This blog entry represents the end of our current “road-trip” but I have to remind myself that this past 4 months has simply been part of a larger journey, and not a holiday as many people we meet think that we’re on. It’s difficult to quantify the success of the trip in terms of how far it has moved us along into any definitive results, but we’ve made countless good contacts, gleaned tons of valuable info, got insight into the values of others and how that colours their own dreams, plus the myriad of possibilities out there.
Heidi and I are confronted with mixed emotions about this expedition, as we feel more confident about what interests us and what really doesn’t, but there are particulars that might cause conflict. As a couple, we know that some of our choices don’t align with the other person’s dreams or might end up distancing ourselves from people we know, or may have financial requirements that are beyond our means. We also simply know that we haven’t yet figured out the best first step to take in this new direction and it is a frustrating place to be now with all this new knowledge before us.
Brisbane posed some interesting questions in terms of where we might like to set up shop. We both love the SE Queensland sub-tropical climate and lifestyle, its beaches, Brisbane’s multicultural communities like the West End and both know many great folks there. However, it’s far from the south where the bulk of Heidi’s friends and her family are (including ageing parents), it’s more expensive and Queensland in particular is less friendly to things like co-operative properties and communal living.
Here are some of the people we met and the kinds of things that are happening on the intentional community living front in SE Queensland:
We visited several groups/couples/individuals who had a variety of styles of community either planned or currently active. A big thanks to everyone who shared with us, listened to our stories and ideas, fed us and are keen to follow a similar path in life. It’s just great to meet like-minded people on this alternative journey! 🙂
- our first connection in Queensland with Wendy in Caboolture (just north of Brisbane), a friend of a friend whom we were told was in the process of building some sort of community dwelling. It turns out she was quite far along with a unique house build; she had taken an off-the-plan development and was altering it to accommodate numerous groups under one roof, particularly immediate-need people like refugees or homeless as her background was in social work. Her idea was to create a house with moveable partitions to allow for small rooms with individual kitchenettes and some shared facilities to accommodate people for temporary stretches. From a “communal” point of view, she could see this being a more permanent community down the track, but for now it would be a space to help folks get back on their feet
- next we connected with Mark & Cath and several others who had started an urban community within a huge 4-storey terraced house in Brisbane’s West End. They were woven through the Waiters Union group who lived out their spirituality living amongst the marginalised of society. We really appreciated the combined life experience of the group and their desire to do life together in this vibrant, diverse but sometimes challenging neighborhood. Their model was more share house than we would personally want to do, but in this high density environment, it is really the only option. They openly invited us to start taking steps to be part of their community as I think they could see the shared values that we have, but we’re still not 100% sure if a super-urban lifestyle is what we want.
- the following day we connected with musician friend Aaron and his wife Christy plus renewed acquaintance with past friend Christel and partner Scott. All of them have been considering a rural piece of property a couple of hours south of Brisbane to start a community. They were in fairly early stages of development and were keen to hear about our IC experiences to that point. This was one of our first experiences of really seeing different personalities playing a role in early decision-making and whom would be good to potentially live with. There were lots of differing directions at play; definitely an early meeting with lots of broad strokes. Cool to be part of and I look forward to that conversation with potential community members when we’re at that place. However, I’m not ruling anyone out at this stage!
- a trip up to the Sunshine Coast hinterland brought us briefly to three places:
- we stopped in for a visit with Catherine and Andrew at a small cluster of houses that was their pseudo-intentional community. It was a tightly laid-out group of homes in a reforested area that was quite beautiful. Most people had some regular communication with one another but no really formal IC structure as such. Lots of potential and we were grateful for our hosts’ time and enthusiasm to show us strangers around on a brief visit;
- we decided to camp while up on the Sunny Coast and chose the eco-park at one of Australia’s most famous intentional communities, Crystal Waters. Comprised of hundreds of folks in quirky eco-homes built on freehold plots, CW has a distinct community intention but some people are critical of it just being nothing more than an eco-suburb these days. Since we were camping on the property, we were invited to be part of some weekly gatherings like Friday movie night and Saturday morning coffee & fresh sourdough where we could see a good sense of community togetherness. Obviously we were experiencing this community more passively so I can’t be terribly thorough, but on the surface it felt a bit too sprawling, remote and not as intentional as I’d personally like.
- finally we visited Manduka Co-op for a brief pop-in visit and were received by the delightful Cara who was a more recent member but that was good for a fresh perspective as we often hear from long-time members. Manduka has all the trappings of being a vibrant community with a good size, great attitude, close-knit cluster of homes, connection with nature and a mindfulness for sharing. There were some internal issues that were being rectified and it seemed that the community was in a bit of a transitional period. Cara seemed to think that an infusion of new and younger members could invigorate things and take them to the next step. The only downside for me was a desire to bring animals for meat onto the community but there was otherwise some appealing elements to Manduka.
- we were grateful to our new friend Brooke to enjoy a “pop-up community” as we like to think of it, as she welcomed us into her home for more than 5 weeks. We met her extended family, learned valuable information about aboriginal Australians and lived in a share-house sense of “community.” She invited us to consider using her home as a community which would have been a fun experiment! Well, no doors are closed in our books…who knows if we might not end up in Queensland at some point in our life journey now that we know all these wonderful folks are there! 😀
- eventually Heidi and I decided to head south again and give Adelaide some more of our time as we had found an interesting place to stay there in early August (more about that later), so we made a hasty departure for a quick trip down the coast again. We popped in on friends on the way and then connecting briefly with Matt and Ashlee in Sydney who had just put their house up on auction and purchased land a couple of hours out of the city with the intention of building a community on it. They were just starting to work out the details with who was going to be involved (about 6 interested folks so far), what the community will look like, how the community would support itself and so on. They seem interested in the farming side of things which is one thing Heidi and I have deemed ourselves not to be as interested in (plus they are raising animals for meat as well, which isn’t our belief/interest area) but are educating themselves up on permaculture and having bees for honey in preparation for life on the land. They are both young, high-energy and motivated to do this, so will likely be the perfect type of folks to kick-start a community and build it from the ground up.
- I encountered an unexpected community when I decided pay a WWOOFing visit to tiny house-builder Rob and his family north of Sunbury, Victoria. Tiny houses have become my fascination of late, to the degree that I am considering training myself in carpentry/design and building some myself or collaboratively. Rob lives with his wife, 3 teenaged kids, his son-in-law and granddaughter, plus there are numerous friends and people attending workshops coming and going regularly. There is also quite the community of animals intermingled wherever you walk making for a very interesting intersection of lifeforms. Not coming from a large family, I always marvel at these groupings of folks all sharing life in a compact space and making it work, but it truly is a form of community. The difference of course is that they are community by necessity not by choice (for the kids I mean). Still, it is interesting to watch the group dynamic at work. In the end, not so much house building took place, but it was an interesting last stop.
The case for Communal Living
During our travels, I have been reading Graham Meltzer’s book Findhorn Reflections which, as you might guess, is a series of articles about his 10+ years living at the famous Findhorn intentional community in north Scotland. The book paints the picture of a wonderful and balanced community, with Graham a transformed and joyous-sounding man who is benefitting from all that Findhorn has to offer (and vice versa). I would love to visit this town of 700-ish people and get swept up in the possibilities for successful larger-scale communal living. At the end of his book, Graham summarises communal living in a way that resonates with me and why Heidi and I are seeking this life:
“To my mind, communal living doesn’t need to be justified, defended or even celebrated in terms of its purpose. I see communal living as a default setting i.e. it’s the most natural way for human beings to cohabitate. It should be the norm, and of course it was, up until the Industrial Revolution some 300 years ago. For millennia beforehand, we mostly lived as fully interdependent, mutually supportive members of tribes, hamlets, villages and towns. And we lived sustainably! If present day communal living has a purpose at all, then perhaps it’s to remind us of this now forgotten fact.
Particularly over the last 150 years, a sense of oneself as an integrated member of society has been supplanted with a measure of one’s economic worth, which has in turn been closely associated with status and power. Human values have fundamentally shifted from the social and cultural to the economic and material. Most recently, human need has been dissociated from social satisfaction and cultural meaning; it’s aligned instead with consumption, not only of commodities, but also ‘entertainment’ and substances. Never mind that this trend has fuelled global warming and climate change; it’s more than enough that it has eroded our innate capacity for creativity, service and love.
If we are to regain our basic humanity then the specious satisfaction offered by consumption needs to be replaced by satisfactions that are non-material. Communal settlements are the perfect setting for replacing psychological attachment to material gain with location-based social fulfilment and cultural rejuvenation. Anti-consumerist values are, in fact, common amongst members of intentional communities and axiomatic for many sectarian, egalitarian and alternative lifestyle groups. Intentional communities model a more humane, pro-social, values-based way of life. In so doing, they encourage a return to a more modest, measured and, dare I say, spiritual way of life.” (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25480605-findhorn-reflections)
I love the idea that communal living is a default setting of humans which we need to return to in order to stop the current fracturing of society. My ideal communal structure is the car-free “Villagetown” idea introduced by Claude Lewenz (someone whom I admire a great deal for his progressive ideas and whom I will dedicate a blog post to soon), which is the only major aspect not integrated into Findhorn’s design.
Without a doubt, one of the main things this trip has reaffirmed is that communal living is essential: I don’t want to return to suburb living; I don’t want to be part of the current economic system/expectation; even as an introvert I recognise the need to connect with like-minded people, not just shut away those who are on a very different path to me; I need to pursue my new calling even at the expense of shifting away from familiar career and lifestyle paths and not worry about other people’s expectations of how things should be.
A great finish to this whole trip is that we return to Adelaide with a 2-month stint at the best urban intentional community in Adelaide: Christie Walk. We managed to rent a place there from the tenant who is overseas, so while it isn’t a permanent step into community, it’s a good test-drive! Hopefully we can roll it onward into more community-related living.
The parts of this recent journey where we were engaging with communities were very exciting and valuable glimpses into what is possible, both for our own created community (should we take that path) or what we can expect in that world. From the perspective of creating our own, we realise that there is a lot of work involved. The payoff is developing a dream into a reality, creating a unique version of how community can look. Heidi and I differ in this dream as I am probably in the mindset that I could be involved at the ground level whereas the people and community take precedent for her, however or wherever she feels drawn to get involved. I believe that a curated community can much more deliberately invite like-minded and similarly-valued folks to develop and inhabit it, and I have a desire to live out life with folks with similar outlooks and ambitions.
Beyond this idea of how we might instigate a community or join one in progress, Heidi and I are still feeling out what our roles might be in the community and what the basis of it might be. The parts that have become clearer for me as necessities in my future community are:
- fundamental shared values of members are important: people who genuinely care about the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants is primary.
- authenticity and transparency is key; to ones self and each other. Honesty, integrity, compassion, patience, tolerance, trust, respect.
- creativity in all areas of life: creative thinkers, problem-solvers, visual artists, food producers/preparers, engineers, building, ecologists, musicians, etc
- celebration and gratitude: finding ways to build in regular moments of thankfulness to keep the joy and passion of life alive and well
- healthy mind, body and soul: healthy eating, meditation/yoga, exercise/sport, socialising, communication, working together, education, innovation, fun
Those are some of the fundamental elements which may or may not have changed much since before we started visiting communities, but when I write each of these things down now, my mind is directly connecting them to things I either liked or thought were lacking in places we’ve been.
As things stand, the path forward is as wide-open and uncertain as it’s ever been meaning that we will have to strike out in some direction and just start trying something or else we’ll just be thinking about it forever. At least we have a better grasp on options, challenges and locations now to help inform the path we take. Thanks for following our journey and thanks to everyone we’ve met along the way!