Photography: NGO Field Stories & Habitat for Humanity Australia
Judith and Paul Collins are sustainable lifestyle educators who run a gardening school called Earthkeepers. For the past 50 years the pair have led a busy life full of self-sufficiency in harmony with nature in the pretty village of Buxton in NSW. From their home to garden and everything in between, all elements are environmentally friendly, providing them with a comfortable and liveable area to thrive and teach in.
On Thursday 19th December 2019, the Collins’ home was tragically destroyed by the Green Wattle Creek bushfires. Their property was left in ashes, sadly so were their animals, home and its contents, leaving behind only 7% of their land still intact. Thankfully, Judith and Paul managed to escape 50 metres from the fire front and have since returned to try and rebuild their livelihood.
We were introduced to Judith and Paul a few months ago after the bushfires, when we donated some product to help them start to restore their beautiful gardens. Last week I had the privilege to speak with Judith to ask about her and her husband’s story of self-sufficient and sustainable living, and life before and after the bushfires.
Judith and Paul attended their first climate change convention in 1969, which changed their lives forever. Before the bushfires, living on a 14-acre block, Judith and Paul’s home was built entirely from sustainable and recycled materials from over 60 homes across Sydney and country New South Wales. They have always found ways to make repairs to their personal belongings, reducing not only their living costs but their environmental impact too.
Having a positive attitude towards learning has helped Judith and Paul lead a very independent life. 40 solar panels had been installed around their property, each building featuring a pointed roof and a water tank, allowing them to collect rainwater. Judith and Paul’s veggie patch previously provided them with food year-round, complemented by their fruit and berry orchards plus a helping hand from a freeze-drier to ensure they could eat even when the harvest was not as abundant as anticipated. Living in Australia, the couple had to be creative when it came to finding a solution to natural elements such as heat, so they implemented things like creating a rainforest garden border. Judith and Paul’s lifestyle has been mastered to enable them to be approximately 83% self-sufficient. While getting to this point took them some time, it is something Judith and her husband are incredibly proud of and credit to remaining true to themselves and their beliefs.
Judith and Paul’s journey has taken them around Australia and overseas, sharing and learning more and more as the demand for information on a sustainable way of living intensified. As the Earthkeeper’s had a wealth of knowledge to share, they began to run their own educational courses at home. On the last Sunday of every month, their shed was open to the public for learning, immersing guests in their fascinating way of living. Their classes attracted people of all ages from all over the world, where participants were able to pick the brains of the Collins’ and be shown around the property. From growing herbs, fruits and vegetables to sourcing and cooking with vitamins and minerals provided by nature, Judith and Paul cover a broad variety of classes.
Judith and Paul consider teaching younger generations to be incredibly important. After many years of Paul speaking to alternate energy centres around the world, Judith writing books and articles, and both of them lecturing around the globe, they realised that while their efforts were good, it was time to focus on young people who really wanted to learn. The pair converted one of their old barns into a bunk house, which had three bedrooms and was fully equipped for guests. Young people from all over the world could stay and learn on the Earthkeepers’ property for three to six months free of charge. During their stay, aside from the daily chores that needed to be done, visitors would learn three core principles. One: how to learn smarter, not harder; two: how to create a routine, smarter not harder; and finally: how to make decisions that will save time, money and energy. Judith explains that this learning process is not simply about growing food for yourself, it is philosophy on how to be responsible and being well equipped to do so. These life lessons have been taught to individuals for over 15 years, and Judith and Paul are very proud of each and every one of their students, whose journeys they continue to follow.
With the property so badly damaged after the Australian Bushfires, the Earthkeepers were in desperate need of a helping hand to start the rebuilding process. At Hoselink, we donated some gardening tools and a Retractable Hose Reel to help Judith and Paul get back on their feet. When we spoke to Judith about how the products have helped her, she was incredibly grateful to have had the necessary tools to help her complete tasks like harvesting fruits she and Paul have managed to start growing since the fires. The donated hose has been in frequent use by Judith and Paul and their guests, and it is already hooked up to the rainwater system: ‘Investing in good quality products is something we teach all of our interns and students. Hoselink products are sensational, top quality and have been assisting us in maintaining our sustainable lifestyle,’ says Judith.
Thanks to other charities, grants, and donations, Judith and Paul have managed to gain and purchase a few necessities such as a shed for living in, a kitchen – which only cost $99, chickens, and a place to salvage what was left of the plant life. The rest they are looking forward to slowly rebuilding, fortunately, it’s an area they are both experienced in.
As devastated as they were, Judith and Paul were determined to start rebuilding their lives as soon as possible. Although there have been some delays in their home being built, they were more focused on getting back to helping others. Judith explains that what really hurt them both was not being able to provide for Anglicare and others in need. Every week, 60-80 eggs as well as leafy greens were being donated to feed the homeless. Judith also previously spent time at the local café teaching people in need how to make their food go further while still gaining essential vitamins and nutrients: ‘We may not have a house, but we are now back in full swing providing food for the homeless’,’ Judith smiles.
Giving back is something that she and Paul have always emphasised as essential to their students and interns: ‘If you work on the land and you take from the land, you have to give back.’
Judith and Paul’s way of living is inspiring to say the least, and we are grateful to have been able to speak to Judith and assist in some small way in getting her and Paul back on their feet. The couple look forward to being able to one day hold classes again, but in the meantime, Judith’s books are available for purchase via the Earthkeepers website here, or for more information on the Earthkeepers’ progress, visit their Facebook page here. Keep an eye out for Judith’s new book - Perspective from a Bushfire Refugee – coming soon!