Its been a fair while since my last blog post and even more time since my last blog post describing an intentional community. My life has taken a lot of twists and turns in recent months and therefore I had to focus on other things than traveling to communities and blogging. Even though it is a passion of mine to learn more about sustainable and regenerative living and share my learnings with the wider world. But the wait is over, having travelled to two established communities in last couple of months, and a new community in formation in Australia, and having the plan to visit more communities in the near future, its time to break the silence and get the “pen” rolling once again – so I sincerely hope you enjoy my journeys with me.
What a good idea to spend part of the Easter weekend, which falls into the Autumn season here in Australia, at and with an intentional community and doing that in beautiful and warm (but not hot) weather is a treat, after a fickle and changeable and very dry summer. It’s of course not so much about looking for Easter Bunnies or Easter Eggs, but getting right down into the heart of the community and see, learn and experience a bit how it ticks. I am visiting no other than one of Australia’s long-lived, well established and impressive communities, which is around since 1974.
This old kid on the block is a rural community in the southern state of Victoria, at the western edge of the Yarra Ranges mountain range, overlooking the Eastern Yarra River Valley (with views all the way to Victorias capital city Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay almost 70 km to the west). Situated on the expansive plateau of Mount Toolebewong up to 700m elevation, the 245 ha rural property mostly comprises native Eucalypt forests, including temperate rainforests in the vicinity in the Yarra Ranges National Park (imagine 100m tall trees, and house high tree ferns and an abundance of wildlife including many parrot species). The property is also surrounded by life style blocks and hobby farms of various size, with the nearest rural town (i.e. Healesville) some 25 minutes car drive away off the mountain (hence the community is moderately remote). Only about 40 hectares of the property are cleared of forest, which is mostly left standing on the steeper parts of the property, which drops steeply towards the west and east from the mountain plateau. buildings (in six clusters or hamlets), roads and infrastructure, pastures and gardens comprise the cleared but fenced parts of the property. It was cleared more than 100 years ago and over the years used for various agricultural purposes (including livestock, potatoes and berries), with various exotic and native plantings and windbreaks.
The property has fairly sandy, but good soils, and due to high rainfalls at the edge of the mountain ranges (> 1,000 mm/year) (which are part of the Great Dividing Range, which extends for thousands of km along much of the East Coast of Australia), where westerly and southwesterly weather systems first encounter higher mountain ranges on the Australian Mainland), supports a dense forest cover. Relatively cold winters (in Australian terms, which means occasional snow falls), and moderately warm summers, with appreciable rainfalls (which where patchy this summer though), but also often very strong and gusty winds poses some challenges for this community (e.g. ample supplies of firewood for heating purposes are essential here and emphasised very strongly by community members).
The community currently houses approximately 40 adults and 20 children, with adult residents ranging in the age between about 30 up to 90 years. The community has 30 households and a number of community and recreational facilities and one building permit left to build one more house. Houses were built from the early days over time until recent years of and by the community (and including a two pre-existing buildings, which were later renovated and upgraded and one used as a community hub, lodge and learning centre), with a wide range of sizes and styles (from a tiny house to 4 to 5 bedroom houses) and use of many building styles and approaches as well as experimentation, from fairly conventional builds, but also many mud brick homes, rammed earth homes, as well as strawbale buildings, all individually designed (and owned) and built. The buildings are concentrated into 6 clusters of 4 to 6 houses each, to create a sort of village character and allow for effective service delivery, with a five-minute walk between the different clusters. One of the challenges of the community is to create more and innovative housing solutions, not only to expand the community (only one more house can be buildt), but to allow for other living arrangements (e.g. share housing, expansion of or modifications to buildings to allow more people to live there, rental accommodation, etc) due to changes in demographics in the community (reflecting trends elsewhere, e.g. single households, single parents, lone elders etc).
Moora Moora is an off grid community and has been from the very beginning. The community has a community wide water supply system, sourced from permanent springs on the property (one which also feeds a large dam used for recreational purposes), supplemented by a number of rain water tanks attached to the roofs of many houses. Waste water is also dealt with and treated onsite (because there is no central sewage system in this area to begin with).
Energy in form of electricity comes largely from solar PV, where most houses have their own supply, but also including battery storage systems and microgrids. Some wind generation exists and has been experimented with over the years but found very challenging due to very gusty non-steady wind conditions. Thanks to the presence of a renewable energy expert in the community (who also teaches solar installers), the community is at the cutting edge of community wide renewable energy systems, which is planned for expansion through a solar farm and connection to the grid (largely for energy export only, because community produces more than they consume). Most houses have solar hot water systems, are well situated and many with passive solar design and insulation. Heating is largely through individual wood stoves in each house, with much of the firewood supply from the communities own forest, which is an important aspect of living in this community to get enough firewood for the winter. Cooking is mostly with bottled gas or some wood ovens as well.
The community has ample cleared land for gardens and agriculture available, where some is intensively used as market gardens for food production for the community. Each member also has the right to use some land for personal use of choice and a number of members have horses, sheep and goats and some are community owned, with various experiments for livestock products. However, there is significant scope and space for new and other projects for food production and supply for the community and elsewhere, which is currently not being fully tapped into, but would certainly be supported by the community.
The overall focus and spirit of the community is a community based rural lifestyle rather than a social change focus (like Common Ground Community – watch the space for more on that). Saying that a number of community members are working in and active in the social change and social and environmental justice sector.
This is expressed in Moora Moora’s Manifesto as follows:
“We are creating a co-operative community with a diversity of personalities and lifestyles that enable us to shape our environment and live with people of our own choosing. Our primary concerns are social, educational and ecological.”
And further expressed in its vision:
- Moora Moora is a community where we are committed to sharing our lives.
We accept and support each other in a loving and conscious way, encouraging growth, balance and health.
- Moora Moora is a place where we realise our dreams.
We share and work cooperatively to co-create our lives.
- Moora Moora is a mountain of beauty, art and healing.
Our relationships with each other and the Earth create an opportunity for spiritual evolution.
- Moora Moora is a centre for innovation and learning.
We practise the art of living with self, each other and the Earth.
which in turn is expressed in a number of concrete principles and detailed aims, in relation to services to members, services to the wider world, and collaborative processes (see the community website for details).
Moora Moora legally is a members co-operative, which is represented by annually elected directors (7), which make the operational decisions of the community. The directors are supported by various committees tasked with certain topic issues (.e.g. infrastructure, houses, membership, finances, recreation, social, etc.), where each member has the right to participate. And special working groups are set up on an as needed basis (e.g. for larger events, festivals, major infrastructure works etc). Director’s and general community meetings are held once a month to allow for smooth operation of the community and sufficient time to discuss pertinent issues, with other groups meeting regularly on an as needed basis.
Each member is expected to invest substantially into the community and its life and operation, through work on committees or working groups (or if called upon as director), in working bees (which happen at least monthly for whole community and possibly more often in clusters), taking on projects, and daily support of neighbours and community members as needed.
Decisions are made democratically and attempted through consensus based decision making, but also if necessary through majority decision making. Conflict resolution is through various processes including facilitators and many members are trained in Non-violent communication and other social tools.
Economically each member needs to be financially self-sufficient and find their own income stream. To balance community work and income generating work can be a challenge for some, which is sometimes solved by the members through part-time work. Some members are able to draw sufficient work from within the community (e.g. gardening and horticulture, building and maintenance works, etc), but most members need to gain income from the outside, with some working from home (e.g. software engineer, renewable energy trainer, which is supported by good high-speed Internet access) or elsewhere outside the community, with many people working in the health and wellbeing sector, food sector, education, social and environmental justice, and others, including some also commuting to Melbourne (1.5 hrs drive!). Gaining sufficient work and income can be challenging for some members and prospective members due to the location of the community and the community is currently of insufficient size nor has an extensive on-site events and programs to support a much greater number of people through work within the community and generating income for them. However, great potential exists for innovative and new community and social enterprises to be established, also able to tap into the available land and infrastructure resources (e.g. for farming or events).
Land is owned by the community as a co-operative through shares by each member (at least 6000 shares as a full member at $1 each share) but houses can be owned (and sold with approval from community to accept the new owner) by the individual members. House prices will vary widely due to the variable size, age, nature and type of houses and facilities.
Becoming a member of the Moora Moora community is a staged process, which will take at least 6 months, but most commonly between one and two years, before becoming a full member (and co-op shareholder), then being allowed to lease land and purchase a home. A common approach to becoming a member is by first visiting the community on an open day (which occurs monthly), then follow-up with a few co-op work days (open to all interested people irrespective if one wants to become a member or not and the community welcomes and hosts WOOFER’s as well) and attend director’s and community meetings. Later on one can arrange for longer stays, first by becoming a “Friend of Moora Moora” and stay in the community where accommodation will be arranged (a short-term rent) and by becoming a Non-Resident Member by approval by the Directors. A prospective member will be supported by a mentor to learn the inner workings of the community and to get support with integration and if necessary conflict resolution. A regular (at least 6-monthly) review of membership process will occur through the membership committee and once mutual agreement and desire for full membership is reached it will be voted upon by the community.
One of the main challenges of the community, like many other established communities, is aging of the community and its ability to attract younger people to join the community, not only for regeneration but also for new energy, ideas, innovation, enthusiasm to move the community along and explore new paths for the community to thrive for at least another 40 years or so. Remote communities can be challenging for older members, which may not be able to easily access necessary support services without heavily relying on community support, which is the essence and purpose of living in community, but each and every community, including Moora Moora has limitations on what level of support and care it can provide to older members. A topic of ongoing discussion and seeking for solutions.
In summary I consider Moora Moora Community as a place of great natural beauty, a lifestyle choice for rural living, with open and friendly but strong community spirit and skills, with great potential for having and creating more of a vibrant and thriving “village” of self-reliance and regeneration from within the place and the people, with all the challenges (often economic but also social) ahead, reflecting challenges of our wider societies, but without wrecking the planet along the way – a place to visit, explore, contribute to and maybe stay. So if you are in this neck of the woods you should definitely pay Moora Moora co-operative community a visit.
More info on the Moora Moora community website