Sydney discovers off-grid

Remy, center, takes a trip
Remy, center, takes a trip
The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia has been telling its readers about the joys of living off the grid.

Life couldn’t be more different for Remy Sica now that her family has moved to the country.

In Sydney, the teenager would catch the train to and from school, and not arrive home until 5pm. In Armidale, her private girls’ school is 15 minutes from her family’s new farm, and Remy gets to ride her horse every afternoon instead of sitting on a packed train.

“I love riding horses, it’s fantastic,” says Remy, who now has her own 16-year-old warmblood named Lady, which she keeps on the family’s 40-hectare farm.

The Sicas moved to Armidale this year. Dad Remo, a school teacher, says his 14-year-old daughter was a big motivation for the tree change.

“I wanted Remy to understand that there’s more to life than going to Newtown, restaurants and clothes shops. I wanted us to taste a simpler life away from all of that [focus on] possessions,” he says.

It was a big move for the family. They had spent 12 years doing up the “worst house in one of the best streets” in Haberfield. After a tumultuous renovation, which included stops and starts with builders, they finally had the home just as they wanted it. However, Remo was getting frustrated with Sydney’s traffic and wanted to make a change while Remy was still young enough to benefit.

“I was tired,” he says. “I just couldn’t do it any more.

“I used to drive to Parramatta every day and I used to watch those people on the M4 all going the opposite way. It was like a car park. It’s just insane.”

Remo and his wife, Tracy Pendergast, a public relations consultant who runs her own business, first thought they might move to Bathurst or Orange.

“We wanted something closer to Sydney,” Remo says. “Then looking at the property prices, we thought, ‘Well, you don’t get much.”‘

It was on a family holiday to Coffs Harbour that the trio drove via Armidale and liked what they saw. “It ticked a lot of boxes,” Remo says. “It’s a lot more sophisticated than your normal run-of-the-mill regional city.

“It has a university, it has six secondary schools and 18 schools all up. It has the TAFE. It has an airport, and it has the regional hospital, which is also a teaching hospital.”

They initially looked at blocks that were about eight hectares (20 acres) but realised they wouldn’t be big enough. “Twenty acres up here is a big backyard with a lot of grass cutting,” Remo says. “[Many had] 1960s-’70s houses that needed to be renovated and I thought, ‘The last thing I want to do is renovate another house.”‘

Then the family found their dream 1920s home on 40 hectares. It still needs fixing up – Remo says a new kitchen and new bathrooms are planned – but no major structural renovations.

“The land is beautiful,” he says. “Three-quarters of it is covered in trees. There is more than enough space for Remy to ride her horse. It has stables and a big work shed.”

There’s also a chook pen, greenhouse, five dams and a creek with fish. The established garden on the property has a raised vegetable garden and fruit and olive trees. The property is off the grid for electricity, water and sewerage, which suits Remo and Tracy.

“The whole idea of buying the property in Armidale was to live a more sustainable lifestyle,” Remo says. “The house is completely off the grid.

“The only thing we rely on the outside for is telephone, internet and gas, which is by gas bottles.”

The property has an eight-kilowatt solar-powered system with battery storage, rainwater tanks and a sewerage-treatment system.

“A lot of places out of town have similar set-ups, so it’s not something new, and we are not pioneers by any means,” Remo says.

The family sold their Haberfield house after auction for $1,365,000, and paid $925,000 for their Armidale property. The vendors had originally been asking $1,099,000.

Remo says the transaction was stressful because they bought in Armidale before selling in Sydney and the sale of their home took longer than expected.


Population 24,000

Distance from Sydney 567 kilometres

Flights Qantas flies between Armidale and Sydney five times daily. Flights take about 1 hour and 15 minutes and cost between $102 and $490 one way.

Median house price $305,000

2 Responses

  1. Remo sounds just like me except I’m still battling the Sydney traffic and am very keen to move out. I’d love to catch up with him, any chance you could ask him to email me? I coming up to Armidale next week and would love to meet up with him.

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