Peering through the foggy window, I can see the tall gum trees which line the windy road up Mount Toolebewong. Max wipes his sleeve across the glass and points his tiny pocket camera out into the rain. We are headed to the Australian Intentional Communities Conference, but instead of the desert summer we might have expected, a storm has arrived and it is a dramatic welcome.
If Melbourne is famous for “four seasons in a day”, then at 750m, this mountain sees them all. The view stretches down to the sea – by day a sprawling spiderweb of a settlement; by night a twinkling performance. When we wake, the clouds have scattered and all that remains is a blue parasol over the city and bright sunshine. That’s more like it!
Over the next three days, a parade of eloquent and erudite speakers expound on all things community. Bill Metcalf gives a talk about the history of intentional community in Victoria, with pictures of earnest church people in the 1800s serving a vision and joyful kibbutz-ers in the 1950s practising for communal life in Israel.
David Spain and Peter Cock founded the communities at Tuntable Falls and Moora Moora 40 years ago. They have lived at opposite ends of Australia and never discussed policies, but in discussion find so much in common it makes them laugh with amazement.
In Jeremy Shub’s workshop, which advertises itself as “creative and fluffy”, people travel inward, sharing stories of their dreams. We play community games with Kate Lewer from Commonground– bonding over giggles and breaking down boundaries of personal space and appropriate behaviour. These spaces allow balance between the head and the heart – showing us how both are essential for us to thrive. All of life is here.
From the kitchen, comes music and joy and deliciousness. Meals are on time, plentiful and frequent. At breakfast, warm pears and home made granola; for lunch, fresh green salads with wholesome veggies and for dinner, steaming bowls of lasagne or curry. Susannah, the chef, dusts moroccan spice over a fresh bowl of humus and the table is dressed with flowers for morning tea. It’s what every conference needs – and so much more.
The community at Moora Moora manage us all with care, attention and patience. No-one seems to bristle when the tour is guided over their way. Everyone is open and helpful. For me, the conference seems to bring out the best in this community, drawing the members together around a common purpose.
Holding a conference about intentional communities in an intentional community seems like an obvious thing to do. They are set up to house many people and usually have communal facilities such as kitchens and meeting spaces. Moora Moora is well equipped. The Lodge house has dorms, a large lounge area and a dining room. The Octagon can hold fifty people comfortably. There is ample ground to set up a marquee. They even have a stage to host the evening’s entertainment! Esme, the compere, is looking forward to becoming a member next weekend after two years living here on probation. He’s both excited and nervous. It’s a big commitment.
But aside from the physical space and the obvious capability of the crew, this conference has something else which is special. There are so many people here who know how to forge relationships. They understand how to help us create connections and when you add that to the enthusiasm and passion of the participants, it’s not surprising that as they leave, people hug with shining eyes.
On the last night, the remaining delegates are invited to join the residents for a final gathering. In the state of Victoria, this is the beginning of their bush fire season. A drum circle calls the community together in ritual and small children carry hand painted lanterns into the labyrinth as the chant rises. A blessing is spoken.
For a newcomer to Australia, my eyes and ears are opened again to the very real threat of wild fire. While I wish for warm weather and a respite from the unpredictable spring rains, I see that for these people, up here on the mountain, the summer is not just a time for barbeques and swimming.