Posted in Australia, renting

The rental situation – an update

Breaking my blogging silence to let off some steam…
I just had an extremely distressing social media discussion with a landlord friend of a friend who argued about the profit and loss of landlords until I bowed out of the discussion. The man was completely detached and apparently devoid any emotion regarding the people he evicted in order to keep his profit margins high.

The rental situation here is getting worse and worse. I am faced with the prospect of renting a tiny inner city place (one doesn’t even have a stove) or moving a long way out to rent houses that look utterly lovely online – just 5 hours drive from family. I am going to look at an inner city rental tomorrow and will have a clearer idea of just which direction I want to head in after that.

Meanwhile I look out my kitchen window and see two houses that are only occupied for a few weekends a year –

ABC News Homepage

Australia’s ‘1 million empty homes’ and why they’re vacant – they’re not a simple solution to housing need

The Conversation

By Emma Baker, Andrew Beer and Marcus Blake

Posted 3h ago3 hours ago

A drone shot of The Perth CBD and surrounding areas with Mount Lawley and Highgate in the foreground.
Are the empty houses scattered around our cities the solution to the housing problem?(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

The recent release of 2021 Census data revealed a shocking “one million homes were unoccupied”.

This statistic sent housing commentators, government agencies and policymakers into a spin. At a time of significant housing shortages, this extra million homes would surely make a big difference. They could provide housing for some homeless, ease the rental affordability crisis, and get first-home owners into their first home.

There has been a great deal of speculation about how this has happened. Has it been caused by overseas millionaires buying up housing and leaving it as an empty investment? Is it Airbnb taking up homes that could be used for families? Or are cashed-up Gen-Xers double-consuming by living in one house while renovating another?

So, why were 1,043,776 dwellings empty on census night?

In fact, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

First, it’s not a new phenomenon. When we compare 2021 with previous censuses, a slightly smaller percentage of our private dwelling stock was classified as unoccupied — just under 10 per cent, compared with nearly 11 per cent at the previous census in 2016.

Since the release of the data, many journalists have pointed to this startling number of empty homes, portraying them as abandoned or left empty. There is almost certainly a much more ordinary and less startling story to tell. We suspect there are three main explanations.

A big part of the story is how the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) determines whether a dwelling is occupied or not. In short, it does its best by using a variety of methods, but, for the majority of dwellings, occupancy “is determined by the returned census form”. If a form was not returned, and the ABS had no further information, the dwelling was often deemed to be unoccupied.

This is important to our interpretation of the empty homes story. At any one time, lots of things are going on in the housing market, and most of it is a long way from abandoned or empty.

For example, 647,000 dwellings were sold in 2021. This means many thousands of dwellings were unoccupied on census night because they were up for sale or awaiting transfer.

The second and perhaps most important contributor to the empty homes story is holiday homes. Estimates vary, but we know 2 million Australians own one or more properties other than their own home. It’s estimated up to 346,581 of these properties may be listed on just one rental platform, Airbnb.

It’s part of the census design to pick a night of the year when the most Australians are at home. If you think back to Tuesday, August 10 2021, it was a Tuesday night in mid-winter, so many of Australia’s holiday homes would have been empty — and counted as unoccupied.

Where are these unoccupied dwellings located?

If we map the distribution of unoccupied dwellings across Australia, two things stand out.

Firstly, unoccupied dwellings tend to be concentrated in sea-change and inner-city holiday spots, such as Victor Harbor in South Australia (as the map below shows) , Lorne in Victoria and Batemans Bay in New South Wales. This reinforces the holiday homes explanation.

And SA map showing lots of orange along the coast, showing unoccupied homes 
Coastal holiday spots in SA have more unoccupied housing. Note: Local areas correspond to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ SA1 geographical areas with populations of 200-800 people. (Supplied: Authors)

It’s also striking how few unoccupied homes are in our major cities. Sydney is a great example. The map below shows a very uniform absence of unused housing across the whole metropolitan area.

a map of sydney mostly in grey, showing few unoccupied houses, but with six orange hot spots in the outer suburbs
Sydney has comparatively few unoccupied dwellings. Note: Local areas correspond to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ SA1 geographical areas with populations of 200-800 people. Author provided(Supplied: Authors)

You can search an the interactive map here to see how many homes were classified as unoccupied in your local area.

So should we worry about the ‘million unoccupied homes’?

Yes and no. An unknown proportion in that million are not empty, just assumed to be vacant because a census form wasn’t returned. We should regard this as a systematic error in the counting process. No doubt the ABS will be aiming to reduce this in future censuses.

Some of that million are genuinely vacant due to the way the housing market works. This includes, for example, the sales process and the need for vacant possession.

Yet, even if there are substantially fewer than a million vacant dwellings, the reality is that there are too many ways homes in Australia can be left unoccupied for weeks, months, years — and it’s costing all of us. Those who are homeless are paying the highest price. But the rest of us feel the pain through higher rents, increased rates to pay for infrastructure constructed for housing that isn’t occupied, and greater difficulties in getting into the housing market.

We need to find ways to ensure houses are full of people, not left empty as owners wait for investment opportunities to mature, or for absentee owners to go on holiday.

We know there are solutions out there. Removing caps on council rates and treating short-term rentals as commercial properties essential to the tourism industry are just two ways we can get better occupancy of our stock. We just need to find the will to implement them.

Emma Baker is Professor of Housing Research, University of Adelaide; Andrew Beer is Executive Dean, UniSA Business, University of South Australia and Marcus Blake is Senior Data Scientist and Manager, Australian Geospatial Health Laboratory, University of Canberra. This piece first appeared on The Conversation.

Posted in art, Australia

To the outback – in a taxi

Reading an art magazine I came a brief paragraph about a little known Australian woman artist, Violet Teague (1972-1951) who once took a taxi from an outer Melbourne suburb to central Australia. Intrigued, I did an internet search to find out more about her. The more I read, the more interested I became.

Born into a wealthy Melbourne family Violet was educated by a French governess then, later, at a private girl’s school. In the 1890s she travelled to Europe where she visited the art galleries and studied art in Belgium and England. Returning to Melbourne in the early 1900s she established herself portrait painter of international renown. She also co-created a book of woodcuts and haiku style verses with another woman artist. This book is now considered to be the first Australian artist book.

The story of how she came to take a taxi to outback Australia is particularly fascinating. During a prolonged drought in central Australia 1920s the pastor of the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission wanted to pipe good drinking water to the mission from a spring 7km away. Neither the church or the government would help him. In 1932 the Melbourne artist Jessie Traill visited Hermannsburg with Violet’s sister, Una. When they returned to Melbourne and told Violet how aboriginal people around the mission were dying because of the drought she became determined to do something.

Hiring a Studebaker taxi and driver Violet and her sister Una journeyed to the mission, nearly 2,500 km away from their home. Camping along the way, Violet painted delicate watercolours of the country they passed through.

Central Australian Sunset – image found –

When she returned to Melbourne Violet sold her paintings and other works donated by the Victorian Artist Society. She also set up newspaper appeals and was able to raise enough money to pay for the pipe line.  Aboriginal men dug the trench to the spring by hand and in 1935 fresh water was piped into the mission. 

It is in her paintings of the wild ocean coastline of Victoria that Violet Teague’s strength of character and indomitable spirit finds visual expression. She is an artist that deserves to be better known.

Schank Lighthouse – image found

Posted in Australia, Climate Change, photography, poetry

Call of the Wild

On TV a man asks
is capitalism a parasitic culture?
Will we ever change our ways?

At the beach the gulls screech.
They wheel across the sky then,
out of the coastal scrub,
a white sea hawk flies.
Harried by the swooping gulls
it sounds one wild resonant cry.

Unconcerned and unmoving
a cormorant dries its wings
atop a pole of the old jetty.
Long disused the timbers stretch into the bay.
All that’s left of a bygone age
before the roads were built hereabouts
and all commerce went by ship.

Will the human parasites destroy their host?
Will the seabirds perch on ruined shopping malls?
Will we ever change our ways?


Posted in Australia, poetry, spirituality

Out of the Blue

The aboriginal creator being in this part of Australia is a spirit being named Bunjil. In a Dreamtime story he is said to have created a rainbow bridge for some of the Wauthurong aboriginal tribe to cross the wide bay (now called Port Phillip Bay) and come and live on this peninsula.

Dreaming for eons
the people lived beside the wide blue bay,
tending the land, tending the spirits.
Growing yams, wearing possum skin cloaks,
firestick farming the grasslands,
they sung up the spirit dreaming lines
from deep within the Earth.

Out of the blue,
some one hundred and fifty years ago,
white men sailed into the bay.
White sails billowing on tall ships
they bought white flour and white sugar.
Measles and smallpox too.
Fluffy white sheep soon followed.
Grazing, they destroyed the yams.
Disrupted, the dreaming lines fell silent.

Near where the rainbow bridge is said to have come to shore there is a plaque commemorating the white landing. Yesterday, atop a tall pole a pelican sat, silent and still. The bay stretched beyond it, blue and calm. Far off on the horizon the towers of the city of Melbourne hovered. Obscured by distance they appeared illusory, insubstantial.

Untethered and ungrounded
in these uncertain times
I hover somewhere
between the dreaming and the now.

In the wild stillness,
outside of linear time
yet bound by it
– the coastal development,
the rising cost of living –
I seek the rainbow bridge.

linked to:

Posted in Australia, Climate Change, Fiction, Haiku, Planetary renewal, The Journey

The new greening

A bird’s egg blue sky,
yesterday’s puddles shimmer
in the winter sun.

Clouds blow off the sea,
more rain on the horizon
summer and winter.

The wet summer weather we experienced in eastern Australia the past wo years is due to the slowing of ocean currents caused by melting polar ice. As freshwater pours into the ocean it reduces the saltiness of the water. This means heavy salt water does not sink down and drive the ocean currents in the higher latitudes. One consequence of this is that La Nina weather patterns form in the Pacific ocean over the southern summer months. This brings a lot of rain to eastern Australia.

Here in the garden
the annual flowers flourish
– blooms two seasons now.

La Nina is only one factor affecting the climate across large tracts of Australia. In recent years we have experienced more rain than usual coming to us from the west. I have heard this is because of disturbances to the currents in the Indian Ocean. I saw on last night’s weather report that Alice Springs (in central Australia) and Melbourne (in the south east) are experiencing similar weather today. It is raining in both places and both are expecting a top temperature of just 14C.

Out in the desert
even in the dry season
rain clouds streak the sky.

Years ago I read a strange visionary book where a guy was taken into the future by a spirit guide. At one point they visited a future version of Alice Springs. There they saw the greening of the desert and a new community of people cultivating the land. Maybe this vision will come to pass.

In my eco-novel The Journey (link in sidebar) Terran, the main female protagonist, is taken to a university town in an old coal mining district in the mountains. There the people have adapted to the very wet conditions climate change has bought to their region:-

Terran followed Amara out into the rain slicked streets of Saranath. Once again it seemed she had arrived at a place that defied her expectations.  All around her people in dark clothing hurried past the tall shadowy buildings, the mountains a dark backdrop behind them. Strangely, the nearer slopes were spanned by row after row of low white walls that gleamed in the dim light. Peering through the mist Terran realised they were the retaining walls of wide terraces crammed full of emerald green food crops. ‘So many terraces,’ she said in wonder. 

‘Yes, Saranath is known for its terraces,’  Amara said.  ‘We’re academics here,’ she grinned.  ‘Years ago when the global supply chains broke down and climate change was looking like a climate catastrophe, our forebears turned to their books and academic papers.  Researching traditional societies they read about the way the ancient Incas had terraced the steep slopes of the Andes. Someone came up with the idea of doing something similar here by making the retaining walls out of defunct wind turbines. The blades and towers were dismantled and manoeuvred into position.  Rubble from the mine slag heaps was used to hold them in position.’   She made a sweeping gesture towards the more distant hills. ‘The idea worked and over time we have created terraces across the surrounding hills. Not only do they create microclimates where we can grow a diverse range of crops, they protect us from landslides and slow excessive water runoff during the deluges caused by climate change. We are then able to channel it into disused mine shafts and tunnels where we use it to produce hydro-electricity.

prompt: Your challenge: In the middle of all that is dark, and disheartening, and seemingly insurmountable, let’s send some poems infused with green to Mother Earth, to let her know she’s not alone, and that we see her blooming.

Posted in Australia, photography

A walk in the nature reserve


An online friend, Manja posted some photos of an Australian native tree growing near her house in Italy. The post caught me by surprise for I see one of these trees every day. It grows right outside my kitchen window. The flowers are finishing right now but the photo below was taken one morning during summer.

Rainbow lorikeet in the bottlebrush

There are many varieties of bottlebrush across Australia but this particular variety is indigenous to the area I live in. Peering through the thicket of trees on my fence line I can just make out one bottlebrush flower still blooming on a tree in the neighbour’s yard.

After a blogging chat with Manja I decided to go to the local nature reserve and see if I could find any bottlebrush still flowering in the bush. It was a misty, late autumn day here today and the bush in the reserve was in a secretive mood. I couldn’t find any bottlebrush flowers hiding in the shadows but my half hour walk did present me with some other bush beauties.

Posted in Australia, photography, poetry

Frog songs

I’m busy this week so my poem in response to this week’s Earthweal challenge – ‘witness to a magnitude’ – is, perversely perhaps, a simple one –

Reflections in the wetlands

A sense of dread
watching the News
then overwhelm –
the end of days is upon us

here, there and everywhere
chaos, mayhem, even madness.
I look closer to home –
people falling apart and

others struggling on,
coping as best they can,
holding up the frail,
guiding those slipping behind.

Alone in my little house
I do a Marie Kondo.
Discarding old outworn things
I open a space for the new.

Going for a walk
I find a moment’s solace,
the breeze in the treetops,
the birds singing and the frogs

bopping in the mud
in unison, a kind of frog song
plays at the wetlands –
pobblebonk, pobblebonk.

With a frog as a totem
cleansing, clearing the mind,
freeing the heart of darkness,
the dance of life goes on.

Youtube video of the Banjo Frogs calling (pobblebonk frogs) by Wild Ambiance – the main bird calls you can hear in the video are the Australian magpie

Youtube video by Wild Ambiance

Where I often sit at the wetlands

Posted in Australia, Climate Change, Haiku, poetry

Spirits of this place

Hiding away from the spirit of progress,
fleeing the bulldozers ripping away the holiday spirit
(old weatherboard houses nestled in the scrub
lazy summer days walking barefoot in the sand)
the ancient spirits hover in remnant bushland,
fenced off, enclosed and hard to access,
(sweet and feminine beside the blue bays,
fae pranksters in the Moonah trees
wise old grandmothers whirling in the grass trees).

Spewing out of the cities
in a rush and roar of conquest
come urban escapees in SUVs.
Cranes line the cliff tops
postmodern pastiches proliferate,
simulacra of the McMansions
the urban escapees spewed out of.

Retreat with us, the old spirits whisper.
Come away with us now
deep into this ancient land.
Feel the strength of it
in distances stretching
on and on into something other.

My heart longs to ride out on the wind
but no, today is not the day
when I take to the roads again.
One day I will let the spirits
carry me out into the soul lands
but now, contained and restricted,
I tramp down a muddy track
to sit where the grass trees grow.

A moment’s reprieve
just as I hear the spirits whispering,
a jogger in lycra pounds by then
an avid birdwatcher dripping cameras
appears. My connection shatters.

Back home in my garden hideaway
the old ash tree loses its autumn leaves.
A species from another land
finding a place here in Oz
bringing in archetypal energies
– the ash tree as the Tree of Life.

The traffic on the highway roars,
the construction next door deafens yet
every night now when they sleep, I hear
the Southern Ocean snarling at the shore.
Behind the postmodern pastiches,
the simulacra of the progress spirit,
another spirit gathers force.
Inexorable and undeniable,
the world shifts on its axis.
The spirit of climate change
gathers momentum.

Moonah trees behind a fence blocking an old track to the shore

For this week’s challenge, write about the spirit(s) of place where you live and have your being in. What is the biological description of your home? How does living in a biogregion change the contours and boundaries of your day? In what places is the spirit of place most resonant for you, and where it is most faint? What is the deep voice of assurance it offers? Can it be channeled in an earth poem? And how do we carry the spirit of place forward into a drastically changing Earth?”

Posted in Australia, Fiction, peace, poetry, The Journey

Common ground

I’ve heard it said
the war in the world
mirrors the war in the self
or is it the other way round?

The warring factions of self
waking me at 3am.
Why did I make that choice thirty years ago?
It was totally the wrong thing to do
and I compiled the problem by doing it
again and again and again.

Then again, the war inside the self plays out
every day in my current reality.
If this happened I could do that
but I can’t do that because I can’t
make this happen. I’m stuck
here in this reality arguing with myself.

Seeking solace I go for a walk in the park.
The commons you might call it
but it’s been a long time since
the aboriginal people called it
the corroboree ground, the common land
where the tribes gathered for ceremony.

It’s peaceful enough if I ignore the traffic.
If I take the public paths it’s pleasant.
If I venture closer to the lake shores
I run the risk of coming across dead carp
– an introduced fish the fisherman discard,
or even the decaying carcass of a rabbit
decomposing after the last year’s 1080 poisoning
by the council. Rabbits are a pest in Australia.

Then of course, no matter which way I walk,
there is the Macca’s refuse, the bottle tops,
the odd soft drink can and the chocolate bar wrappers.

Ignoring all these signs of desecration
I attempt to lighten my mood.
focusing on beauty I develop a blinkered vision.
Some birds sing while the egrets croak.
The breeze is gentle in the tree tops.
Soft white clouds scatter across the sky.
Maybe finding the common ground,
the place where all people are part of nature,
could take us all to a more a peaceful place.

A corroboree ground near where I live:- A local cemetery and lakes around it were once the corroboree ground of the Wauthaurong people, the traditional owners of this land.

For this challenge, write about THE COMMONS. How would you describe that half-wild, half-human habitat of sharing and sustenance in your locale?

from my novel The Journey:-

Raven looked out at the wasteland beyond the waterhole. The country had an uncanny feel to it as if it was haunted by times far older than the world of Terran’s photos. The lay of the land suggested to him that it had once been a meeting place for the tribes of long ago. People would have gathered here for ceremony and song. Fish would have been plentiful and the foraging would have been good. He imagined children swimming in the shallow waters as their parents caught up with the news; who’d had a baby, which old people had passed on during the cold winter months and the stuff of daily life. The images flowed into his mind like an internal slide show. It was as if the long continuity of such meetings had imprinted themselves onto the earth itself. The parties and picnics of the folks in the huge vehicles were an empty echo of those earlier, more sacred, times.