The morning feels Autumnal and it is spitting rain when we arrive at number 42 Bamfield Road in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg. We are here for an open day at Murundaka co-housing, where 40 people live together in individual units surrounding a central common area. The whole building covers 3 standard blocks, so it makes quite an imposing sight on the corner of the street, but as we wander in past the bursting bike racks, a colourful welcome sign and a table heaving with food present an inviting picture.
Murundaka is opening its doors to visitors as part of the final weekend of the Sustainable Living Festival and as an example of sustainable living, this project seems to tick a lot of boxes. Giselle Wilkinson, one of the founder residents, tells how her home of twenty years was bulldozed to make way for the development.
“It was an opportunity too good to miss.” she says. “With the challenges facing us, not least climate change, we need to find a way to live more responsibly on the planet – sharing resources, growing our food, using less energy. This was a chance to show how it can be done.”
Giselle is part of Earth housing co-op, who have owned and let property in this area since the 1970’s. With the co-op as an investment landlord, tenants have security of tenure without having to take out a crushing mortgage and this same ethos has been adopted at Murundaka.
“It’s a rental model” explains Iain Walker, who has been with Earth co-op since its inception. “In the co-housing world, the units are often owned by the occupiers, but at Murundaka, we’ve made it possible for people on a low income to have security for life.”
That means a lot for single parent Beth, whose teenage daughter Bel speaks eloquently about her “massive family”. “Because of short rental agreements, we were constantly having to move” says Beth. “At Murandaka, Bel gets all the stimulation and care of a big family and I get the security of knowing that we won’t get chucked out.”
On a guided tour, I notice that the apartments are roomy, with an open plan kitchen-living space and a generous balcony. Outside each cluster of units, another balcony space allows for a table in the sun or a collection of pot herbs. Murandaka also has a communal garden, with composting, chickens and a large covered area for outside living.
Greg and Sophie are the newest residents. They deliberated for some time about whether this was the right choice for them but now, they have no regrets. Greg is a writer and has become one of the community’s most public advocators. With a writer’s insight, he comments, “When I imagined setting up my dream home, I imagined myself working with physical materials – hardwood beams, mudbricks, garden beds and solar panels. Instead, I find myself working with emotions. The stuff of the heart. Words, hugs, smiles…”
His remarks are particularly interesting for me, since the subject of my latest documentary is just that – how we build community between people.
The residents give a predominantly warm and fuzzy picture of life in community. Most of the visitors have come because they would like to do something similar and the residents are happy to share the details of the joys, but also the difficulties of their lives together.
“There are a lot of meetings” says Giselle.
The household operates on a consensus model and has recently incorporated a technique for collaborative decision-making into their process. This is demonstrated beautifully with a question about whether visitors would like their emails to be shared to everyone present. We used coloured cards to indicate our agreement, dissent or a need for further information and within 3 rounds, a consensus has been reached. We are so impressed, we burst into a spontaneous round of applause!