Profile: Ecovillage calls across the country

Editor’s Note: As avid and longtime followers of the Witchcliffe Ecovillage, we invited Ken and Pam to tell their story to the Village Collective. We look forward to profiling more prospective Ecovillagers in the coming months in an effort to showcase the diversity of people drawn to this unique project for a myriad of reasons.

By Ken Dyer and Pam Gunnell

We recently arrived in Margaret River after having made the huge decision to uproot ourselves from Adelaide and leave behind all the friends and acquaintances from the past 30 years of our life in order to be part of the ecovillage at Witchcliffe. Clearly, we must either be mad or bad, or passionate about what the Witchcliffe Ecovillage has to offer! Probably a little of all three.

We met when Ken was teaching Environmental Studies at Adelaide University and Pam was completing a Master of Environmental Studies degree. Ken’s PhD had been in genetics, particularly looking at radiation and other pollutants from a genetic and evolutionary perspective. For him, it was a natural progression to begin to become concerned about how humans were treating the earth, to want to teach environmentalism and to minimise his own environmental footprint.  Pam’s first degree was in politics. She saw the emerging environmental movement as a possible way past the left/right political divide, not only in its desire to protect the physical world but in its emphasis on social justice, limits to growth and curbing consumerism.

When we first got together, we decided to buy a small farm in the Adelaide hills, partly to try to live out some of the ideas we had about permaculture, which were new to us at the time (the late 80s). We grew fruit and veggies, kept chooks, geese, Dexter cows, some goats, two Shetland ponies, and some ducks, and were registered organic with NASAA (the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia). We had a wonderful time for a decade but for various reasons decided to move on and try to build an energy efficient house.

This we did, and we got a lot of things right, as well as some things not so right! We also found that we very much wanted to live among other like-minded people and when the new ‘Green Village’ at Lochiel Park in the NE suburbs of Adelaide was proposed we jumped at the chance to build there. Again, we had a wonderful time for about a decade. We were heavily involved in setting up the community garden, the art group and the ‘Friends of Lochiel Park’ group. We joined the Lochiel Park book group, joined in almost all the various working bees, and enjoyed many lovely, sociable monthly BBQs at the art shed with neighbours, some of whom we now count among our friends. Our house worked well this time, and we haven’t paid an electricity bill for around 10 years. We grew a great variety of fruit in our small courtyard gardens as well as vegetables and fruit in the community garden.

Meantime, Ken continued a hobby that he took up in middle age: playing clarinet with two Adelaide concert bands as well as with a small group who played for birthday parties, at nursing homes and — at Lochiel Park — for the opening ceremonies of our annual art exhibitions. He has joined the concert band here in Margaret River and would love to find a few people with whom to form another small group. Both of us have exhibited at art exhibitions. Ken has produced conceptual pieces with a strong environmental and social justice message while Pam is interested in textile art and, in the past few months, pottery. She also spends rather a lot of time in the evening doing meditative drawing.

During our time on the farm, Pam had studied to become a health councillor, then became a personal trainer when she turned 50, working with older people in a community setting, and a Functional Nutritionist a few years later. She is retired now (as is Ken), but growing food, cooking and eating it have become major interests and passions for her. The wonders of our microbiome and learning about soil microbes have been one of life’s most amazing and influential discoveries for us both!

Two or three years ago we decided to visit other ecovillages around Australia to see what they were doing compared with Lochiel Park. In the process, we stumbled across the website for the Witchcliffe Ecovillage and were immediately entranced by the vision it put forward. In 2017, we hired a campervan, crossed the Nullabor, came to visit, and absolutely loved the area. We met Mike and Michelle and other members of the team and were astounded at their knowledge and competence and loved their openness and friendliness. We went home wishing that Witchcliffe was in South Australia, or somewhere not so far away. But we couldn’t get it out of our minds. The next year we came back to see if we’d somehow exaggerated the whole thing, but found that, no, the vision put forward by Mike and Michelle was truly as good as we’d thought. We realised the Witchcliffe proposal far surpassed any of the other ecovillages we’d visited. We then spent many months agonising about whether to leave Lochiel Park and South Australia. As you can see, we finally decided to have one last life adventure (although, who knows, there may be more!) and come here.

It was indeed a difficult decision, but we’re motivated by the idea that Witchcliffe will provide an alternative model of development. A development where every aspect of the built environment has been thought about. A place that aims to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining in energy, food and water. But even more importantly for us, a place where the design of the village itself helps promote human connections. A place where neighbours are involved together in mutually beneficial enterprises, and where, therefore, real friendships and community are likely to flourish. Obviously, at the moment we don’t know many people here and so have a personal need to connect. However, we so hope that our own little lives can contribute to something above and beyond us that might, if we are all lucky, help save the planet. We can’t wait to get started!