Sitting back watching the river is one of the simple pleasures Rodney West enjoys every day. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Thanks to tiny houses and micro apartments, the trend towards downsizing homes is gaining momentum in Australia, but would you live on a houseboat?
Not only do houseboats offer a compact, flexible lifestyle, but they are free of many of the costs and regulations associated with owning a traditional bricks and mortar home, including council rates and strata agreements.
And some are even smaller than tiny designer homes, which allow their owners to free up debt, spend more time with community outside of their own four walls, and travel.
But when your backyard is a swimming pool and you do not need to pack up to move on, are there any downsides to living on a houseboat rather than in a traditional home?
That was the question Cathy Ann Kruger wanted answered when she took to social media to find out whether she and her partner should take the plunge, given they spent all their free time at the river.
Advice was offered that she should consider the availability of permanent moorings, maintenance, greywater and sewage disposal, and even the wash from wakeboard boats in summer.
But perhaps the great tale of caution was from 2015 when a Riverland woman made headlines after being left homeless, broke and facing heavy penalties when her houseboat sank along the River Murray.
Others said it was the best decision they had ever made.
River dwellers living the dream
Rodney West has been living on his houseboat for 25 years.
His vessel definitely wears the micro-living badge, with just 57 square metres of living under the roof.
Mr West built it himself, drawing on his experience in the boating industry.
Together with two other houseboat dwellers he bought a parcel of riverfront land at Lyrup, downstream of Renmark in SA.
This allows him to permanently moor his vessel along a stunning stretch of the River Murray, while keeping a vehicle, shed, chooks and vegetable patch on his adjacent land.
“It’s cheaper than a shack and I can build it myself, and if you don’t like where you are you can just move on,” Mr West said.
“I’ve travelled the length of the river a couple of times. It keeps me off the streets.”
Rodney West has been living on his houseboat for more than 20 years and says he has everything he needs. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
His boat is humble compared to some of the modern commercial houseboats, with their rooftop spas, expansive glass windows and many bedrooms.
“This is the first one I built. I’ve built half a dozen since then,” Mr West explained.
Like many who call a houseboat home, he enjoys being self-sufficient and living off the grid.
A cosy pot belly fire keeps him warm during the cold winter months on the river, when temperatures at night can drop several degrees below freezing.
But in summer his boat can become an oven, with the lack of air-conditioning making it hard to cool down.
“I open a window and luckily I’ve got a swimming pool out the back door,” Mr West said.
The houseboat that Rodney West has called home for more than 20 years may not be luxurious, but it suits his needs. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Active in local community
Despite his alternative lifestyle, Mr West does not feel isolated.
He volunteers with his local Country Fire Service brigade, stays in touch with friends and family on social media, and is connected with fellow river users.
“I know all the boats that come past,” he said.
The experienced river-hand has no plans of moving into a bricks and mortar house.
“Who would want to live like that, cheek by jowl with everybody else?” he said.
“How am I going to improve myself by selling up here and moving? This is it, they will take me out boots first.”
Retirees never wanted bricks and mortar
Further downstream at a marina near the Berri Bridge are Steve Kitto and Joanne Seaton.
The retired couple has lived on a custom-built houseboat for the past six years.
After previously living on a catamaran Mr Kitto had built himself, the pair moved to the Riverland region to be closer to family.
Joanne Seaton and Steve Kitto have been living on their houseboat for about six years and previously lived on a catamaran. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
They love the freedom that living on the river offers.
“We just chuff across to the hotel over there in the dingy. Whenever we can avoid driving we just take the boat somewhere,” Ms Seaton said.
They agree that houseboat living requires a more minimalistic approach to possessions.
“You can’t have four wardrobes full of clothes, but you’ve still got plenty of room for clothes and we’ve got two bathrooms, two toilets,” Mr Kitto said.
The couple said during high water events, they simply moored further up the bank.
“It’s great when we get a flood or high water as we did a couple years ago. It’s basically a long reservoir at the moment,” Mr Kitto said.
“We just moved further up the bank, but we had a contingency plan to tie to higher trees and just bring the dinghy down.
“If we get to the top of the trees we are in trouble!”
Investment more like a car than a house
Buying a houseboat is not like a bricks and mortar investment.
They are more like a car in that they are expected to depreciate in value over time.
This was one of the considerations for Lin and Ron Davison when they moved onto a custom-built houseboat at the start of the year.
At 110 square metres of living area their boat, Linny’s Tinny, is less than half the size of an average new build in Australia, according to a CommSec study.
Yet they believe it offers them the perfect lifestyle for their retirement.
“How else can you get a location like this?” Mr Davison said, gesturing at the river just outside his kitchen window.
Lin and Ron Davison have been living on their houseboat since the start of the year and kayak every morning, enjoying the lifestyle their floating home offers. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Mr Davison said living on a houseboat required an active lifestyle, with owners needing to be capable of pumping out greywater and effluent, and doing regular maintenance.
They store rainwater for drinking, filter river water for laundry and bathroom needs, and generate and store power from solar panels on the boat.
The couple paddles their kayaks every morning and enjoy the freedom of being able to travel the river.
“You can’t beat waking up to this view, and in the evenings some of the sunsets are stunning, particularly when you move up the river,” Ms Davison said.
And if they want to go on a holiday, they do not need to worry about packing.
“Freedom, you can just untie and go, take everything with you,” Ms Davison said.
Which is why, after all the advice, Ms Kruger has decided that when the opportunity arises and she can secure the right boat, she is going to give the dream of living on a houseboat a go.