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Bart Cox works for Greater Wellington Regional Council as an environmental adviser. He’s pictured in his Carterton home, with his girlfriend Isobel MacKinnon, an actor, director, and theatre maker, and his mum, Liz.
BART/ I grew up in Wellington but I have a connection to Wairarapa – my family on Mum’s side have been there for some time. Mum moved back to Masterton when I was 15, when my dad died. I was painting Mum’s shed for her one day and I had this overwhelming feeling that I should move there. I asked Mum if I could put a little house on her block of land, out of Carterton. She said she’d love that.
I was working in this little delicatessen in Masterton making coffee, living in a caravan. This guy Jim was a building recycler, but he hates knocking down buildings, especially if they’re nice old wooden ones. He always tries to resell the materials or, even better, resell the house to someone else who wants to remove it from the land. He was a regular in the deli and one day he was in and trying to sell the customers a little smoko room from this industrial part of Masterton. He had pictures on his phone. I knew if I looked at it I’d probably want it. Eventually I was like: “OK, give me a look at the photos.” And
I was like: “Argh! I love it!” It was – it is – tiny. He goes: “Come on. Just buy it off me. Otherwise I’m going to have to knock it down.” I was like: “I can’t, it’s too much of a project.” It had always been my dream to have a little shelter reflecting the seasons. He sold it to me for $2500.
The bones were mostly old native timbers from the 60s. It’s got three rooms. There used to be two toilets – one’s now the bathroom and one’s the study. There’s an open-plan kitchen and bedroom and living space. It had nails sticking out of the wall with people’s names or nicknames on them where people used to hang their cups. It was full of paper towel dispensers and soap dispensers.
I gibbed it inside and connected it to solar panels with my friend Ed. His way is sort of DIY – you can tailor-make it to your lifestyle. It’s all about living close to the land and having a sensitivity about the kind of impact that modern comforts have on the resources around us. We collect rainwater, we compost our number twos. We produce our own energy. There’s a spirit of celebrating human ingenuity, and not being reliant on big firms providing you this thing you don’t understand but you know that you want.
I think there’s an element of personal sovereignty to knowing whether your water comes from, your energy and all that, and being part of the system. You’re your own electrician, you’re your own plumber. Of course, sometimes you’ve got to call in some friends...
I got the Homewood stove brand new from a New Zealand company. It cost much more than the house.
Mum lives in Masterton, but there’s a little 10 square metre hut next to the house. I go and collect her and I have her at home for as long as I can. She sleeps in her little hut.