Intentional communities are already experimenting with solutions for many of society's problems. We started Maleny Eco Village in 2019 and have already learned a lot through our ongoing experimentation with communal living. We operate as a household, sharing one kitchen, bathroom facilities, vegetable garden, landscaped gardens, a large community living room, etc. It’s a very affordable way to live. It means we don’t have to spend as much energy in the financial system. Instead, we have more energy to create the eco village and spend time doing activities that we feel drawn to.
When I lived in the city, I spent my time rushing from one thing to the next. I never expected to move away from a big city. I honestly thought country life would be boring. Now I live a more place-based lifestyle in the regional town of Maleny and I love it. The Maleny Eco Village is a short walk from the main street so I decided to sell my car and have never looked back.
Living a permaculture lifestyle means there is always something to do and yet, I feel like I have more time than when I lived in the city. I feel more settled and I spend a lot less time in cars. I can walk or bike to most places that I want to go. There is time to be curious about the animals and the different plants that come up seasonally in the garden. Together, we plant trees, explore new ways of building with natural materials and grow as much food as possible. It's a fun, creative and healthy life and I feel very lucky to be able to do this. I feel passionate about making this lifestyle possible for more people to choose if they want to.
Those who aren’t out doing activities, have dinner together every night. Each week we hold a meeting where we connect, celebrate our achievements of the week and decide how to move forward. We make decisions using consensus which means that we discuss issues until we reach a decision that everyone can live with. It requires a level of maturity to recognise where the group energy is going and put aside our attachment to specific outcomes. We’ve made hundreds of decisions using consensus and so I've seen first hand how effective it can be to give people a voice and come up with great solutions. It takes practice. Working together is something we Australians need to practice as the dominant culture is one of individualism and consumerism.
I’ve thought deeply over the past 15 years about the systems, structures and injustices that underpin our modern life and the way humans are degrading our environment. Increasingly I realise that growing the economy is choking our planet with more consumption, deforestation, waste and pollution. And more disconnection too. So what can we do to slow down the economy and slow down the exploitation of people, animals and the natural world? I really feel that it’s time for privileged people like me to create new systems and structures that support meaningful, fun, low carbon lifestyles and reconnect ourselves with the natural world. I want to take responsibility for the impact of my lifestyle and make choices that help create a better world. I find this very empowering and this gives me a real sense of meaning - of being part of something bigger than myself. It’s a fulfilling path for me.
One of the things I am most proud of is our collective stewardship culture. The eco village land (3.5 acres in the heart of Maleny) is owned by the non-profit organisation, Eco Villages Australia. All the land and all the infrastructure are held by the organisation and everyone who lives here has the privilege and opportunity to enjoy the richness of our lush environment and care for it together. We are stewards. We live here and we care for the land but we don’t ‘own’ the land. I fundamentally believe that we need to question many cultural norms like property ownership to mend our relationship with the earth.
Everyone who lives here makes a set weekly financial contribution to the organisation and we decide together how that money is spent. We don’t like using the word ‘rent’ because it doesn’t really connect with what we are doing here. In a sense, every person here is a landlord as well as a renter - we are stewards. As stewards of the land, we are interested in working out what is a sustainable amount for each individual to pay and balance that with what is sustainable for the project. This is really about being honest about our capacity. Do we have the financial, physical, emotional and intellectual capacity to sustain the eco village and ourselves? Acknowledging our true capacity is vital to finding real sustainability on all levels. Sometimes we have the capacity to give a lot and other times we need to learn to say no, step back, clarify boundaries, take a rest or focus our energy.
Living in a communal way offers countless opportunities for personal growth. Not everyone has the intrapersonal skills and the interpersonal skills to live in this way. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity but you do need a certain emotional capacity to make the most of it. I was brought up to avoid conflict at all costs. Now I see that conflict is part of life and we don’t have to be scared of it if we practice navigating it. In fact, conflict can lead to wonderful innovations and healing too.
Eco Villages Australia wishes to support other forming eco communities using the model of collective stewardship. In the future, we hope there could be a network of eco villages across Australia. Together, we can remove property from the speculative market and put it in the hands of stewards to be held in perpetuity for people to live in harmony with nature. We have the power to heal the separation of capitalist culture and re-learn how to work together.