The resident platypus at Platypus pool is nowhere to be seen, yet is probably curled up in a burrow not metres away from where kids are leaping out from a granite boulder and into adeep pool of the mountain stream below.
Parents ring the action in different states of immersion from beneath the shade of water gums, some guiding toddlers over the smooth round stonesin the shallows.
It has all the appearance of a big happy family gathering, and is, of sorts.
I’m here visiting friends who, four years previous, bought a beautiful 144 acre rural property in the foothills of the Barrington Tops as part of a collective. The land is owned by a Trust, and each of the thirteen shareholders has the right to build their own dwelling, and enjoy the entirety of the communal land.
Many of the communards are young families who live and work in Newcastle, and are here to share the summer holidays - building, planting, swimming, feasting, and generally hanging out in a seeming rural idyllic.
While landsharing certainly makes the whole conceptof a rural holiday shack a far sight more affordable, the purpose of this community is much bigger –expressly to “tread lightly on the earth, while actively contribute to our local community and engage in social change towards a sustainable and socially just society.”
On the way back from the swim I’m given a tour of the newly finished ‘barn’ - a straw bale clay and lime rendered mansion overlooking the blue rolling hills of Barrington. Solar panels surface the roof, while inside the kitchen is shabby chic at its best. On the long verandah table, a watermelon is carved into a smiling face like a Halloween pumpkin, the remains of the double kids birthday party that morning.
I find community member John MacKenzie withfirst birthday boy Blake on knee.
“My original motivation for joining was about trying to live my ethics –to live kindly on the planet and kindly towards each other. The whole infrastructure of modern society makes it almost impossible but living in community I get a chance to practice what I believe.”
“The benefits of doing it in a group are social, financial and quality of life. If I was trying to maintain this property on my own I’d spend all weekend mowing. This way we’re dividing workload and costs like tractors and fences between 13 people.”
Shepherd’s Ground is another suchinitiative popped up in the Hunter. Similarlychallenging the stereotype of chaotic commune, Shepherds Ground promises to model a cutting-edge eco-village, with their vision to build a rural village of 29 homes nestled on a 10 acre area of a 277 acre farm, with the remaining land to be organically farmed by local and community farmers.
Living for a time in a village in France was part inspiration for Shepherd’s Ground co-founderLucieBruvel.
“I’m inspired by village living and the sense of community that emerges out of that. What we are creating is a farm and village with good wholesome connectedness.”
“Some people will have their own businesses, some will farm, some will work in town or away, some will be elders, children. Being able to do your own thing and come together for common interests is what really attracts me to this way of living.”
After gaining unanimous DA approval by the Port Stephens City Council who described it as a blueprint for future rural land share organisations across Australia, Shepherd’s Ground have since launched a Crowdfunding campaign to raise kickstartfunds (check out www.shepherdsground.com).
Dusk, and back at the ranch kids crowd around the homemade wood-fired pizza oven watching their cheese melt. The sweaty oven maestro takes a breather for a swig of beer, wipes his forehead and looks up at me with a smile. “It doesn’t get much better than this.”