Wind, stars and focus

the.semitrailer.project

day 123  : :  blog post 006

I’m sitting at the pub typing this. It has become my weekly respite and reward for both escaping the winter of tent-living and as a treat while Heidi is in the city and I have been stuck working on the property. It is also one of the few times in the week where I can have a cold beer because yes – after nearly two months – I still don’t have a fridge in order to keep my own beers cold. Or anything else cold. Well, except that the WORLD is cold (read: winter).

The fridge thing hasn’t been a huge issue due to that fact about it being winter that I just shared. You can actually manage to keep an amazing amount of stuff cool enough not to die of salmonella poisoning when the outside temperature dips down to 3 or 4 degrees most nights and you don’t keep things for more than a couple of days. We shop frequently, eat lots of fresh veg (I don’t think meat and dairy eaters would be able to cope) or tinned beans, etc and only really have to do without things like dips or spreads plus any other long-term stuff like frozen goods.

Of course, the reason for having to live like this is a long series of stuff-ups with solar inverters that has literally dragged on for over a month. Short version: I was sent the wrong one (24V instead of 12V), changed my set-up to accomodate it, then the inverter didn’t work anyway, got bounced around by the retailer until they (an eBay store, *sigh*) finally replaced it, then they forgot to send it, it subsequently went out of stock, they refunded me at last, then I had to buy a new one and have been waiting for it to be delivered. Whew! Next week, with any luck, I will have my solar system running 100% and can write my blogs in my tent with the battery charging, lights a-blazing, stereo pumping, fridge a-chillin’, cold beers a-flowin’.

Things are settling into place otherwise with only one Interruptus Massif of late: wind. Not from too many beans (though there’s that too: Heidi and I went through a 4-bean mix phase and the 4-bean mix went through us too! I digress…) but rather from naughty, naughty cold winter fronts rolling through and wanting to rearrange our tents.

Twice so far we have had 80-100+ km/h gusts rip through on cold, wet days and nights combined with walls of sand and dust. In both instances there was a tremendous amount of profanity along with torn tents, multiple snapped guy lines at regular intervals, water ingress, sand ingress, items being hurled onto the floor of the tent, emergency bell tent collapsing… all supplied with the requisite violent canvas buckling and flapping. The first time I was stuck alone for awhile as Heidi was in the city and I was literally running from disaster to another for hours, all the while the tent was trying to jump into the nearest tree.

LRG_DSC06206Luckily the extreme wind is the exception not the rule. But it is a generally windy place, unfortunately. However, when it does get calm and clear, there is something entirely magical when the sun goes down and the inky black sky reveals a blanket of jewels. The stars here are a real treat and highlight. Before we had running water in the tent, I would pay a visit to a nearby bush to brush my teeth each night, just staring up the entire time looking at The Great Rift (that dark streak across the sky through the Milky Way) which is all completely invisible in the city. Shooting stars, dazzling planets, satellites and often colourful moon phases fill the sky while the vacuum-like silence allows you to focus at its beauty undisturbed by the noisy modern world. Even if I need to make a middle-of-the-night visit to another lucky bush for some bladder relief, my grogginess is quickly sharpened up as the impact of the glistening sky grabs my attention for a few extra moments before shuffling back to bed.

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Moving on from tent village set-up and the rebuilding/tweaking from wind damage has been trickier than expected. Once the immediate challenges of setting up our temporary home had mostly been sorted, I found it hard to switch gears and engage with a new and much more imposing challenge: building a house. My focus has been wavering a fair amount along with my own mental struggles playing a part as they have been the past few years. It’s easy to get caught up with daily activities and distractions of tent living, compounded by short winter daylight and general desires to hibernate rather than embark on an epic project. I’m also a poor starter: whether it is a work project or a personal hobby, I am a terrific procrastinator.

Gentle prods from the other folks in our community have helped get my engine going and this week, at long last, work began on the tiny house. It is not glamorous by any means and in some ways it is a tough way to begin: tear out the aluminium floors from the trailer so that we can start building on a bare base. These floors are warped and heavily-used, a haphazard matrix of welding patchwork, rivets, screws and decaying fibreglass underneath. However, there is a strong motivation now to get past this first test, in order to see the blank canvas and begin our creation. I’m looking forward to sharpening my focus and waking up each day with purpose. It’ll be a long road, but hopefully the start of an exciting journey!

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Unintentional community

the.semitrailer.project

day 095  : :  blog post 004

I’m looking forward to exploring the aspect of community living at our property’s collective. We are an organically created group who have initially come together with the common interest of building tiny houses.

But I feel that there is much more to our group as interest in tiny houses usually carry a value set along with it, such as subsistence living, low-impact low-consumerism repair-culture mindset, environmental awareness, small footprint, non-mainstream thinking driven less about finances and more about interconnectedness. I haven’t had the chance to suss all this out with our group yet but I sense (with hopeful anticipation!) that a lot of this is present.

What is interesting about this is that Heidi and I have been thinking for a decade about the idea of living in an intentional community, and here we are in an unintentional one and it looks exciting. The tiny house part is of course the feature presentation and we are delighted to be neighbours with a couple of people, Pete and Rob, who have built tiny houses already. On top of that, of the 8 people who comprise our community, all but one is building semi trailer tiny houses like us. So that’s currently 4 concurrent builds. Very cool and fortuitous!

Even though we are all coming from different parts of Adelaide with a mix of previous jobs and lingering attachments to the city, we are starting to mix, share in activities and have social gatherings. Most recently, Pete and Lyn, our “landlords” (I hesitate to use such a cold label, it’s just shorter than “land owners where we are spending time during our tiny house build” ☺️) took us all on a traditional paddlewheeler cruise on the Murray River as a form of welcome to our new community. What’s nice is that personalities are meshing on top of our common interests and near 50 year age span from oldest to youngest.

Lucy and Sammy have get stuck into doing some food growing in our semi-community garden patch. Once I get my head out of being mired in getting our so-called temporary accomodation sorted, I am looking forward to getting involved in community projects and working bees, etc. like this.

In the meantime, it’s just nice knowing that we have some exciting times ahead getting to know our group, beginning cooperatively building our respective homes, learning new skills together and from one another plus involving the wider tiny house community in what we’re doing. There’s lots of space for some weekender camp-outs and tiny house events! We just have to make sure Pete and Lyn are up for all the shenanigans that we are all brewing☺️

a cosmic leap

the.semitrailer.project

day 079  : :  blog post 003

OK, so there has been a month between blog posts. Good reason for it: the “cosmic leap”. That being: the epic gulf between living in a unit with running water, electricity when you flick a switch, a place for your poo to go when you flush, things like solid walls and so on. It’s a reasonably big deal to have to fabricate this stuff quickly in a manner that will last the better part of a year of building our tiny house without feeling like we are perpetually camping. Thus the span between blog posts: I’ve been busy dammit 😝

Not only busy, but fretting about my capabilities not only in terms of our little tent village, but what I’ll be like building a “proper” dwelling. I spend countless hours frustrated with stupid tasks like figuring out how my solar panels should be mounted or how plumbing works or what a good composting toilet should function like. Everything takes WAY longer than I feel like it should. WAY.

Added bonus: it’s winter and cold with random moments of inconvenient rain and intense wind. I’d have my frustrations no other way…pile it on!

It’s not only the time taken but my mental anguish of not knowing how some basic stuff works after many decades of being on this planet. The dumbfounded looks I got at the electrical shop when I was talking about how 12V set-ups work or what material my ground wire should be makes me feel like I’ve been living in a cave. Of course it seems like every Australian goes camping and so they all are experts at 12-volt everything, but I’m just a noob who knows how to use a camera and his computer and that’s about it so it seems.

I also made the decision not to post too much about this part of the process as I wanted this to be about building a tiny house on a semi trailer, even though my new friend Rob believes that I should be showcasing the whole experience. I can say that it is definitely not for the feint of heart and I give Heidi credit for stepping away from homely comforts and embracing living in a tent for a few months and then in a tiny house. She’s taking it slowly and occasionally shakily (we did a re-design of our sleeping set-up after a recent blustery wind storm that vibrated our bell tent too much for her liking) but is still on-board with the adventure…for now! I agree with Rob in the sense that while this adventure is a definite challenge, it is worth doing these things in life to shake ourselves awake from our routine. It is good for people to see that it is possible to break loose from convention and follow our dreams, even if they seem crazy to others.

And so I continue to shape our temporary home. It is taking longer than I hoped for but I do realise that it has to be emotionally sustainable for us to do the tiny house build, and therefore has to be comfortable enough, functional and not a hindrance on a day-to-day basis. So if getting running hot and cold water, a fuss-free toilet, warm and safe shelter and reliable power takes me a bit longer, I guess it will pay off in the coming months. And I suppose (he says, trying to convince himself) I am learning transportable skills now for the tiny house, so hopefully it’s not at all going to waste!

welcome to the semitrailer project

the.semitrailer.project

day 043  : :  blog post 001

And so it begins!

We have decided to take the plunge and start building a tiny house. Heidi and I started talking about the possibility of compact living when we first met, as we loved the idea of simple living and neat designs like straw bale and cobb, cottages, cabins and other cute, handmade dwellings. Tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) came a bit later when I started looking into the work of tiny house granddaddy Jay Shafer who began to popularise the idea of living tiny on wheels around 2008.

It didn’t take us long to start dreaming of having one too, especially in the increasingly challenging Australian housing market. However, dreaming and doing are two very different things, and it took us awhile to get a combination of finances, opportunity and courage to put it all together into action.

I have cited the day as “43” here as I have unofficially made the end of a recent event the day that shifted our ambitions into gear: the first-ever Australian Tiny House Festival, in Bendigo, Victoria on 23-24th March, 2019. Once we saw all the great ideas, likeminded folks talking about it and getting excited about it, real-life houses we could walk inside and enthusiastic speakers giving inspired presentations, we felt like we had put it off long enough.

The only sad part is that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on this one but weren’t brave enough to be a pioneer and take the plunge when we first started thinking about it. Despite it seeming like a “popular” and “trendy” thing to do now, we still feel like it is an unconventional approach to solving the housing problem. Thinking about it more though, I’m sure that I am thinking it is more common than it is simply because I personally have been thinking about it for many years!

We have arrived at today, day 43, and the first entry to a journal that I aim to keep about the trials and tribulations of building not only a THOW, but one that is built from a trailer that usually sits behind a semi-rig. I’ll go into detail about this in my next blog post, but in short we heard about this approach from friends of ours and it appealed to Heidi and I because of:

  • the larger, maximised floor space
  • the pre-made outer structure that is already built to be on the road
  • the near limitless weight possibilities
  • the universal towing ease
  • the low entry price of acquiring the base trailer

among other things. We’ll soon see if this has been the right decision for us, but looking at the first trailer creation of our friend Rob, it seems like there is every chance that it will be a great canvas for us to create our very first home build!

001-delivering palletsDay 43, in practical terms, was just a day of me picking up some wood pallets (something I’m familiar with as I’ve built many an item of furnishing with them 😄)  in order to deliver them to the property where we’re doing our build and create a platform that our temporary tent home will reside on. So nothing too momentous, but a significant first step towards the big build and only 3 weeks away from living in a canvas shelter while we build for the rest of 2019!

Let the memories begin…


I’ll be throwing some photos of our journey up at our Insta site the.semitrailer.project and I’ll be documenting progress on YouTube as well (link to come)

Why do vegans eat faux-meat and mock-dairy?

A question that is frequently asked of vegans is: if you are against the idea of consuming animal flesh and think that humans don’t need it, then why do you eat pretend meat and dairy products? While not all vegans eat faux meat depending on how long they have been vegan and why they gave up meat in the first place, there is a large market for mock-meats by vegans for good reason. For the most part, this can be boiled down to tradition, flavour, protein and social-acceptance. But let’s unpack it a bit…

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Buffalo hot “wings” recipe at The Edgy Veg

If we first dial all arguments back to core rationale, vegans are either:

  • fighting for animal cruelty to be vastly reduced,
  • environmental chaos caused by animal agriculture to be stemmed,
  • vast health improvements that can be had by reducing animal intake in humans, or
  • a combination of the first three.

The main things that meat-eaters have on their agenda besides basic sustenance are: flavour and protein. And maybe “tradition”.

Looking at faux meat and dairy strictly from the omni “flavour” perspective, the past 3 or 4 years in particular have seen an immense increase in not only the volume of great-tasting vegan products, but a rise in innovative preparation of those products which is delivering vast improvements in taste and texture.dnLzZYG

If a meat-eater hasn’t tried vegan products for over 5 or 6 years and are still claiming vegan meats are tasteless and rubbery, they are basing their assumptions on early incarnations that used more basic technology and ingredient arrays to contribute to a much less exciting flavour. To be honest, anyone would be forgiven for criticising early vegan foods, many of which are inedible by today’s high standard of gastronomic delights.

In addition to flavour, the nutritional component to many vegan products is at a very high standard. In an effort to further attract buyers that may be looking for products strictly for health rather than compassionate reasons, there are countless organic, gluten-free, preservative-free, low saturated fat and low GI foods made from whole foods which make “going vegan” an even healthier option. Given that these foods are now marrying health and full flavour to create an alternative to most meat and dairy items, there seems less and less reasons to be able to rationalise breeding, raising, feeding, torturing and slaughtering sentient beings and then storing hunks of rotting animal carcass in order to obtain something that can be done an a far more humane, efficient and nutritionally complete manner.

Speaking specifically on protein, thanks to an increasing array of comprehensive studies, we are able to confidently strike back at nay-sayers when it comes to a plant-based diet. One such large study recently compared the nutrient profiles of around 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians and around 5,000 vegans. We now know that vegans average 70% more protein than the recommendation every day (RDI). Protein is by far the most overstated nutrient. People are unnecessarily obsessed with protein – but it’s very, very difficult to actually be deficient in protein, and only people who are falling far short of their recommended daily calorie requirement (such as people with eating disorders) will be deficient in protein. It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein.

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@minimalistbaker on Instagram

So, back to the original question: why does faux meat and dairy even exist and why do many vegans seek these products out? The simple answer of course is that most vegans once ate meat and dairy as tradition led our parents to feed us that stuff, as well as being conditioned by the Powerful Influencers (corporate advertising). Now that we have left that cruelty mostly behind us, we are still left with familiar meals and flavours that we enjoyed. Seeing as we are unwilling to enjoy those flavours at the expense of an animal having to lose its life or be tortured, mock-meats became a suitable substitute. It’s not that we eat faux meat because we want to imagine the flesh that went along with it, its the seasoning, texture and flavour that is familiar and that we can have but without the cruelty.

The ethics and values of vegans are our strength, and we literally gave up on our so-called “favourite” foods because it wasn’t worth eating them if something had to die miserably or kill the planet in order to fulfil a selfish pleasure. I have great admiration for vegans who did this when there was no alternative (eg. 10, 20, 30 years ago) but to completely change their diets overnight and not be able to still enjoy the flavours they had become accustomed to. Of course, even worse back then was the fact that you were surrounded by meat-eaters giving you grief about your choices.

I would like to ask a few questions to meat-eaters, such as:

  • Why do meat eaters make food that doesn’t look like a piece of flesh? aka. sausage, burgers, meatloaf, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, etc. If humans were “designed to eat meat” then why aren’t pieces of animal sold with fur, hooves, etc so we can dig our big carnivore incisors into it and eat if fresh off the bone? Why disguise it?
  • Why do non-vegans kill animals in order to eat something that could be made with plants instead? Given that faux meats are now extremely similar in their characteristics to animal products, it literally makes no sense for people to eat something that tastes similar but where one requires a creature to die to satisfy one’s tastebuds.
  • Why do non-vegans make their food with vegan ingredients? Meat-eaters that give vegans grief are generally hypocrites as they will still eat bread made from grains, fries made from potatoes, lettuce and tomato on their hamburger, baked beans, vegetable-based soups, “meat and 3 veg”, etc etc. It’s not like they are eating meat with no other elements – maybe they should if they are self-professed carnivores. As one person said on Facebook: “Why not boil your… steak with blood or something… and season them with burned ashes”

The bottom line is: we don’t need meat and dairy. If you are a vegan reading this, then you are living, breathing proof that you are not currently dead because you are missing meat and dairy from your diet. For those meat-eaters who claim that it is their choice to eat meat, then I will say that your choice is a selfish one: the accumulated death, resource depletion and money tied up in health care due to your choice affects us all. It’s OUR PLANET TOO. Best yet, there are delicious alternatives so you don’t have much to give up!

Further reading on protein sources and amounts, especially if you are an athlete wondering how much to get, try the No-Meat Athlete or this guide at Healthline which shows specific food types and how much protein and other nutrients they provide.

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@consciouschris on Instagram

Vegan foods reviewed – part 4

I’m excited to be getting back into reviewing products, especially now that there are both so many new foods to try but also so many new vegans every day choosing a cruelty-free life! To those who might be reading, kudos to you! Even though longer-time vegans are generally good at scouring the shelves and internet for any new products, I thought I’d put my 2 cents in as well since it’s harder to find groupings of reviews in one place. Eventually I hope to make it a separate and searchable area, with links to products.

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These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


PRODUCT: FIFYA – KALE, ROCKET & WHITE BEAN DIP
Type: Snack food
Country of origin: Australia
Quality Food World

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

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The title of this dip isn’t the most enticing you’ll come across as, on their own, none of these things are that mouth-watering items of desire. However, the way that FIFYA has combined them where the white bean becomes the creamy binding element giving it a smooth texture and the spiciness of rocket and the other flavours like pumpkin seeds, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and olive oil round out the dip in a very appealing way.

FIFYA does a variety of vegan, gluten free, preservative free dips like roasted eggplant & parsley, pumpkin & roast capsicum plus sweet potato to name a few. I intend to try them all in due time and I’m not sure how I came to try the kale one before these more obvious  choices with “roasted” veggies (my fave) given that kale is low on my veggie list (not my fave). I’m glad it happened though, as it is a satisfying dip for snacking.

The most impressive part of this dip is the flavour which is punchy and a nice balance of savoury elements, and is perfect on crackers, pita or with fresh cut veg. The texture is smooth and good, although perhaps a bit runny and lumpy as far as dips go, but it’s not a big issue. The dips represent ok value; I am not sure if it is because they are a smaller company or if by adding “vegan” onto something they can charge more, but at $2 per container more than most of their competition for ingredients that are far from exotic, $5.50 is a bit hight to pay for a 250g dip. Being 100% vegan, I will reach for it if I’m tiring of hummus but I would buy even more often if it were a bit lower in cost.


PRODUCT: CHICKPEA AND CAULIFLOWER MASALA BURGER
Type: Burger patty
Country of origin: New Zealand
Bean Supreme

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

masala-burger-packaging

On first viewing of these Bean Supreme products, I find the packaging quite appealing: clean, modern and super-tasty looking food. I would be very surprised if a meat-eater would look at that image and not be seduced into trying it.

That does happen a lot with vegan foods I suspect, but the trouble is that the flavour doesn’t always match the what the image is selling. Unfortunately, even with vegans – most of whom started out as meat and dairy eaters – there is an expectation that certain foods that look a particular way will taste how we have become accustomed to them tasting. I pity the vegan product-makers who create foods with amazing flavours but someone who has a preconception might reject it simply because it doesn’t precisely match what they were expecting. Anyway, I digress…

What does that all mean with regards to Bean Supreme’s Masala Burger? Well, unfortunately the image oversells the product by a fair amount. When I first saw the raw patties, I was reminded of the ABC show The Checkout which has a segment that displays a product’s marketing photo vs what it really looks like. This was kind of the same: the patties were yellow and thinner with speckles like seeded mustard. Still, I hoped for the best and thought that as they browned they would look like the photo.

I baked them as it suggested that was a “healthier” way to prepare them, but when I took them from the oven they looked a bit anaemic, so I gave them a fast fry to brown them up. They looked better but were very dense and fairly dry compared to the juicy-looking photo. This is one of those cases where a beefy looking image was a omnivore’s nightmare, with a very-beany patty with blandish flavour. I didn’t get a sense of the intended “fragrant Indian spices” and it even was hard to dress up with some bbq sauce which I resorted to in the end.

At $8.60 for 4 patties, they weren’t the most expensive patties but they also were not that cheap, and given the competition in this category, I’d likely opt for something else before having these again.


PRODUCT: VEGANAISE
Type: No-egg mayonaise
Country of origin: USA
Follow Your Heart

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4
Organic-vegenaiseThis item has been around for awhile so it’s far from revolutionary, but it continues to be a shining example of how a vegan product can so effectively eclipse the item it is emulating.

Follow Your Heart has a lovely backstory of four vegetarian friends getting together 40 years ago to do a business that followed their ideals. You can see that there is a lot of love and successful tinkering in this product as I would say it is near-perfect. When I was an egg-eater 6+ years ago, creamy mayo had me hooked…I didn’t care for the low-quality stuff and ones that had a funny texture that was “slippery” and broke apart (like Hellmann’s) but rather liked Thomy’s very creamy and flavourful type. Vegenaise finds a good place in between flavour and texture-wise so it is as appealing as a spread as it is as a dip (the latter of which I am guilty of using it more often than anything else!).

I haven’t tried the organic version side-by-side with the regular version, so I don’t know if there is a real taste difference. I also love the garlic version which is much more aioli-like but not overly garlicky. Their byline is “better than mayo” and while I’d say that it is “as good as high-quality egg mayo” in terms of taste, the fact that it is eggless makes it far, far better.

The only thing that knocks down my score in terms of value is that I still don’t understand why there is a mark-up on vegan products when they contain no exotic ingredients (you’ll hear me harp on about this a lot 😝). At $9 per 473ml jar, it comes in 50% more expensive than gourmet egg mayos and twice as much as “regular” egg mayos. Even taking into consideration industry subsidies and economies of scale, I still think it is unnecessary to charge so much. If Follow Your Heart has been around for 40 years, they shouldn’t be considered a boutique brand anymore either.

Price rant aside, it’s one of my favourite daily-use products!

 


Bundagen IC: serenity by the sea

~ DESTINATION THREE: BUNDAGEN, NSW ~

Proof that hippie communities can evolve beyond simple ideological experiments

Back at our campsite that shares the same beach as Bundagen’s intentional community, I can continue to enjoy the natural haven that is this part of the New South Wales coastline. lush scenery detailAbout 20 minutes drive south of Coffs Harbour and close to the eclectic town of Bellingen which is back-dropped by a stunning Dorrigo National Park, this sub-tropical zone is our first real taste of the more northerly climes of Australia – wetter, more humid, more lush. It is an excellent climate for organic farming, straddling Mediterranean and tropical, and features lush rainforest, picturesque mountains, achingly-beautiful surf beaches and small, inviting towns. Heidi and I felt a lot of external loves and soul-filling elements clicking together here right off the bat.

For 35 years, Bundagen Cooperative has been an off-grid settlement to a group of folks looking to connect more with nature and other like-minded souls in a beautiful part of Australia. Over 110 people – spanning three generations – live and work here, growing organic veggies, meditating, playing and experiencing life mostly off the mainstream treadmill. Theirs is not a utopia, but rather what they aptly describe as “a microcosm of the macrocosm, with all the dramas of the wider world played out on our small stage.” One person we met said that it was originally a ‘social experiment’ to experience the limitations of such a community.

community-morningThis community began in an appropriately activist manner: in the late 70’s, happy hippie folk used the farm land for environmentally joyful pursuits and were friendly with the local farmer who owned it. In 1981, the property came available for sale and Japanese interests swooped in with designs on redeveloping the land into a resort and golf course. The farmer sided with the concerned hippies and chose to sell the land to them which the group managed to do via their “alternative networks”. Hooray! This wily rogue of determined environmentalists defeated the big developers and have since cared very well for the land, even Jo-and-Girihaving part of it deemed a protected national park (Bongil Bongil).

We were originally drawn to this community as it sounded like a nice balance of alternative, sustainable, meditative/spiritual and mature. Having spent two weeks there as WWOOFers with our hosts Jo and Giri (pictured), I think that our initial hopes and assumptions were largely bang-on. From a visual perspective, Bundagen is a beautiful spot; we largely spent our time in one of 12 villages within the community – Bananas village (it was named as it was a former banana plantation, not because the people are crazy and wild like I first thought 😛 ) – and it is green, tropical and well-kept. Cars are “officially” limited in the village and the “roads” are greenways between houses (and one gorgeous path that takes you to an exquisite private stretch of beach).

Our hosts' open-plan home, surrounded by lush rainforest

Our hosts’ open-plan home, surrounded by lush rainforest

In our village, all of the homes are unique with many being hand-built creations using many types of natural materials, plus some caravans, old buses and other interesting structures thrown into the mix. There are no fences which seems obvious in a place that is supposed to promote community and openness, but experiencing it still feels very different than our mainstream suburbs where there are divisions all over the place: bitumen roads and footpaths, council-maintained areas, boundary fences and walls, main housechain-link in public areas, speed and traffic signs and so on. In my opinion, this is still and has always been one of the defining factors of living in community: you live together, trust each other and provide safe, harmonious and attractive common spaces that generally don’t require division or external policing. Going back into these conformist settings once you’ve been in a community like this immediately makes me feel uncomfortable. Mainstream society is largely not natural.

Other than visual appeal, the sustainable aspect is immediately obvious as well. The whole community is off-grid, so most villages have in-home composting toilets (plus a village shared loo), all water is rainwater harvested and electricity is solar. The off-grid stuff is done so well and effortlessly that you hardly notice it such that it is so well-integrated into the operation of the community. Until very recently, shared resources like a communal kitchen were still used, but an ageing population with a bit more saved income has resulted in more members building in-home conveniences and the village kitchen was torn down. There is, however, talk of building a new one, at least for a community hall to meet at. Other resources are still shared however, like tools and equipment, common machinery for maintaining roadways and lawns, and so on.

One of the biggest parts of this community (and of course the intent of all communities) is the relational part, and having spoken to numerous people about it, it seems that 95% of it is all good. Many of the folks we met had been there a long time and that in itself is indicative that members enjoy living there. It was fantastic to see so many healthy-looking 50 and 60-something folks, busy but smiling, and with tons of interesting wisdom to offer. However, of all the people we met, not one didn’t mention the challenges of conflict within a tight-knit community like Bundagen. In fact, not only do they mention their struggles with conflict resolution on their webpage, but we had numerous conversations about it, and witnessed it firsthand.

garden detailConflict resolution and internal politics are things that we have heard about in every community so it is clear to us that it a good system needs to be established early on. Members indicate that this didn’t really happen in Bundagen and this is their only real issue. Clearly they have made it work on some level to last this long, but the potential for fallout came into full illumination with a community member who was causing a rift between villages and individuals for many years. As good stewards of communal-living principles, the community-at-large have employed ongoing attempts at personal support over time, but sterner measures were being discussed. By all counts, this is unusual but it seems like something that has gone on far longer than is needed as the community didn’t have a comprehensive plan on to come down hard on frequent offenders. A further downside that we experienced was gossip, not just from this but from other things, which I suspect could cause other rifts if left unchecked.

Having come here on the heels of our Bruderhof experience was interesting; I am always hesitant to compare communities as they are apples and oranges, but being that they are so different makes it enticing to compare. The stand-out thing about a community like this is the organic nature of everything, which has its pluses and minuses. house-deck day2On the plus side, Bundagen is lush, natural and beautiful with countless birds, monitor lizards, possums and bush turkeys in your garden (and the occasional python living in your rafters!); easygoing smiling folks from different walks of life doing creative and inspirational things with their diverse dwellings, clothing and interests; music/sing-along nights, working bees, clothing-optional bathing at the beach (apparently in the early days, even member meetings were in the nude!), wild organic gardens behind many homes, yoga/meditation sessions run by members; and a relaxed way of organising, administering and “being”. The downside, comparatively, might be what Bruderhof excelled at: structure and order, balanced education, blended multi-generational groups onsite, community unity (with gossip largely “outlawed”) and a central drive (Jesus) that affected every person; all this the kind of stuff that won’t happen without some forethought. Now, I know Bundagen residents would probably argue that some of those things are exactly what they don’t want, and I would personally choose a more organic lifestyle over a heavily constructed one, but there are levels of structure that Bundagen might consider virtues to employ, especially in light of their self-assessment on conflict resolution. And that’s not to say that Bundagen was lacking in a spiritual core; I think most people there felt some affinity with the Spirit, the land or both, they simply didn’t all subscribe to the exact same programme.

One thing that is obvious about community living is the great sense of unity in times of need: during our visit, a friend of our hosts passed away, and the community rushed to help with preparations, personal support and finances. Folks rallied together to give moral support with the troublesome community-member I mentioned above. When a couple of WOOFers last year got stuck in a rip in the surf, a coordinated rescue was quickly set up and the couple would have likely died had it not been for the whole community jumping into action. Of course, emergencies aren’t the norm, and you can see the day-to-day stuff like neighbours dropping in regularly, village get-togethers plus information and skills sharing. It is clearly more dynamic and functional than a typical urban suburb. This generosity of time and spirit extended to temporary folk like us, as everyone had time for a chat with relaxed exchanges and no ulterior agenda.

caravan-day

caravan inside

We ultimately spent most of our time with our hosts Jo and Giri, who fed us well (food & plenty of wine!) and kept us laughing with entertaining evening chats. They let us stay in their backyard caravan (pictured above) which was cozy and open so we could hear the birds singing and the rain fall (which it did a lot of in our last week there). stone wall-M&HGiri had us help with constructing an artistic stone wall and other manual labour, and Jo was interested in our skilled labour so we helped her with a logo and website for her business. We enjoyed their hand-crafted open-plan mud-brick home which really took advantage of the lush surrounds, and was only a 5 minute walk from the warm ocean where we often started or ended our day with a swim. The sense of peace and serenity that the location and lifestyle offered to the folks in Bananas village was quite memorable, and I could easily see why it would be enticing to live there for decades – despite the occasional conflict – as so many had done. Membership is closed at Bundagen as they are full, which also really says something about the place. Definitely a little slice of heaven!

beach4

As usual, have a look at Heidi’s take on Bundagen on her blog, Miss Roo’s Adventures.