Monday, March 18, 2013

Jindibah Community

When Bill Metcalf, one of Steve’s Phd supervisors volunteered to introduce us to the couple who set up the Jindibah community in Byron, we were excited at the prospect of experiencing another community first hand on our way down to Sydney.

Jindibah Intentional Community is located on a 113 acre property on the Hinterland overlooking Byron Bay, NSW. It is a beautiful location with rolling hills and the hint of ocean views. The community is based on triple bottom line principles and aims to achieve a balance between social, environmental and economic development. These principles are used to help create a natural environment for peaceful living and home businesses based in a country setting.


We are warmly welcomed to their home by Christobel and Christopher and we sit down for a chat over a cup of tea in their sunroom. The room has large glass windows with beautiful views of the rolling hills outside and allows for the sunshine to stream inside. We introduce ourselves first before they begin their story….

We learn they had been living overseas previously and on their return to Australia started looking at other options for living. They were keen to live in a place that had a community feel but still had access to the conveniences they were used to. They started to make a list of what they wanted...access to airports, hospitals, a major city, good soil, a creek, schools, good cafes and restaurants, the ocean….and so the list went on. I was already mentally ticking off the criteria for my own community.

After searching for their dream patch for almost a year they found their paradise at Jindibah in Banglaow – a place that seemed to fill their vision of sharing a 100 acres with a few of their friends! They purchased the property in 1994 with two other families and after a 2 year application process and a stint in the Land & Environment Court, Byron Shire Council approved a 12 Dwelling Multiple Occupancy (MO) for their site. They developed a Local Area Management Plan as a response to the development conditions that included planting 900 trees per lot on the property! Christobel remarks this is in stark contrast to when the first settlers came here and were required to remove all trees before they could start to farm.

Once the 1998 Byron Shire Rural Settlement Strategy was released they converted Jindibah from a Multiple Occupancy title to one of Community Title (CT), a rural version of Strata Title. The process took them 10 years to complete and included many presentations to Council on the benefits of their proposal and the formation of a lobby group.

We talk about the importance of having the right title on your land. Under a MO title, it isn’t easy (unless you have a wealthy guarantor) to get individual loans from a bank. Community Title benefits all shareholders as banks recognize individual title to a house, lot enabling residents to get their own mortgage as well as the flexibility to do what they wish on their property. While you have much more control over who moves in to your property with MO and who may be asked to leave, this isn’t possible under a CT title. However, a MO Title could allow one of the residents to take you to court and force you to sell so the pros and cons of each title are varied and interesting.

The property has 12 lots of approx. 2 acres each with all of the infrastructure in place, most of the houses built and people moved in. There is certainly the potential for residents to be self-sufficient in food production but no one is there yet. They certainly have many ecologically sound practices in place with a 10KW solar panel system in place just at Christobel’s house providing energy for their transport and power needs at home. Water is pumped from the creek that runs through their land. While energy independence is high on their wish list they are waiting for improvements in the battery storage technology to make this a reality. We are impressed to hear they have already planted about 8,500 trees. While bush regenerators had originally done this work, the residents get together on regular planting bees to do most of the work themselves.

We are surprised to learn there are 130 intentional communities in the Byronshire which started from the time of the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin. Chris and Christobel share stories from the many of the communities they have visited to learn from and compare notes.

The place functions much as a strata title apartment would, with the residents paying fees to help maintain the roads and other infrastructure. In addition, revenues from the home farm and other sources help fund the on-going cost of maintenance. One of their achievements has been the creation of a non-profit community shared wireless broadband network, which they refer to as 'JindiNet'. This has enabled them to provide fast Internet facilities for both Jindibah members and the community in the surrounding area. A Neighbourhood Management Statement spells out how disputes will be resolved.

The community gets together periodically to plant trees on the property, assign budgets and make decisions by consensus. They also meet informally at each other’s houses as many of the families have young children. There are no fences at Jindibah but the houses are spaced much further apart than would be in your traditional Sydney suburb so you have a wonderful sense of space around you.

Chris and Christobel invite us to stay the night. We had been talking for most of the afternoon and it is now dinnertime. We agree on the condition we can take them out for a meal. We go down to Bangalow to continue the discussions. We have a lovely evening and Chris gives us new insights into his favourite topic – Climate Change. We leave the following morning having found a wonderful example of communal living. It is a model that I would certainly be happy to start with…although I am not sure I could have survived the battles with Council!

Currumbin Eco-Village

I had heard a lot about Currumbin, the residential development in Queensland designed on eco-village principles so it was exciting to be able to do a drive through on our way back to Sydney. This is certainly an upmarket community and it was refreshing to see so many architect designed houses that were built in tune with the environment but also pleasing to look at.

The village is in an ideal location with close access to the bush, the beach and the city. You have the choice of designing your own home or choosing from a set of architectural drawings. There are stringent conditions to be met when designing your home here but knowing there are also pre-designed homes to choose from makes it easier for the less adventurous.


While this is certainly an upmarket development, creating a sense of community and designing ecologically sound buildings are fundamentally part of this site. There is a weekly calendar of events that you can join in, ranging from singing, yoga and meditation to movies, tai chi and zumba. The community frequently enjoy their Village Hall space for coffee mornings, birthday parties, workshops, meetings, movie nights and many other gatherings. There is a pool, gym and children’s adventure playgrounds for more active times.

The Village Centre is being developed with a cafe / bakery, convenience store and other small-scale commercial buildings. The accessible location of serviced office areas ensures that resident’s needs are met as close to home as possible. It looks idyllic but we are only driving through and must reserve judgement till we are able to speak to people who live here and find out what their own personal experiences are. We have heard that perhaps the development is over regulated and that some residents may find this challenging. On the surface it looks great and given the option I wouldn’t mind moving in here..!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crystal Waters

Our first impressions of Crystal Waters were not great!   We stopped by the bakery to get some bread and struck up a conversation with some of the locals who had come down to pick up a loaf and socialise. Their view of communal living was that it was full of challenges and its biggest downfall was the one thing required to make it work - People! Unfortunately, people tend to bring with them their own idiosyncrasies, their views on how a community should function and are often too wedded to their own beliefs to be flexible enough to let a community evolve. We hear that some people tend to be too purist and end up crushing the dreams of others who may not meet their standards for ecological living which is quite disheartening.

We were staying at the Eco Caravan Park in Crystal Waters, which included a bunkhouse, space to pitch a tent and a cabin for a bit more comfort. We had booked the cabin due to the rainy weather that had been predicted but for our good fortune we had the only two days of sunshine they had seen in months.

Crystal Waters Eco Village is set in 650 acres of bushland at the headwaters of the Mary River, and is about 30 minutes away on a windy country road from the wonderful little town called Maleny. We wondered why it hadn’t been placed closer to this bustling community, which would have provided far more opportunities for economic exchange and interaction. Crystal Waters includes both private and co-operatively owned property and is run by a body corporate. The Crystal Waters Community Cooperative is the social and economic arm of the village and provides activities and facilities for visitors and the community to participate in. The recently built Eco Centre is an ideal location for visitors to learn about the permaculture principles the community was founded on.


A tour of the village gave us a brief introduction to how the houses were designed and some of the permaculture practices in place. Many people had composting toilets and solar panels and some people grew their own food. Water was pumped from the creek with a limit on each household of a1000 litres/day for consumption, supplemented by rainwater tanks for drinking. The plots have been situated on the ridges leaving the floodplains as communal land. The roads that were originally constructed by the co-operative were used to dam the creeks for water. While this is great for water consumption it is perhaps not ideal for the eco-system in the creeks.

A plot in Crystal Waters had originally cost about $20K it is now on par with land in the adjoining area and would cost in the region of $300K. This is partly to ensure that people are not trapped in the community and can get out if they wanted to.

Despite many of the positive features we saw during our tour of the village with Barry O’Connell, it didn’t take us long to realize that Crystal Waters had not even come close to realizing its full potential. The community land would have been a great space to raise cattle, grow food and cash crops enabling the co-operative to generate some income. Yet we learn that despite this village being founded on communal principles many people are not prepared to volunteer their time and even trying to enforce a contribution of 1 hour a week was an issue. The high population of renters was perhaps another contributing factor to this.

The private land at Crystal Waters is held on a Free Hold Title so asking people who were not prepared to live co-operatively in a community to leave was not easy. It would involve lengthy court cases and expenses that the co-operative could not fund. While there was a need to increase the current fee of $1,200/yr for the body corporate to function efficiently, there was a general reluctance to do this. We hear that eco-villages often seem to attract two kinds of people - the risk takers and those that want to hide away from society. This results in conflict with those averse to taking risks holding back progress. Unfortunately, there appear to be a few disgruntled people who keep sniping from the sidelines, which prevent the community from moving forward.

Crystal Waters is located in a beautiful spot…but it hasn’t quite fulfilled it’s promised potential.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Griffith University

We are driving up to Griffith University to spend 10 days in Queensland.  Steve needs to spend a week at the Uni working on his ethics approval as well as his Phd Confirmation.  We spend a night at Tamworth and enjoy a great steak for dinner.  The next morning we leave early and continue on the scenic route stopping for lunch at Glenn Innes to enjoy a taste of the Celtic countryside. 

2013 03 10 Griffith University

We arrive late on Sunday and check into student digs. It is an apartment with about 5 rooms but fortunately, there is only one other grad student.  I spend the week working at one of the open air internet hot spots while Steve works on his Phd.  I meet his supervisor Paul and we have a few chats with Bill Metcalf, a world authority on eco-villages.  He gave us a lot of leads in terms of people and places to visit as well and what we should look out for on our research trip to Europe.  It was really interesting to chat with Bill and to be exposed to the world of intentional communities.  By the end of the week Steve Bill Metcalf has offered to be his third supervisor.  

It was a fun week at Griffith.  I enjoy getting a taste of uni life once again and meeting the people in Steve’s world.  Mid week we have lunch with Christof, a German Phd student who shares his experiences in Japan and gives us more leads on eco-villages in this part of the world.  The week comes to an end and we leave for Crystal Waters, one of Australia’ first eco-villages in this part of the world.  We have planned to spend the weekend here to get a first hand experience of life here