In Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland, two people are making their vision for the future a reality on 3.5 hectares. They have started small, with the creation of a not-for-profit organisation called Eco Villages Australia that uses a collectively stewarded land ownership model to ensure no individuals own the land. Eco Villages Australia was founded by Claire Ogden and her partner, Andrew McLean. They have navigated the legal and financial difficulties of forming a small ecovillage, and are now offering to share their knowledge, along with the umbrella of the organisation, to people who want to start their own communities and reduce their environmental impact.
“Many, many people are interested in starting a community,” Ogden says. “People are contacting us all the time. But very few are able to do it.
“The barriers are huge. Mostly, the projects don’t get off the ground. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality.”
The Maleny Eco Village includes collective housing – one shared kitchen, a compostable toilet and a pavilion-style house, – in line with the organisation’s vision for eco-communities of 5-25 people.
All residents, including Ogden and McLean, are renters and not owners of the land.
“Our model is very much about sharing,” Ogden says. “I would say we are very much culturally on the edge. What we are doing here is quite radical on a number of fronts.
“I think that is a strength. What we are doing is obviously practical in terms of sustainable living and affordable living.
“In this country, we have some very real serious issues to face in the next decade around food security, climate change and many other environmental and social issues. But as you can see, there is a lot of denial.”
Ogden says the project is motivated by an interest in creating a “deconsumption” movement across the country.
“If you use less, you need less,” she says. “I have found the less things I have, the happier I am. Having lots of stuff is a real burden.
“But how do you get out of that cycle? It is so easy to get into and so hard to get out of. The real revolution is in our minds and seeing our world and our culture in a new way. Lowering consumption is a huge, huge part of this story.
“If you don’t address consumption, you can have all the technology in the world but you are going to need more solar panels and inverters and batteries.”
The Maleny Eco Village focuses on minimalism, growing food, using solar energy where possible, recycling materials and consuming less. Residents pay rent tailored to their circumstances.
“Every Australian emits 15 tonnes of carbon per year. The science is clear. We need to get that down to two tonnes. Now,” the Eco Villages Australia website states.
It turns the common model of 90% house, 10% land on suburban blocks to about 10% house and 90% land, with an emphasis on living alongside nature, increasing biodiversity and regenerating ecosystems.
Read also: Living large – and sustainably – with less
Some people stay a few months, some a year or more.
Ogden and McLean have turned their experiences into a five-step process for other people who want to go down the same path: agreements, choose your land-ownership model (they recommend the “collectively stewarded” model); navigate councils and codes; choose your conflict model; and resources for community success.
“Here, you can really get a sense of history, that people before you have put in their time and their energy and their sweat in this land,” Ogden says.
“I hope now that this land can be held in perpetuity. It is a place for people and animals and the environment to be together.
“The perpetuity model of this place means it can be held and honoured by the people that come after us. That is the magical element of this project.”
Marie Low has been a journalist and communications advisor for more than 30 years. She has also worked as a media advisor to state government ministers, headed a government media department and worked within a well-regarded metropolitan communications consultancy as a senior consultant. Her family tree change brought her to Tenterfield and then Gunnedah where she now is one half of Two Cats Creative.
The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.
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