you know the average Aussie tv costs about $26 per year JUST ON STANDBY POWER! That’s just sitting there all day doing nothing. And that’s just the average. If you have a bigger tv then it’ll cost you more to just have it sitting there. And of course, the more you watch it, the more it’ll cost you.

Heres a breakdown of tv (and other appliance’s) standby costs.

Stand-by power consumption

The amount of energy used during stand-by could be up to 20 watts, depending on the type and model of appliance. Every one watt of stand-by will add approximately $2.63 to your annual energy bill if left on all the time.


Average energy use on standby

Typical running cost per year

Cordless phone

3 W



10 W


DVD player

8 W


Computer monitor

5 W


And here’s how much they’ll cost you to watch too!


Television Average quarterly energy use Typical quarterly running cost
Plasma (90cm – 110cm) 102 kWh – 265 kWh $30.60 – $79.50
Plasma (130cm – 165cm) 163 kWh – 447 kWh $48.90 – $134.10
LCD (50cm – 90cm) 25 kWh – 131 kWh $7.50 – $39.30
LCD (90cm – 183cm) 78 kWh – 320 kWh $23.40 – $96.00

all stats taken from the Australian Government Energy Regulator site.

4. We don’t own too much stuff. Ok, so we have a tv. But it’s just “a” tv, and we don’t watch it that much (unless the footy is on and the Demons happen to be winning). We have phones and a laptop but that’s about it for gizmos. No multiple ipads for the kids or video games… Our fridge, washing machine and dishwasher are all pretty energy-efficient models. We run the dishwasher at night (on off-peak power, which apparently saves a bucketload). We do have a water pump for the water tanks but it runs fairly irregularly.

But we do have 2 electric bikes that we use A LOT. But they don’t use a heap of power and only get charged about 2 times a week.

5. We try to be smart about heating and cooling.

Ways we keep the house warm are: a) passive solar heating: we have a bunch of north and west-facing windows and a west-facing back deck. This allows good sun inside in the winter and reduces our need for heating during the day, b) all windows have heavy, tight-fitting drapes that keep the warmth in, c) insulation: when we were renovating, we put heaps of insulation in the walls and ceiling. We put rugs down on our polished boards in the winter to insulate the floor. d) we put more clothes on in the winter. Yes we do wear puffer jackets inside!  It looks a bit crazy but it saves us a heap. It’s snuggly warm in a puffer…e) we have gas heating. This saves us power but is another non-renewable. I feel I should include it here as it does cut down our electrical power usage. But we use it as sparingly as we can. Before getting gas ducted heating, we had an electric bar heater. A $400 power bill made us change to gas pretty quickly.


this tall deciduous tree shades us in the summer but lets winter light thorough. Free aircon!

This tree is called a paulownia and it is a fantastic deciduous shade tree. I highly recommend it.

To stay cool we, a) open all the windows and doors when it is a cool day and a hot day is approaching. We leave them open at night too (with security grilles on them) to flush out the warm air. When the next hot day arrives we close the house up tight and try to keep the cool air in. b) we have shades over our north and west-facing windows and areas. This really keeps the temperature down on hot days. Shade is the cheapest and most reliable form of cooling.


here’s a little system I devised to shade the back deck. It just rolls out and back with ropes and pullies. Makes the back deck liveable.


photo taken on the same day with the shade pulled back. Very hot!

c) We’ve got windows that are directly opposing one another in most of our rooms and this can create good crossbreezes to flush hot air out. d) We have temperature gauges inside and outside our windows to tell us when it has become warmer or cooler inside or outside the house. Then we know when it is time to open or close windows to let the cool/heat in/out.

So I guess this is why we are paying less than $60 a year for our electricity. I suppose all these little strategies add up. It doesn’t really encroach onto our lifestyle too much (I still love watching the tv). Hopefully you might have some other things that you do to keep your bill down. Let me know- I’d love to get it down to $0 !

“ps. since writing this post I have become aware of the “buy-back prices of energy here in Melbourne. It seems that the power companies buy the solar power you generate. The price they pay you varies significantly. I believe we may be being paid 40c-80c per kilowatt (which is a good amount), however I think lots of people in Melbourne only receive 8c per kilowatt (a measly sum). Im going to do some research on this and let you know.