Some of the things we’re noticing on Country as we come out of Kambarang and enter Birak:
- The top-soil is really drying out as the prevailing winds shift to the east and south-east.
- We’re being spoilt with an incredible array for wildflowers throughout Country.
- The snakes and lizards are out and about, as are the flying ants when there’s any hint of a light shower.
- Wannang (Peppie tree) is still holding onto its flowers signifying that there’s still a bit of rain to come before year’s end.
- Another real treat is the seeing the Karrak arrive for the myriad of fruiting gums whose young nuts are ready for their annual harvest (see photos below).
The hardest aspect of the project has been dealing with the stress of ongoing uncertainty dogging every milestone. While it has been an incredibly difficult 14 years, I’m very pleased to say that Michelle and I finally feel we are through the toughest days, and we are starting to feel that it’s all been very worthwhile. I have to say, we have been wondering for many years whether this time would ever come. But now that it has, we are feeling a great sense of accomplishment and very proud of what we’re all creating.
Cultivating a sense of place
The highlights for me are the wonderful architectural sense of place that’s really starting to shine through. I credit this to our Sustainable Building Design Guidelines, which stipulates common elements like zincalume roofs with gables and skillions, and natural wall materials like timber and earth renders. This together with lots of creative design and building work really adds to the character of our streetscapes. Then there’s the landscaping and gardens, which are a true standout within the Ecovillage.
The amount of public open space, community gardens, and common land with dams and conservation zones will probably never be repeated in a project of this scale in Australia, as it’s a far cry from the statutory requirement of 10% public open space. We have managed to include around 50% public open space, including community gardens, dams, conservation zones, wastewater irrigated avocado orchard and woodlots, plus being surrounded by another 25% green space with our private agricultural lots.
The community is growing
But the most satisfying element is the incredible community of people that are making the Ecovillage their home. The regular feedback that we’re getting from people living in the Ecovillage is just so wonderful for both Michelle and I to hear. Many people have told us that living here is more than they had hoped for and that it has changed their lives so much for the positive. This, and witnessing people building community and caring for each other, is so fulfilling for us. I’m seeing the old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” play out in front of our eyes on a regular basis. The effort that many are making to build a healthy, functional community is just so wonderful to witness.
Someone told me the other day they had read it takes around six years to build a functional community, and I don’t doubt that this may be correct. But to see what’s happening only two years in gives me great confidence in how extraordinary this community is going to be. We have many different professions and trades represented, and the group knowledge, skill set, wisdom and passion for working towards a more sustainable future is quite extraordinary. It is a model of hope for the future.
The really exciting thing is that we’re only just getting started; there’s so much still to come, including most of our homes. At present, we have around 60 homes occupied and another 40 under construction, so there’s still around 200 to come. But the great thing is that each cluster, which average around 23 homes, is functioning independently, and we’ve already completed the vast majority of the common infrastructure giving our pioneers so much amenity at their disposal.
Local food, wine, and the Ecovillage pub
We’ve recently started planning the highly anticipated future pub in the Village (Wolghine) Square. It’s going to be a locavore affair, with all food and beverages coming from our beautiful and incredibly productive region, with a strong emphasis on organic produce grown within the Ecovillage. Just as well that 12 of the 13 Ecovillage agricultural lots released to date have been snapped up by Ecovillage residents, with all sorts of ideas from veggies to truffles and food forests being planned.
We’ve also been doing a lot of work on the last agricultural lot, the Foxcliffe Vineyard. This certified organic vineyard is a bit over 8ha and includes some magnificent 25-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and some recently planted Shiraz, Malbec and Chardonnay. This year’s crop is looking fantastic and will include the first harvest of our Shiraz and Chardonnay grapes. It’s our intent to sell the vineyard in due course, but we haven’t put it on the market yet as I’d really like to see it go to a future resident viticulturist / winemaker. Our wonderful viticulturist, Paul Jurjevich, who has been working for Michelle and me for 12 years now, recently moved into the family home he and his partner Trish have built in cluster 1A. He was only telling me last night about how wonderful it is living in their cluster, and how good it’s been for their young children to be making friends with other kids in their community. The freedom it’s bought them and their children was reminiscent of my childhood, which doesn’t really exist in the suburbs anymore. It’s also so good to see Paul now living within walking distance to his workplace and being able to head home for lunch.
Community engagement in Ecovillage Commons
Community members are now starting to get involved in some of the community assets. For example, there’s an article in this newsletter about the avocado orchard and another from Alex Jolly, a resident of 1B, who’s actively involved (and helping me greatly) with managing the community water assets, including dams, pumps, plumbing, and all the associated meters. You’ll enjoy Alex’s article “Deeper Water”.
In the new year, we’ll be asking our community for interest in getting involved with some of the new Ecovillage Commons groups, like the aquaculture group, which will investigate the aquaculture potential of our dams. We’ve already introduced native Marron and Carter’s Mussels along with some non-native Silver Perch. But we’re also keen to introduce Rainbow Trout and explore things like building swan islands and other shelter for native aquatic birds, fish, and plants. I love the idea of some fun annual events like a Marron harvest and fly-fishing: any excuse for a community party.
Photo taken in Mike Hulme & Michelle Sheridan’s driveway by their lovely neighbour Claire Timmons.
We’re also keen to see a conservation group start up, to manage and continue to restore our conservation zones for native flora and fauna and community use, including adding elements like hollow logs for cockatoos, parrots, owls, micro-bats, etc. Identifying the huge diversity of plants, along with the myriad bird life, marsupials and reptiles in the Ecovillage is another project that we will all contribute to over time.
There’s so much to do and it’s just wonderful to see people wanting to get more involved in the 40 hectares of common land we own together.