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!