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.