Pulling up on a dark rainy night in an unfamiliar forest and needing to set up camp is never much fun, especially when the tent is new and fandangled to the point of Rubik’s cube complicated. Even less enjoyable, as I discovered last weekend, is bending down to shift a rock from the tent-site to find instead a scaly-backed cane toad.
This was not what I imagined. I was here for the first national meeting of The Earth Academy – a joining of some of the country’s leading eco-philosophers, permaculturists, educators, and activists, to birth a national organisation dedicated to transformative earth education.
Great ideas and auspicious gatherings are often linked to their locations. In this spirit, we had chosen to meet at Crystal Waters – an award-winning eco-villageknown as a leading example of sustainable living, at the headwaters of the Mary Riveron Queensland’s Sunshine Coast,
Luckily my soggy grumpiness vanished the moment I woke up to the sounds of a sub-tropical rainforest arising; whip birds punctuating the general cacophony. Stepping outside, the mist carried the smells of humus, chooks, citrus peel, hay and wet eucalypt.
Designed along permaculture principles, the 650 acres of Crystal Waters includes 83 privately owned residential lots housing the 250 residents, and two co-operatively owned commercial propertieswhich provides facilities for the social and economic aspirations of the community. The remaining 80 per cent of the property is owned in common and can be licensed by residents for agriculture, forestry, recreation and habitat projects.
A pre-breakfast walk took me down to the communal Village Green, home to a sourdough bakery and café used regularly for markets and concerts and a variety of social enterprise businesses. Past the eco-centre and public eco-camping centre begin the clusters of houses set amongst bananas and towering bamboo. Following the sound of rushing water, a freezing dip confirmed that this really was the land of crystal waters.
Morag Gamble was the host for our stay. She and husband Evan proudly give us a tour of the multi-podded house and extensive permaculture gardens built in the seventeen years since they arrived. With a largeverandah overlooking a lake and forested mountains, it is both sustainable – self-sufficient in water, power and waste recycling – and beautiful. The three blonde kids running barefoot amidst the flowers complete the picture of eco-paradise.
It’s not about living in a bubble for Morag though. Launching the Ethos Foundation some years back has her flat out running workshops in hands-on-skills and ecologically sustainable values.
“It’s about engaging the head, the heart and the hands, and inviting people in to experience what a possible sustainable future can be like,” Morag said.
“The fact that we don’t have to worry about a mortgage, security, crime or pollution gives me the freedom to be creative and contribute to society in way that feels whole and joyous.”
“I love being able to live and work in a way that my life and passions are all intertwined.”
The long days of meetings mean that I glimpse life at Crystal Waters, but as we stand together in a circle at the end of the weekend, smiling and celebrating the visionary plan of nature-connected communities, we are buoyed by the knowledge that the future on paper is reflected in the present outside.