Tag Archives: straw bale

Christie-Walk-Frontage

Christie Walk Co-Housing Adelaide

It’s a cold winter day in Adelaide when we take a ten minute stroll from the central market to keep our appointment at Christie Walk. It feels colder still for us, because we’ve just come from Alice Springs, where it’s cold at night but in the day, the temperate is a balmy twenty-two degrees. We came down to Adelaide on the Ghan – the famous locomotive which began as a camel train and takes its name from the Afghan cameleers who were the first to carry supplies from Adelaide to the desert interior of Australia.

Adelaide is not much known for its innovations. It has a reputation in Australia as a sleepy little place – more village than city – where everyone knows everyone else. Perhaps that cosy vibe is why it has now become home to an innovation in community living – a co-housing settlement slap bang in the city centre.
Christie Walk embodies much that is revolutionary about the co-housing movement. As resident Sue Gilbey tells me as we walk around – “ You have an intention to have a community first and you build around that intention. So you begin with the end in mind.” Architect Paul Downton certainly had a vision. His vision included not only community, but sustainability, taking into account elements such as the embodied energy and energy usage; retention and recycling of water; land health and soil fertility through restoration and encouragement of biodiversity and promotion of human and environmental health through limiting use of polluting or damaging products.

The result is a compact settlement of 27 homes on half an acre, including two apartment blocks, four individual cottages, a community room and shared laundry facility. We approach from Sturt street through an covered passageway decorated with a mural on one wall. Sue explains that the mural has been created by the residents and tells the story of the building and all the people who have lived here, including a reference to the traditional owners by the presence of the Rainbow Serpent. It gives a friendly flavour to the entrance way.

We then wind down a narrow alleyway past a row of tall, colourful buildings, two of which are made from straw bale. “They’re possibly the only straw bale buildings in the world that are built in the inner city and in an intention community”, says Sue. “It’s one of the best building materials because of its insulating factors but also, providing it’s rendered properly, it’s one of the safest. It’s vermin proof and fire proof and it allows for minor movement, where most houses would crack.”

Christie-Walk-Garden-seat

Sue points out a circular area with a seat where people tend to pause for a chat. “One of the really beautiful things about it here is when you get to the centre, you don’t know that you’re in the city. You’re surrounded by bird life and there’s a sense of serenity about it that you just don’t get in the city.”
Another unique feature is the community room, which has a fully functioning kitchen. Every month the community meets for a shared meal. Meetings are all held there. There is a piano. They have film nights and talks. And if Sue wants to host a dinner party, she can bring people here. So as well as supporting the sharing economy, it helps people live with less. Sue’s apartment is just 55 square metres, smaller than the average suburban home but with all the advantages of space afforded by a much bigger home.

The population of Christie Walk varies between 42 and 48 and 30% of the properties are rentals, where people have bought as an investment, or moved on and rented their house out. Sue says this helps to maintain diversity. “The good thing about it is that we have just about every age group. I was always fearful that it was going to end up like a retirement village. and it might still do, because we are all ageing.”

Christie-Walk-Helen-Sue

As Sue tells me about the decision-making process, which is based on democratic voting, I ask Sue how she finds living in community.
“When I first moved here, i moved here for the environmental credentials, not the community. I was used to living with family or on my own or with people that I chose to live with not people who just happened to be there. It took me a long time to get to grips with the fact that there were people who I wouldn’t normally have in my circle that were living close. You examine yourself and the way that you react to things and that’s a good thing. That’s a really healthy thing to do.”

Christie-Walk-balcony

Climbing up to the communal roof top garden, Sue plucks a handful of kumquats and we survey the view over the city towards the Adelaide hills. For a city centre apartment block, Christie Walk does seem to offer the best of everything.

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MooraMoora_HillHouse1

Moora Moora Intentional Community

I’ve just come back from a weekend at Moora Moora, an intentional community about an hour and a half out of Melbourne. It takes about an hour to even get out of Melbourne, since the suburbs spread for miles and miles. The train passes out through Camberwell, Chatham, Canterbury and Croyden – all brought from the old country to help the settlers feel at home. They look nothing like the originals.

Eventually, sprawling suburbs turn into sprawling homesteads, with large farmhouses stuck in vast pastures. And trees appear.

My train connects with a bus and after the bus, someone waits to take me the last 20 minutes to the mountain. We wind up Mount Toolebewong through tall gums and emerge at the top into an open green.

The Lodge is a communal building, converted into lounge, kitchen and visitor dorms. This building was used by Melburnians who came to holiday here in the early part of the century, but the rest – about 30 hand built,  have appeared since. The community is about 40 people, plus children, living in small clusters of homes created mostly from mud brick, poured earth or straw. They are off the grid, and fought to stay so when the power company threw lines over the mountain in the 1970’s and insisted that they connect. They refused, making their point by standing in front of the bulldozers. “It was a defining moment in terms of our commitment not to use the grid and to make sure we got as much of our own power using the sun and wind as we could”, says Sandra Cock.

Peter Cock is one of the founders and somewhat of an expert in intentional communities. He wrote a book in the 1970’s as part of his PhD studies which analysed community in Australia and used his experience to establish Moora Moora. He explains that the cluster design protects the community against breakdown, since in theory, if one cluster has a conflict, the whole community does not need to “deal with it”. It’s a bit like saying that if you break a leg, the body won’t die, but I do get the feeling that Moora Moora, nearly 40 years old, is limping just a little. It may be that some of the newcomers crave the laid back lifestyle without wanting to put in the hard work which maintains a community.

This weekend, there is a course here on how to develop a fledgling ecovillage. The facilitator, Shane Schmidt, learned at Findhorn in Scotland and the group of 20-odd participants are all at some stage of setting up a community. They are here to learn about the “four core pillars” of sustainable design: social, worldview, ecological and economic. I am here, in particular, to research aspects of conflict resolution for my new documentary. I take part in a profound process called Forum, which was developed in Zegg community in Germany and facilitated here by Gero Van Aderkas. I hope to show you how it works in the film!

On Saturday, the weather is warm and sunny and supports a fun evening of wood fire pizza, dance and a screening of Ecovillage Pioneers. On Sunday, the mist and rain roll in and blanket the mountaintop in a damp chill which makes me glad to head back down the mountain to the city. I had enough of that in Wales 🙂

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