My home: Tree-changers’ dream mining cottage

Alice Robinson, 31, and her husband Dan Tout, 30, often spoke of their dreams of moving from their one-bedroom apartment in Footscray to a country village within commuting distance to the city.

In June last year, this became reality when they purchased an 1860s miner’s cottage on a half acre block in Malmsbury, close to the Macedon Ranges about 100 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. However, the move has proved more of a challenge than they expected.


The mining cottage in Malmsbury.

The couple share ideals to live sustainably, though their specific reasons for wanting a tree change differed.

“I had a romantic dream of living in the country, raising children and having a garden,” Dr Robinson says.

“Dan was quite resistant until the global financial crisis happened – and then it made sense from a financial perspective.”

Another reason for the couple’s lifestyle change is centred upon their plan to work only three days a week. Both of them are writers and academics and yearned for the inspired space and reduced financial pressures of country living.

While still in daydream-mode, the couple came across the Malmsbury cottage online, and watched the price come down over a year.

“We went to the auction, just to have a look, to see whether moving to the country was something we could afford to do. We didn’t have finance or anything. No one bid, it got passed in, then we were really keen and curious, the cogs started turning and we rushed out to get finance,” Dr Robinson says.

“We fell in love with it. It was definitely an emotional investment: we got it because we loved it.”

They moved to Malmsbury with a sense of excitement, but the shift has been more difficult than they expected.

“We moved at the start of winter, and at that time the house was so cold we weren’t really prepared. We pretty much spent every evening in bed,” she says.

“Our house is 1860s so it needed a lot of work; the roof leaked in winter quite badly. We have found it really hard with our limited budget.”

Dr Robinson says Dan has developed handyman skills to fix the roof, they’ve insulated their home and bought a trailer and chainsaw to keep their firewood stocks high through winter.

They had their first child in December, and in this new life phase have noticed the challenge of living far from friends and family, Dr Robinson says.

To take financial pressure off themselves, they recently decided to sell their Footscray apartment and subdivide and sell half of their Malmsbury block, so they can invest the money in restoring their home.

“We’d like to either build a more sustainable house or maybe retrofit or modify the house to be more sustainable, including a water tank and double glazing, that sort of thing.”

They are also both keeping their mind open to finding work locally.

“One of the main reasons people move back to the city is because they can’t find work and they get sick of all the travel. I think long term this is something we need to resolve perhaps.”

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