Transcript – Make Your Own Rules

community, people, decisions, building, question, consensus, permaculture, group, conflict, work, process.

Karl: Alright, well, let’s get into it. My name is Karl Fitzgerald and welcome all to our first Living in Community series: Make Your Own Rules – Explorations in Governance. I’ll start by paying my respects to elder’s past and present here on Dja Dja Wurrung country here in central Victoria. So yeah, just a little bit about Grounded. We’re a pretty new NGO, about nine months old, and we’re trying to help get Community Land Trusts over the line. For a long time they’ve been talked about in Australia, but we haven’t yet got one fully in operation.

So we’re busy making links with planners, councils, friendly banks, and working hard to centralise so much of the CLT knowledge base that Louise Crabtree-Hayes has put together. You can hear more about Community Land Trust’s and their place in the housing puzzle in our next Living in Community webinar. But whatever model you choose, we’ve got to make for-purpose housing a force to be reckoned with, because we just can’t allow these profit seeking developers to determine the essence of our lives. 

So with that, let’s get on to today’s event where we’re joined by Megan James, one of the founders of Tuntable Falls. She has a master’s in cultural anthropology. Robyn Clayfield lives at Crystal Waters where she runs her dynamic groups creative facilitation courses, including one coming up on Social permaculture – wish I could be there for that one. And Peter Cock is from Moora Moora ecovillage in the Yarra Ranges outside of Melbourne. He has a PhD in Sociology and runs workshops such as eco warrior ship. 

So, panellists, I wanted to get into a bit, just quickly, we’re going to talk for about 45 minutes, the panellists, and then we’re going to open up to questions from the floor. And they can be asked through the chat window or in person, if you want to put your hand up. When we get to that point, I’ll try and get as many questions through in the time we have allotted. So dear panellists, let’s get into it. So what are some of the first principles when it comes to setting up a community? What are these first steps you’d recommend when setting up the governance side of things? I might start off with you, Megan.

Megan: I think the most important thing is you’re dealing with is people, people have conflict. I think you really, really need to have good workable communication structures, which include a lot of transparency. And I think you really need good, workable, conflict resolution processes that people agree with. And that can be followed through even if they have to be compulsory. I think if you spend a lot of time on those two things, other things can flow a lot easier, a lot more easily. I think if you neglect those aspects of people, communication and conflict resolution, then little issues become big issues and things go stale. If you can really work that stuff into whatever structure you set out, I think it’s incredibly important. That’s all I have to say, matter, I think right now.

K: That sounds pretty good to me, Robin, what do you think? 

Robin: Oh yeah, this is quite a bit of my core work answering this question, I guess. And over many years, as well as living at Crystal Waters for 35 years, I’ve also consulted to different groups and organisations and quite a lot of intentional communities over the time. So I start to notice themes. And usually people call me in to come and do a facilitation of a day or a weekend or something. Often when they’re in trouble, not like Nerarra did a few years ago, when they were starting out,. That’s the ideal thing to be looking at – the social design – before we go into creating community together. 

The first place that I always start with is needs, what are the people’s needs, who are coming? And then looking at what are the group’s needs, the actual community? What’s it likely to need? And if we look at needs first, people are less likely to get disappointed when they’re not met. And probably the next step for me would be checking in on our values, our principles, and our ethics, things like that, and looking at whether we’re a good fit and a good match for each other, and then coming up with shared agreements and understandings around how we make decisions, how we do all kinds of things together. And like Megan said, how we solve conflict when it inevitably comes up. So those kinds of things would be my first steps. We didn’t necessarily get to do that at Crystal Waters, because it was designed by a team of four people and lots of us, like myself just bought into the plan and trusted that things would evolve. So we didn’t get to sit on those kinds of things from the start. Yeah, so definitely. Look at that. Before you begin. 

Karl: No worries. Peter, over to you.

Peter: What can I add? Well, I think this question of size, the question of what is appropriate? What are the needs of the group as distinct from what are the needs of the individual in the context of what we’re facing? The future we’re looking at. So you’re trying to create a community from now to the future and given we’ve got climate catastrophe barreling down our throats, then I think the needs of 1974 are quite different from 2023 or four. So, I mean, it’s easy to start a group when it’s small, it’s a bit harder to sustain it. So a bigger group is better than a smaller one and I think one of the key things is defining the boundaries, what are the limits within which tolerance is allowed? What’s allowed within? And what happens when the boundaries are crossed, whatever they may be in the light of and how you define those boundaries, I think needs to take into account the future we’re looking at.

Karl: Yeah, nice. Got a lot of top line points there. And, you know, they’re getting that working group together. Yeah. Megan, Peter, you were there, Megan, you’re saying you should probably start off with a bigger group?

M: No, no, no, no, no, we started with a group of seven for a vision statement, wanting our vision statement and, and then looking for land and took a couple of years to find the land. So it’s now 50 years since we started, it took us two years to find the land. So I think it’s the design, though, overall, what are you aiming for in terms of the size of the group, given its location, and given its circumstances that are coming? So for example, when we designed ours, we were designed to be a cooperative. And the idea of a cooperative is a mixture of sharing. And an assumption is that what’s not shared is specified. And only what’s shared is specified, sorry, in a common what if it’s not specified, then it’s assumed to be common. 

So I think the degrees of sharing is a very big, big question. And therefore the degree to which the more sharing you have the greater you’ve got to engage with each other, the greater the importance of the group processes. And the greater the importance of the power of the group to manage the boundaries, manage the individuals, 

K: and Robin as someone who came in sort of, maybe second stage, how rigid was the original establishment and the rules that was set in place? Was there much wriggle room? How did the governance side of things evolve as some came in?

R: Yeah, it’s a really good question, Karl. Because I guess we had the experience of observing all the communities in northern New South Wales that were like a generation before us, where it was like hard to get in and hard to get out, I can say is a simple statement. So you know, people would often need to trial and then be accepted. And then if they needed to leave, after it was pretty hard to get out, because other people were having to trial and things like that. And, you know, conflicts and you know, we’d heard some stories up here, apparently, the designers took that into consideration. And so I guess they went with almost the exact opposite, easy to get in and easy to get out. 

So it means we don’t screen people at all, the only thing that screens people coming in is that it’s got crystal waters permaculture village in its title. And we have bylaws that are no cats and dogs and no toxic chemicals and things like that. So people need to at least agree to that. But the structures that we came into, there was the way we were legally settled. 

We can’t do community title in Queensland. So the designers were able to use the building units and group titles act a bit like strata title in New South Wales. And I think Victoria also has a strata title. So it’s like freehold lots, but normally in high rise buildings or blocks of units. So each of our one acre lots is the freehold title within the broader 640 acres. So that was set in place, we can’t change that, we’d have to go to state government to like, maybe there’s a bit of wiggle room with state government. But there was also an existing cooperative here, which was a land settlement, co op. And so that was more seen as our social and entrepreneurial body. And so that was existing, but we’ve had a lot of wriggle room with that, although both structures in model rules and things like that had majority vote decision making in there. So I find that quite restrictive. But we’ll get to that later if we’re talking about sociocracy at all. 

So it’s been interesting, and we hit a really big wall last year with the local council and found out we had no wriggle room at all, in terms of like the whole housing crisis being able to support people to stay for more than three months in our Eco park or to be out for our own a lot of older residents here wanting to downsize into say a tiny house and put it in the Eco Park and get a lease on that land till the end of their days and council won’t even talk to us about it. They’re saying it’s not not within their jurisdiction. We have to talk to the state government because it wasn’t approved in the first place. So I won’t say more than that, because it’s quite a long story. But just to give you an idea of where we are quite restricted with what we can do. But yeah, I’ve been trying some interesting kind of governance things around the edges, let’s say.

K: And, Megan, how did you address conflict resolution? Did you work out on the fly? Or did you stick by certain models that seemed to work better than others?

M: I’m not sure that we have it down yet. We have had hundreds of words written and rewritten and processes tried and retried and ah, that’s why I think it’s really important to get those things set up, simply. 

But clearly, in the beginning, we have a very open community, it has become a lot more closed in the last 10 years due to the lack of new house sites. But we have a very big community, there’s 1800 acres in our cooperative, and we have 250 shareholders, but not all of them live here. 

But we have a fair number of residents who are also non shareholders who rent their houses, or, yeah, and it’s just sort of grown from a hippie dream. So it has. We’ve done very well to survive, really, I think. And we do manage conflict through a structure which works well, when the people using the structure are committed and skilled, which is our grievance process, and our grievance officer. 

We used to have a very active social support group, which assisted in conflict resolution, among other things. I have to say that at the moment, I don’t think we’re doing particularly well.

So I can’t say that we’re doing anything really extraordinary. We also have 250 people, we get a lot of people with mental health problems, particularly if you’re an open community. And we have very incredibly cheap shares. Ah, and we’ve basically I say, we, I’ve always thought that we’re like a microcosm of the suburb just flunked out in the country, we have lots of really committed highly idealistic people, hard working people, we have bludgers we have people with mental health problems. 

We have a lot of people I would say that are neurodivergent, who have, you know, their own ways of thinking things and communicating which needs to be accounted for in conflict resolution and engage in getting along. And I think the best things that we do are actually informal, getting together, having community dinners, having dances, parties, musical events. 

We’re also incredibly fortunate. I’m very grateful for my role in establishing a free school here, which means that we have a lot of young people with children who will move here for the school. This means that we’re not stuck with just the first generation who set up the place, who basically are all around my age. 

I think that helps us survive as it brings in a different energy and keeps us up with the times. But yeah, we’re fairly unwieldy in many respects. I’ve done a bit of research of my own. And I think probably, I think the best idea would be to limit a community to maybe 150 people, I think the communication might be a bit easier within that. And I actually think it’s probably better not to have a smaller community too, because I’ve also seen smaller communities on the north coast around here that have fallen apart due to personality conflicts, or just simply due to the people involved being all too old.

I can’t say that we’re doing anything really magical here. But our structure does involve a grievance procedure, which also is not compulsory. And we tend to outsource a lot of our conflict resolution these days. And I think that’s less than optimum. Because it’s left to individuals often. And a lot of people don’t want to engage in a community justice sort of conflict resolution process. It works well if we have a committed grievance officer. And it works even better when we have a small group of people doing that work. Things come on, come on.

K: Thanks, Megan. Peter, Robin has talked about how they don’t have much of a screening process at their community. How do you go about that at Moora Moora?

Peter: Well, I think it’s not wise, I think you need a screening screening process. You want to be sustainable. But that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof anyway. But yes, we have one, we have one, it takes about at least a year to join more and more. And it takes probably just as long as two to get out or even longer. So I think that’s a good thing, in the sense of getting past the honeymoon, and having enough time to see the truth of the person who’s joining. And for them to see the truth of who we are. So that no one is naive. And we’re post honeymoon, I think it’s very important for decision making if we don’t have a consensus. I think five people have to disagree,to oppose it (the person). And if five people say no, then the person is not accepted. However, we’ve only ever kicked out one person in 50 years. And that was someone who grew up there. And we very rarely say no, the important beauty of the process is that (5 saying no) that does most of the work. And therefore we’re not faced with the hard decision of saying something, noticing someone or being part of a group of say, four who want to say no, and that person gets in, and then you have to deal with that and all. So yeah, that’ll do.

K: Okay, and yeah, I’m just thinking about that. Those core issues that founders need to set up so that these other issues such as cats and dogs and various bylaws issues, you know, what would be the biggest levers that founders really need to adjust, to focus on Peter?

P: Well, let’s put it this way. You’ve got to make those decisions beforehand, because if you don’t, then you can’t, you can’t undo it. So for example, we’re talking about the problem of once you’ve got a subdivision situation, such as with Crystal Waters, it’s very difficult to change that. And if once you have that document, (someone says) ‘I will introduce dogs and cats later’, well, that’s not going to happen. Once you have dogs in, one dog in, that breaks the waters. You either have that policy and you stick to it. 

We’ve had to fight for tooth and nail, we’re not connected to the grid. We’ve had to fight tooth and nail to somebody who wants to connect to the grid because it just goes past our door. Or some people have wanted to subdivide the place because all their land is owned in common. There are battles always to be fought to sustain the fundamental boundaries, whether or not through time, we could, in terms of the climate emergency happening, improve our degree of communication? 

So we’re sharing more, we become more committed to each other, which is what I think we need to do. I think it’s going to be a big vexing issue but whether the fires at the door or the floods at that door, it’s too late. So yeah, I think that’s the big issue is we’ve lost the ability to share. And to share intimately. 

I mean, I went to visit the communist Zeg in Germany and their processes, because they have very communal, communal economics, open to shared partners and so forth. But they have a very rigorous process called a forum where people have to be prepared to talk in front of the whole group about what their issues are, and so forth and have a facilitator there. That’s a regular process. So you have a process that matches the degree of sharing. So if you know, if you’re pretty dispersed, and you basically have private lives, and you’ve got a bit of extra add on Co Op, you don’t have to worry too much about it. But if you’re going to add, improve, improve the power of the group, to care for individuals, to care for the environment, and to care for the future, then you need a lot more tougher, rigorous, confronting, difficult, powerful processes.

Robin: Yeah, we’ll speak to that a little bit later, just given what you’ve just said, Peter, to how we have found some ways to help deal with that, given that we haven’t been able to have those kinds of things in place from the start. But I guess the only piece of social design that the designers acknowledged is that? Well, they said they didn’t do any social design. But the one piece that I saw was implementing a system called elders were fairly early on in the when there was more than about 20, or 30 of us here, everyone was gathered together and asked to write down everybody who’s here, I think there was maybe about 80 of us here, by that stage, write down every person who you think that would be a good person to call in to help a couple of people talk if they got into strife. 

And so even though I was like only about 40, at the time, I got to be one of those people. And so it was like mediation, we all upskilled a bit. And that seemed to help us with any kind of conflicts for quite a long time, it probably lasted for about 15 years, but then was done away with, but something that a few of us have introduced more recently, because we’ve seen quite a need, even though we’re, you know, have all our own freehold lots, there’s still quite a strong sense of community here, not amongst everybody, because there’s 83 residential lots, but it’s the people that come together and show up and do the work are the ones that are community. 

And if there is conflict, or big challenges, it ripples really quite strongly around the community, even though some people don’t engage that much. So a few of us, my partner and myself mostly saw a big need when it appeared that somebody was almost getting pushed out of the community. And it just didn’t feel right. And at the same time, there was also a provocation from one of our young people here that it was around patriarchy. And it kind of blew a whole conversation out of the water. And I’m trying to make it a short story. 

In the end, I said, Look, instead of just all getting together and talking about this, let’s have a heart circle where we’re talking from our hearts rather than, you know, our intellect. And it proved to be really valuable. And it started off a fortnightly heart circle, which we’ve been doing for two years now. We’ve just gone to do it once a month. It’s not that widely taken up, like we just get, you know, anywhere between three or four to a dozen each time. 

M: But my core underpinning that you started your question with Karl to Peter, my answer would be about building trust, the more that we can build trust together, then the more we’re able to make the more difficult decisions together and, you know, start using creative processes and things like that, that can help us talk a bit more easily. 

We’ve also started a practice group in restorative practice. So that’s been going for about two years now, once a month just practising with, you know, someone brings a little conflict they might have with someone outside the community, and we all take roles and practise how that might work. And we’re hoping to get skilled enough that we can take on live conflicts fairly soon. So we’re starting to, you know, come in from, you know, the other end without it having been set up to start with and who knows how it will be accepted. We’re just going with the feel of how the community is about it. And yeah, I think we’re doing okay, and NVC (non-violent communication) workshops, obviously and sociocracy things. So we’re slowly starting to build in more social design.

K: Fascinating. Megan, when I visited Tuntable Falls a few years ago, I thought it was very interesting that basically someone had to live in the community for 12 months and have a majority of people speak for them in order to join the community. And then if there was a site they wanted to build on, they would put up a big flag on a post and leave it there for X amount of months. But how has that worked? In terms of helping people move smoothly into the community?

M: Well, I have to say now, that process is basically defunct, because all the house sites are allocated. And we are restricted by the number of house sites that the council will allow us. So we now have about 130 approved houses. And I think we’ve got four or five up our sleeve, so nobody’s sticking up flags anymore. The process now tends to be people buying houses. And they go through that same process, they have to now get the approval of all the neighbours and live here for a year and stuff like that. But in the past, that flag raising procedure was good, because you raised your flag to the height of the building that you were going to put so anybody that could see it, would know, you know, could imagine and put your plans out on the community noticeboard so people had a fair idea. 

And you had to talk to all the people that you might be sharing water supply, with roads, any other communal electricity facilities, anything like that. I think it actually worked fairly well. We also have a rule and or which was that neighbours could veto a flag raise. But they had to have reasonable grounds. And that persists – it is a really valid rule actually. Because we get difficult people, territorial people, but if they can’t come up with reasonable grounds for their objection to having a new neighbour, the community as a whole can override them. 

And generally, it’s just because they’re territorial, and they want more space of their own, and they don’t like sharing. It’s an interesting dynamic that has shifted over the years, from when we did build our own houses, to now when people buy houses, it’s definitely shifted the sense of ownership and the sense of belonging. 

I think we were making our own community, people now buy into our community. And they may or may not work hard to achieve that sense of belonging that I think we gained through basically a lot of hard work, because we were living in tents and sheds and shacks. And then on top of that we were fighting for the rainforest. And, and also fighting for the right of multiple occupancies to exist. 

In our early years, we had a lot of challenges, and we weren’t very well I think together to get through and to become established as we are and the last few years we’ve had major bushfires, major floods and landslides to deal with. And that has been quite uniform for the community too, as is the school as I said before, and yeah, well, the house flag racing procedure, I think, worked fairly well in the past. It’s no longer quite the same procedure. And it’s we’re not Yeah, I think people have to work harder to attain that sense of belonging and I’m not sure that we are actually working hard enough for that. It requires the individual to want to be alone. And it requires a situation where they need to work hard to belong. So workdays are good. emergencies are good. Working together, you know, to bring up your kids. That’s really good. Yeah, that’s probably all I want to say. 

K: Peter, can you bounce off that community engagement? How do you wrestle with that concept of belonging, and, and getting people to feel like they’re part of the action?

P: Well, I mean, we can have all the opportunities to participate in your life, if people don’t want to go up from gays, then that’s a problem. But I mean, I mean, we’ve got a problem with our culture, we’ve got individualism gone mad. And we’re trying to step away from that towards a more community based life. And that’s, that’s a big, it’s a big return to the community in one way or another in whatever form is a big step. I think I don’t want to scare people off by talking too much about conflict, because conflict is inevitable. And it can be a great growth, a great energy if depending on how you manage it.

So let’s don’t make conflict a negative, it’s a question of not being overwhelmed by it, by doing the design, so you minimise it like, for example, having 12 months before you can join, having a in our case, we have six clusters, so we’re not all in one village together. So whatever, whatever’s going wrong in one cluster is not going to initially infect the whole community. So you can design to minimise conflict. But at the same time, you need to also design to use it as a creative resource to change for evolution, for energy, and for helping people to have a good look at themselves. I mean, don’t come and join a community if you’re not prepared to own your own shit. Because sooner or later, the Boomerang is going to come back to you, it’s easy to project it out. But eventually, if the community’s got some power, they will bring it back to you to have a look at yourself. And I think, fundamentally, our culture does not believe in community as being important for the individuals development. And yet we know it’s about vital for a child, it’s also vital for adults. So we’ve got a great cultural barrier, to confront that looking after the group looking after the self is not as mutually beneficial, so long as you’ve got structures that facilitate that.

K: And, Peter, how do you go when you’ve got some people who have got lots of energy and lots of commitment? They’re up on Sundays, you know, early, doing the gardening? How do you then share the spoils without creating that ripple effect of concern?

P: Well, I don’t, I think the extremes are the problem, people do work too much and take on too much responsibility. They take on too much power at one end of the continuum. The other is people just want to feed off the community and drain it. And if you have too much of either, it becomes too hierarchical, too few holding it, and then they get burned out. And then you’ve got a void. I mean, this whole community fluctuates, like a wave that comes and goes, it comes up and down. You don’t allow for that flow. It’s important to allow for the evolution of it. So the new people come in, and they have a say, they helped to shape it and create it. But what I say is, Well, you got a new idea. That’s great. Is it better than the old idea? Prove It, show me, convince me and then we’ll make the change? I think being open to change, but being accountable to history is important, because we didn’t make those decisions historically, for stupid reasons. But the circumstances may have changed. And there are a number of ways of making the change. Hopefully you do. So it’s important for me as an elder to be responsive to that. There are other ways, not just your way, Peter, I mean, the beauty part about going into a meeting, I think I’ve got the best idea, I go into the group meeting, and they come up with a much better idea than me. That’s fantastic. Of course, the opposite also happens.

K: Where do our panellists sit on Consensus versus democracy? How do we handle that little worm?

P: Well, I’ll say something. We started off with consensus decision making. And there’s nothing worse than consensus to exhaust the community. In its early stages, when you’ve got no culture, or all you’ve got is a vision. You’re trying to create form and structure and, and eventually culture to replace a lot of the structure, that takes a long time. Consensus decision making is exhausting. So at the initial part, of course, you got a high level of commitment. But we now have a decision situation where we aim for consensus. And now after 50 years, it’s pretty easy to get it most of the time. Because we’ve got culture, we’ve got history that provides a whole lot of structural support for consensus making. But in the early days, it was a nightmare. So we used to have consensus for new members. And now we say five people. And people often said to me, Peter, yeah, no, no, you wouldn’t know. Because it used to be consensus. So if I said no, or anybody said, No, that was it. And then eventually They said, Well, we’re gonna write, we can, I’d say over my dead body. But that wasn’t a very wise thing to do. Because they said they’d arrange that I’ve got my burial site, but I’m not dead yet.

K: Goodness, Robin.

R: Yeah, interesting thing to check in on given that both our legal bodies here have majority vote decision making. The earlier community here that was in existence before the permaculture village did meet by consensus, and they got into quite a lot of strife with that in the end, and was that was kind of part of it disbanding and what Peter was talking about the, the different energies –  some people put in too much time, effort and use of power maybe, and some people don’t do anything. So that kind of separated all that out. But with Crystal Waters, there’s a couple of times in the history of the 35 years that I’ve been here, where I actually got into trouble once for advocating consensus decision making. Because the two of us were on the board, I was chair of the board in the very early days, first couple of years, and there was a huge decision to the tune of, you know, probably $100,000, in those days to be made about building the first building in the village. And the community was split on it. The board was split on it. And if the two of us had voted, it would have pushed our Barrow and that more multifunctional building would have got built instead of a joinery shop. But basically, we said to the board, we’re not prepared to vote. If we’re split as the board and the community is split, we obviously need to talk about it more. And that was quite revolutionary to that group of people in those days. And it didn’t go down very well. And we ended up having to spill the whole board and it turned into a big drama. 

But further down the track, You know, I think one, one theme that I want to bring in here is, like I’m hearing from Megan and Peter a bit that, you know, their communities have settled a little bit over time, I’m not sure if I’ve heard that correctly from Megan, but certainly with Peter, we’ve had a really interesting pattern come up. And we may get to talk about this more later. 

We were looking like a retirement village at one point, maybe about 10-15 years ago. And I was one of the younger lot holders and I was still you know, pushing it really. And what’s happened is that a lot of our kids who grew up here, who were like two, or three or five, when the community first started, started coming back. They’ve gone out in the world for 10 years or so. And they’ve come back and there’s quite a few of them here now that have been here for like 10 or 12 years, a few of them. And even pre COVID, there were quite a lot less than 10 or so, and more since COVID. So we’ve got this whole younger generation, who actually think really quite differently, some of them to the older generation. Also the other dynamic of people building big houses here, like Megan was saying, now there’s people buying into a house, not to a block and doing the grassroots thing. 

So we’ve had a lot of people just buy in who could really afford it, and maybe have come from the city and have kind of different way of looking at things, different ethics. So we’ve got all kinds of diversity, a very diverse community. So to come to consensus, it wouldn’t be a pretty interesting thing for us to even contemplate. But when I look at our voting at either of the annual general meetings, we’ve come a long way. 

I think we’re not fighting in meetings, we’re having really sensible discussions and people are voting, but most decisions, close to consensus, you know, but you’ll only get a few that are the other way. So it’s kind of morphing into that direction, in some ways. But the other thing I’ve been playing with a little bit at times is using a sociocratic style for discussions on some of the important issues. If people aren’t agreeing very well, I’ll offer ‘let’s come together and facilitate in a more sociocratic way’. 

It’s just helping people have much more information and be able to, like Peter said, change your mind and a better idea comes along. Sociocracy is such a great thing for helping us pool all of the information that we need. My dream for Crystal Waters (and I may not see it in my lifetime), but it would be to have sociocracy introduced as an overlay to our communities so that one of the circles is our body corporate committee. One is the Cooperative of the directors. One is our bushfire brigade. And then the working groups of the coop and possibly little teams around different managers over the body corporate anyway, it’s just a bit of a dream and a vision. But who knows?

K: Yeah, fascinating. Sounds like a great pathway to take to evolve towards.Megan, Bruce asked whether the concept of consensus has changed over time. So how does it work at Tuntable?

M: Well, we have always had majority voting within the early years, with intense discussion, massive intense discussion about things like meat being eaten on the property, or even things like whether whether the coop rates should be used to purchase tampons for women, all sorts of stuff just got chewed over and chewed over in the early years. Really intensely, there’s people all living together in the few farmhouse buildings that were here. But it was always majority voting. And we’ve maintained, but basically just follow like, you know, meeting rules for any old meeting of any old committee anywhere, pretty much. 

But having said that, we have you know, for major rule changes, we need two thirds majority at an AGM. For bylaws, we just need 50%. But if there are issues that are really much bigger than and we have a meeting every month, we have a whole community meeting every month, when I say whole community, it may be anything from 20 to 40 people that attend, it’s usually about 20, to 30, usually at least 20, and more likely 30 out of our 250 residents. And a lot of that is just day to day mundane business like somebody wants to put in a greywater system, and they’ve got to get the environment coordinated to go and look at it or they want to cut down a tree or something like that. 

If there are bigger issues, like what we are allowed to build on our common lands – we have a forum. If there is no space, within, a monthly meeting or tribal meeting, or an AGM to really chew over the issues, we’ll have a forum. And I think probably four or five times we’ve done this, and we’ve devoted a weekend to chewing over an issue. And from that we usually get consensus. Because the only people that attend are the people that are concerned about the issue and have positive ideas to contribute. That’s been a really good place to have good creative, cooperative decision making, which generally ends up being pretty much the consensus. The rest of the time is just moving along, we’ve got a meeting to run to vote on this, you know that if an issue is split, you know, it’s 51, 52%, you know that that issue will come up again, and again and again. Until there is a more creative path found for a bit. 

Yeah, I think our majority voting works well, because you’ve got to have you know, it’s a practical thing. A lot of the stuff you’re talking about is roads or you know, very, yeah, mundane things. You don’t need to have consensus or everybody agreeing whether they’re vegan or carnivorous, or whatever. And it’s better in many ways. I think people very easily tend to become position bound. And that can really, really destroy any attempt at consensus. Consensus requires much smaller groups of people. It requires more time and a sense of vision, which isn’t always present in mundane sort of discussions. It’s an interesting question, though. I do think that consensus was much more popular in the 1980s than it is now.

K: Yeah, I’m sure we’re all benefiting from shorter meetings with majority rules, but Elle asks a good question here. What efforts do you take to actually inspire fun and what proactive steps do your committees take to build in this fun and goodwill and help those positives really develop? Because it seems like it is hard work to set up a community. Some communities get a reputation of having rules all based around ‘No, you can’t do that. No, you can’t do this’, but how do you encourage the positive?

Megan: Can I answer that because that’s something I’ve been pretty much involved with since I came here as a young woman at 25. I think food is incredibly important. I think if you have an intention. If you provide food, in a community building it’s important. If you provide food, and a community venue, I think having a community venue is incredibly important having a community or or some space that is owned by everyone that can be used for gatherings. And those gatherings can be workdays. We have Bush dances – not as regularly as we used to.COVID has really put the kibosh on our community events, and we’re slow to pick up again.We do have birthday parties in our community space, we have huge gigs, sometimes that the whole region may come to, you know, big bands and things like that in our community hall. We also have the school. I think children really do bring people together and events involving children. We used to do community Christmas parties with Santa. All sorts of stuff we have had over the years are dropping off. That’s increased a lot in the last few years. 

But at least we have a mail service, that means that our community, one of our community buildings, is attended three days a week when the mail is delivered. And usually we were making lunches on that stage. So there’s always a space for people to come, we used to have a shop in that building. And that was fabulous. That thing about food is so important. The Marketplace brings people together. And back in the day, which is quite a long time ago now. We provided everything from milk and bread, chocolate and cigarettes and everything in between in that shop. And that helped enormously. But now, I don’t think we’re ever going to get our shop back. I think our whole demographic has shifted. It’s usually a lot of people who work outside the valley now and study and whatnot. And they’re building, it’s different. It’s different. But we still have a lot of community events. We will be having a community event on Saturday to commemorate the one year anniversary of the disaster that struck us last year with all the landslides. And we’ll just be basically having a very cheap community meal and people will get together and that just makes a huge difference. And in another two weeks, we’ll be having a community workday and there will be food for that too. And all that stuff really helps. If you have food there as well, I just think it works. Food and kids.

Robin:Crystal Waters is very much the same. We’ve got three different cafes, one of them that’s open five days a week. And then our bakery every Saturday morning. We have markets once a month and music, big music night once a month that everyone comes to. Friday night Cafe movies when there’s not a course on in the venue, but they’re kind of more social things. 

I guess I want to answer this question with my hat on. That’s my dynamic decision making hat and working with lots of community groups, organisations and intentional communities around Australia but also overseas as well and noticing the kind of themes and the processes that work. Food is the main glue. But in terms of decision making, I’ve seen a lot of communities using the ‘colours of empowerment’ cards, which I first saw referred to in the cohousing handbook some decades ago. 

In my courses I do a bit of a simulation where I help people use them so that they get a sense of it and can take it back and try it out with their community or their committee. But there’s, you know, obviously things like through the transition movement and lots of other movements comes hand signals, which is another way to have a discussion. I use hand gauges and things like that to make decisions, which has become pretty common. We’re using zoom all the time with COVID. Now using thumb gauges and things like that work a lot with the six thinking hats it would diviners process, so that if people want to have discussions, it’s a bit more colourful, a bit more creative. And people explore how they’re feeling and how they’re being creative ideas, and all of that, know, have a more full sense of the information before making a decision. And yeah, all kinds of creative ways to even make decisions like using sociograms and yeah, even I just recently bought something called Feedback Frames. From a guy in the States, I saw it on the Australasian facilitators network emails, and it’s for voting, it’s a blind system bit like dotmocracy, if any of you have ever done that, where you’d vote with different dots for different options, but the Feedback Frames has a frame with different slots in it about eight different slots. And they can be labelled different things. And you vote for which things with little markers that slot down in there and then hide themselves so that people can’t be influenced by other people’s choices. But just stuff like that I’ve got a whole tool box in a resource kit, a couple of people on this call that I know have done that workshop with me. But I really like to help people make discussions fun and engaging so that, you know, we don’t lose people from things being boring or confrontational. So that maybe the last thing I’ll say on that is just a little gem of wisdom that Starhawk and I realised when we were working together at one point, we both have a passion for decision making. And I’ll put it in my Australian language. But she totally agreed with this. It’s like if we’re not playing for sheep stations, why bother? Just toss a coin or play Scissors, paper rock or something like that. Let’s not get caught up over the little things. Let’s just, you know, spin the bottle and pick the one that points to that kind of thing. Anyway, that’s enough for me.


K: Thank you. I love it. Bruce McKenzie, has another good question. And Peter, with you having just stepped down as the director at Moora Moora, how have you mentored the next generation of facilitators and that leadership team? 

P: Our structure is that we have a directors meeting once a month, but all members of the community are invited to participate. So the directors don’t formally have any more power to make a decision than anybody else. So that in a sense, everybody, it’s a community meeting, but the directors also have, they meet once a month as well to make ministry decisions that is not about sheep stations. That’s it. So that’s important in terms of having some hierarchy, but having it really constrained within the community spirit of decision making. 

In terms of fun, I think, allowing for humour, I think it’s important to bring humour into the process of decision making, rather than see it as you know, we have a party afterwards or we have a meal or whatever. It’s a question of having a process that recognises each person and gives space to each person about the listening and hearing and acknowledging difference and then working with it. 

What have I done to help facilitate? Well, I’m not a director now. I mean, I’ve always made sure. When we first started the community, I was the leader. And after a few years, I was overthrown. And I realised as a socialist that needs to happen. I didn’t particularly like it at the time. But that’s what needed to happen. That was good. Community took control of itself. And I’ve always only been a director every second year. And now I’ve clearly said, I’m retiring as a director. The question of my role as an elder and how that’s facilitated, legitimised or not, is an interesting one for me, as it is for the community. We’ve got officially an elders group, but it actually doesn’t have much legitimacy or function. It’s really an informal process. That person has been really good at encouraging a person to become a director, to encourage new people to take an initiative in a group subcommittee or whatever. So I think that and then, from my point of view, accepting being in the back room, but that’s not withdrawing. I still have an opinion, a voice to be  heard. But it’s usually more through other voices. Let’s put it that way.

K: Good one, good one. I’m interested to hear from our participants, if anyone wants to open up their mic and ask a question, particularly – have we missed a particular angle? Are there any community leaders here who have a different perspective on anything we’ve discussed? Anyone want to put their hand up? 

Carolyn’s talking about succession and knowledge transfer. It’s such a crucial area. In this modern era, how are our panellists using tools such as Google Docs to sort of document the history and have sort of that open source wiki type page where people can update instructions on how to start the community pump or whatever it may be. Any of those sorts of tools coming into play?

R: I use that in my work with other groups and organisations and certainly with the co op board, I’ve been the director for the last three years and the chair up until end of October last year, and we were using Google Docs a lot. And I kind of introduced it into the board, which surprised me. Even now, one of our main admin person wasn’t, you know that into it. So I guess we’ve been a bit behind the times, reall., I tend to work, because I write books and make resource kits and things like that, I tend to have that available as PDFs for people, and also put them on little thumb drives and that kind of stuff. But I wouldn’t say I’m very advanced, we’re not using any online decision making tools with the coop board or anything like that. Yeah, we could advance more . Our offices just graduated to using XERO for our accounting and things like that was a pretty big, big step. But, you know, I think we’ll get there gradually, as some of our younger folks, you know, because we are much older community, we’re using fairly conventional things, and just slowly adding one thing at a time.

M: Can I speak to that. Um, we’ve had several attempts at having online forums, I think we’ve had three or four. They’ve been set up by people who were into that sort of thing. But we have a very big community, not everybody is computer literate, or even wants to be. And while there’s definitely uses, and some of, you know, some forums like that, I think it misses the personal touch, I think. I think an actual in person community meeting, or even a community dinner or school camp or whatever, I think that is still far more effective in really helping people communicate clearly. A lot of people are different when they write an email to when they talk to you.There’s a whole – it’s the medium stuff. But I think, I think as a community, my experience is that we do better when we’re relating as just ordinary human beings and not getting too intellectual or not getting too position bound. And I think there are dangers in online forums, through the use of words like that. Anyway, they’ve never been successful here. They’ve never really gone anywhere, particularly. And it’ll be interesting to see if that changes.

Peter: I’d like to add to that and endorse what you’ve just said. And our community has split on the use of zoom. I mean, COVID forced us to use Zoom. And we’re still waiting on the report of a working party, which was set up some time ago after a community meeting discussed this issue quite intensely, in the sense of and to quote, this is an inner sense: ‘Zoom is about bringing the globalization’s technology into the face to face community’. I think it’s essentially had a destructive outcome in terms of building our bonding, which is, you know, physical, it’s about the non verbals. It’s about a whole lot of things, dimensions of meeting, which only we could only do half of this (zoom) way. And so we haven’t resolved it. And it’s interesting. We originally when we start to do zoom, we don’t do Google, we probably should do what you just said before, but we haven’t done that really yet. I just think it’s an invasion of globalisation into the face to face community. And we should be very wary of it.

K: Yeah, I was certainly only talking about the documentation and the sort of key learnings over time being recorded somewhere, whether that’s on the cloud or on someone’s computer, if you know, people are commenting here on the chat saying, how lucky we are to be having this discussion? And yeah, I’m certainly feeling that. What are some of the tricky concepts, the tricky aspects of governance that people should be aware of? Either in the setup phase or through maturity that you’ve found the hardest things to manage? 

P: Well, I like to respond to the first because I didn’t answer your first question. One of the difficulties is when people come in the door, they think history starts when they come in the door. Right, so there isn’t the honouring, or protection of the historic assets, if you’re not careful. And so we have a policy manual, which is desperately waiting to be upgraded. I think the last time we updated was 2017, or 19. The point is getting an upgrade updated, was just to incorporate what decisions we’ve made since 2000, and whatever to incorporate into that manual, because it’s an ongoing, evolving story. And it’s an important, very important document. So that’s where the evolving story is evident. And that’s important. Someone’s writing a book about us, and that’s good. I mean, the dialogue between those who come in the door now, and someone who has been here for 50 years is an ongoing issue. And that’s as far as we’ve got. 

What are the key issues? I think the key issue is developing the WE consciousness. In governance, it’s about putting the group interest first, in a way that incorporates the diversity of individuals. But the WE comes before the I. And that’s tough. And we’re not used to it, and we resist it. But that’s the fundamental need for the future we’re going to deal with. The WE before the I. And if there’s a conflict, or the way that incorporates the recognition of the diversity in the I, so that the individual benefits, but only in the context of nurturing and supporting the growth of the group.

K: Robin, this must be a question for you.

R: I wanted to pick up on Peter’s points there about decisions and when people come in, and you know, not necessarily value what’s come before, I’ve actually come up with the process. When I was working for Bellbunya community, which is up near Yermundi, they had that very thing that was part of their brief to me. And it was about, you know, they had a few new people trialling to be in the community, but they were like three years old by that stage, they were ready to do their permaculture design for the 40 acres. And they had to make some key decisions like around animals and things like that before they could do the design. And they were saying how do we move forward and know that a decision is a decision because every time someone comes, they question it. So in my planning, this idea came to me of having I call it ‘many baskets’.

And so there’s one basket in the middle, and it’s quite big. And so it’s physical. I like to use tactile, visual, creative things, but it can become, you know, line items in a document, you know, but the idea is to sort your decisions into different baskets. So anything that the community makes, that’s a shared agreement, or a decision that’s unanimous, it goes in the middle basket and you can get ceremonial about this. I work with people groups, setting group agreements and helping them do that sometimes. And so when they come up with their agreements, they might all be on little icons drawn down and on a bit of sticky Carpet and we’ll all hold the carpet and go, yay, we all agreed on this, it took lots of time. But How fantastic is this, and all put it in the basket together. And so the vision statement can go in there and, you know, manuals and all of those kinds of things. And then there’s a basket that sits really close to it, that’s kind of like, just a couple of people weren’t 100% into this, but they weren’t prepared to block it. So it’s like you consensus minus two or whatever. So you’ve got both of those baskets close together. And you know, you can go ahead with that. And if somebody comes into the community, you can hand them what’s in the basket. And it’s like, this is our community, this is what we’ve agreed to, this is where we’re at. 

And some might have review processes attached, that we’re going to review that in six months or whatever. Then there’s a basket for ‘needs more discussion’. So you don’t get to hold up a meeting when it’s obvious that it’s like a big thing and everyone wants to talk about it. It’s like, oh, hang on, how about we put that in the ‘needs more discussion’, and keep going with our meeting? We’ll come back to that as soon as we can, with a good process and a facilitator to help us discuss that. Then there’s one for conflict, same thing, it’s not the too hard basket, we’ll come back to it. And yeah, with a really good facilitator or process, then there’s one for No if the decision is not to proceed with something. There’s one for personal projects, I think Megan was referring to something like that before, when people want to do something that suits them. That, you know, why, why block that if it’s just someone’s personal need, and then there’s one for things that are completed and remembering to celebrate those things, and maybe evaluate and review them and that kind of stuff. So it’s something I’ve introduced now over the last 10 years or more to different groups and communities, and I get really good feedback about it. And it’s just one of those fun, creative processes that all kind of just float there with you. And just in a sentence to answer the other question, I think, really engaging everybody and having respect and ways to include everybody in the decisions and the discussion so we don’t disenfranchise people. I think that’s really the most important foundational thing that we can be looking at.

P: I’d like to add to that, that what’s missing from, as Robin just said, is the question of “what’s sacred, what’s not negotiable?” What is part of what we take forward, and we’re not going to have discussed every six fucking months, every 12 months, and so forth. And that therefore, in order to challenge certain themes, requires a different, a different degree of something. Anyway, I just think their concept of sacred is important in terms of the boundary issue. What and what is sacred, and working that through? And therefore what in some senses is very difficult to change? I mean, we can talk about the subdivision or things, the boundaries, the legal stuff, and the council’s that’s one part, it’s very difficult. But is that sacred? So what’s sacred for our future? Together, given what’s coming?

M: Okay, I could speak now. We have a process, I think, which is quite actually fairly effective in educating new people. You have to live on the community for 12 months. But you have to attend at least six community meetings in that time. And at the beginning of every community meeting, we acknowledge country. And we also reiterate our common aims, and goals, our mission statement, basically. And I think that’s very helpful. The other thing that we have is a little handbook, because we’ve got this massive tome of rules built up over the last rules and bylaws that we’ve built up over the last 50 years that any new shareholder is supposed to read, but I doubt very many do. Most of the old ones have sort of probably forgotten because things have changed so many times too, but we have a little welcome handbook, basically, which is a very, it’s an overview of all the different aspects of living in community and sort of might range from the care of tools to the rules about, you know, flag raising and a brief history of the coop, but it makes it fairly accessible. 

I think it is incredibly important not to alienate people and that, that, that divide that can happen between people working too hard, taking on too much power, resenting the other people who aren’t pulling their weight. And then the other people who start talking about ‘they’ (like the authority) is when it’s just us. I think (residents) constantly having to revise and re-work that sense of belonging and, and developing tolerance and compassion. That’s an ongoing job in a community and the new people as well, yeah. And you just keep going at it. 

The other thing is, we’re very, very fortunate in that we live in an incredibly beautiful rainforest, a valley, and we have faced major disasters, like the logging of the forest, and then the bush fires and the landslide. So we are fairly united on the whole, not everybody, I care for the land that is more active, some people actively care for the land a lot more than others. But I think we have that unifying thing and a sense that we are here together in difficult times. And that climate change, that we were talking about 50 years ago, is actually happening, and that we are needing each other to get through it. The other thing is, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we over the years, we’ve collected a lot of archival material, which includes a huge photo album, and collages of photos of anybody who’s ever lived here. This is a massive project. And we started, I think it’s 25 years ago, maybe it’s 30 years ago, actually. And yeah, just that constantly working at ways to increase people’s sense of belonging, and that nobody’s left out in the cold. It comes together really strongly when there’s an emergency. And I think we do that incredibly well. We do great funerals, but it’s something you’ve got to work at when there’s not an emergency, I think too, and it’s really, really important. Yeah. But those little processes can help and having information booklets.

K: Jason Lasky asks us whether any community here has used a community currency and I’d certainly like to know has that helped reduce any of the conflicts that might happen between the hard workers and the cruisy types? 

Robin: We, I guess, Mulaney let system was the first LET system in Australia. We’re just 25 minutes from Mulaney and come under that umbrella. And in the early days of the community here, lots of issues, the let system, I used to work there in the office, and it was constantly encouraging people. A few of us were, you know, really advocates for that. And it was such a big part of and is a big part of permaculture. But it’s kind of like that change and transition happened with all the big houses being built, and people coming from other areas besides permaculture into the place, it just dwindled a little bit. I’m still on the LETS system, I still use it. But there’s not many people here who do, which is such a shame. And yeah, it could easily be revived again, but it’s, I think, the diversity of people here. They’re, they’re not understanding it in the same senses. All of us that bought into the plan, most of us were permaculture people. So it was much easier to uptake, that kind of thing. So I’m interested to hear from the others if you’ve had any success with things. We have got a really good skills database of everyone’s skills and things like that. But yeah. 

Karl: Anyone?

P: We had, we had a go at that in the 70s, too. And it hasn’t really died. Things like that, as you, as you said, can be resurrected fairly easily if there’s a need. I mean, I think we’ve been talking more recently about the internal economy and the basis of exchange, like the gifting, the bartering and being paid, you know, and when and what mates rates, and then all things that anything that helps to bring the economy inside, I think it’s very important and we don’t have a script about that. I think there’s pressure to offer mates rates. You’re not travelling. So if you’re a plumber or whatever, to offer a different rate inside than outside. I remember confronting a new member who had just been qualified and was looking forward to being paid the proper professional rate, and she was charging that internally, that quite upset me. And when I called her out…..So at that there was no policy about that, it was just my particular perspective. So I think building the internal economy is important for a number of reasons sociologically, ecologically, and, and in terms of a support structure for people, but I have been wary of becoming totally internally dependent. But obviously, we need to go a lot further from producing 10% of the food and having 20% internal exchange and so forth. We need to up that in the future, that’s for sure.

K: Are they the sort of self sufficiency numbers you’ve come up with?

P: Well, that’s a sort of level of what we have at present and have had most of our time. I mean, there’s people we’ve had community supported agriculture that fell away after 10 years. And that’s now being sort of regenerated in another way, which is really good. But communal production of food by the whole community. I think that’s really I mean, the kibbutz did it and did it really well. But in an Australian cultural context, I don’t think it’s very, I mean, very sustainable. But community gardens where everybody has their own little plot in the same area, that works pretty well. So yeah a mixed economy internally. I think that’s the important thing to promote at the moment. Yeah, as much as possible. 

R: We have swapsies days, every few weeks where people bring anything that they’ve made or grown or processed down and slow. Yep, things like that all the time.

P: I remember up in the rainbow region, they used to have I forgotten where it was, but where you’d only only exchange with food, you couldn’t have money or wouldn’t accept money that they have food or food exchange. So I had to go down to the market and buy and then come back and do the swap, you know, but there is a point to that to.

David Holmgren brings us back to the tricky questions. A question I asked earlier, you know, what are some of these trickiest aspects you’re having to manage? And he’s wondering where the entry and exit of people into your community is, you know, how do you do it? What’s the best practices you’ve experienced? 

Sue Dennett: Its Sue Dennett  here on David’s computer. 

M: I can give a brief answer to that. Entry requires a year’s residence, and acceptance. And we’ve accepted just about everybody sometimes to our detriment. Exit requires you to be prepared to sell your house only for the value of rebuilding it for the cost and replacement cost of that building. Which means that unless you’ve got a fairly healthy bank balance, or rich parents, you’re disadvantaged in purchasing in the rest of the world. And that can prove tricky. I think, really, because people stay on in situations like for me, I can’t deal with the landslides near my place. I am dealing with them. I am doing a whole lot of bush regen, but I’m 70 years old. I’m paying somebody to help me do that. But long term, if I just stayed in my house, it would just crumble around me and the weeds would grow. And that happens. Quite a few people here will stay and not care for the land. And ultimately, it’s not very good for our community doing that. So while we’re trying to discourage speculation and make it so people without high incomes can buy into the community, it’s definitely got a few deficiencies. 

But it does encourage young people to move here which is good for our community’s survival. And for our passing things on. I think Tuntable will survive. And it’s a huge community. It’s a massive social experiment really that’s proven it’s surviving. So yeah, it’s interesting for me because I’m ready to exit. Really, I don’t know that I’m altogether ready to leave the valley. I’ve got two children and two foster children, grandchildren, foster grandchildren that all live here. So, I’m definitely ready for an easier physical life. Yeah. Yeah. 

However, there’s one thing about living in a community that I think should always be said, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s an intentional community or not, but once you’re part of a community, you’re always part of that community. You come home, and it’s always home. You belong, and you always belong, you know, people, and that’s always there for you. And I think that’s, that’s fantastically empowering for people in our culture. We don’t live in a vacuum and we’re affected by all the horrendous, overregulation and climate change and war and disaster and all the rest of it. But to have that sense of community is immeasurably valuable and totally worth working for.

P: hear, hear. 

R: I might just throw in there that one of our exit strategies is that we can be buried here in our cemetery. So we don’t have to leave at all.

K: Wow, isn’t that beautiful? You’ve thought that far ahead. Fantastic. Yeah, we’re getting towards the end of our time, I kind of want to keep talking. But Rod asks a great question ‘is adopting and maintaining progressive governance models and community hard when it relies on alternative and progressive people being present? Is the Australian alternative culture getting more conservative?’

P: I think our circumstances are getting more radical. I put it that way. And we’re going to have to get more communal, we’re going to have to share more. And from our human wellbeing community, we know for a fact that we’ve got a mental illness crisis as much as we’ve got a climate crisis. And it’s because people live by themselves disconnected, except for the virtual world. So from a human wellbeing point of view, as well as from an environmental point of view, we need to live together, and we need to live locally and a lot more. And if we don’t, we won’t survive. Simple.

R:  Maybe just really quickly, I think things like sociocracy are becoming more accepted in the mainstream. And certainly, group facilitation is, you know, was never even really known about or thought to be a trade or livelihood. But I’ve seen somewhere where futurists are predicting that in the future facilitation is one of the top 10 skills we’ll need in the next, you know, years. I think the community gives us some of those skills by learning to work together and talk together and have some, you know, facilitated discussions and things like that. So, yeah, just a little seed in there certainly sociocracy, it can be more accepted in the mainstream. Edward de Bono’s, you know, some of the most successful businesses in the world are successful because they use his creative facilitation processes and things like that. So, you know, if we work those edges a little bit, who knows?

K: Reading a comment here from Tanya at Narara ecovillage. Talking about climate change and planning for the future. From what I understand, most of your communities have been around and got to a stage where you have some financial resources together. Are there any plans on what you can do with those to best deploy them to look after your community? Or what is the priority with some of the little nest eggs that have developed over time?

P: I think their willingness to share, for example, I mean, we know banks don’t like lending to coops. In fact, Milaney Credit Union was the only one that was willing to lend to Moora Moora , to lend for housing. That’s one of the reasons why it gets too cheap to join and too expensive to leave. That situation needs to be addressed with mobilising our financial resources so that we’re willing to lend to members and we’re doing that progressively at Moora Moora.

And lending through the coop, like I lend money to the coop and the coop lends money to other people coming in. So not directly lending to a person, which helps reduce the interpersonal risks involved. But the fact that we’ve done that for some time, and we’ve never had a problem lending. So I think the question of using a resource to support the individual in a way that doesn’t put too much pressure on one to one relationships, and at the same time is carefully managed is a great way of bypassing the banks, now that we’ve been going for 50 years.

K: I love the sound of that.

R: with Crystal Waters we had somebody leave half of their estate to the community ; half of that to the body corporate, half to the coop. 

The body corporate only works to a budget and we pay levies to that budget so it doesn’t have surplus funds or anything apart from this little bit Lois left with the coop. 

We pay $22 a year for membership. So the coop has to earn every cent to pay wages and insurance and just huge levies and huge bills. So it struggles all the time to be able to be developmental in a good ethical way. When I was on the board, the big hurdle was struck with what I mentioned about Council, like pulling the pin the day before the meeting. The meeting with the planners on whether we could talk about whether we could get leases in our Eco Park to be able to make available the first stage for seven Tiny House sites, to address the housing crisis which would also be supporting the co-op to provide sustainable income. Stage two was about 12 more sites that we were going to put tiny houses on. Just to build three cabinets in our ecopark is proving difficult. It’s something that when I finished on the board, finished my term I thought this is something that I can take on just under my own steam, and that’s to work with other groups around Queensland who are looking at being able to take this kind of stuff to state government and change the legislation so it’s possible for people to you know, have tiny houses and caravans on people’s rural land and for us to be able to have more accommodation, for cohousing to be possible in Queensland – because it’s not. 

I imagined it would be great for us if our elder people could downsize from their life, from a whole acre which they have trouble maintaining. They need to downsize so younger people can take that over and then live in a cohousing or a tiny house. Some of our people are wanting to do that but we have our hands tied. 

K: No, that was interesting to hear about the economics there and how the coop has to stretch a little to pay for rates and so forth. That’s something we can learn from. 

Megan how is Tuntable thinking about using their resources to best prepare for the future and whatever that may bring?
M: Sorry, I keep talking about disasters, but we’ve had some massive challenges.

We have our own fire brigade.

We have to sort of work on the practical level – massively.

We have our own fire brigade, since the bushfires of 2019. Seriously impacted our community and nearly burnt down my house and quite a few others. That also brought our young people to the fore as heroes and got them out into the bush and really working well together. We’ve upgraded our Fire fighting capacity massively. 

We talk more about setting up communal gardens like we had back in the 70s. But that hasn’t manifested yet. We’ve been really hard put to just cope with what happened a year ago (floods). We’re also in terms of our financial, a lot of our finances have just gone towards remediation land slips and re-establishing roadworks that got totally destroyed in last year’s rain events. We don’t have the funds to do what we used to do and we also unfortunately, we have people who work off the property who have ….. not different values, but different priorities. 

When we first came here we had a rule of no driving on the property. That enabled us, apart from protecting wildlife, and keeping us all very fit, it had the outcome of giving us a reasonable disposable income from the very small levy that we were paying which enabled us to to set up our preschool, school, our community hall, our healing centre, the rainbow cafe in Nimbin is fairly self-supporting, our community shop. We set up all those structures – quite literally by building and maintaining them from a pretty small financial input. 

But now we are paying massive amounts of council rates, we’re talking about employing a manager (or two) in the office, there’s a project manager employed to write an operations manual because the administration has become so unwieldy and so difficult to hand over effectively between volunteers who go on the board. Yeah, we are not really preparing….. we don’t have young people who have the sense of ownership and a sense of building community that people of my generation had. As I say, people are talking about community gardens, and that includes the new people and young people, but it’s not actively happening. We spend a fortune on our roads because people need them to drive out of the valley to work, to study.  

I feel a bit desultory with our capacity to move forward  into the challenges that are facing us, but that’s partly about getting to this age. You start to retire a little bit. I’m just waiting for the young people to pick up those things. I have to have faith. 

A lot of young people who grew up here have moved back here for the school when they’ve had children. A lot of  young people have moved here because there are opportunities here that they wouldn’t get elsewhere. 

So I’m just hoping that when the demographics shift, and there are more people in their 30s and 40s than there are in their 60s and 70s. (I did a demographic study awhile ago and it was pretty interesting) ….  yeah when there are more younger people, if they will just pick up, because the groundwork has been laid. 

It’s unfortunate that we have been sued a couple of times, we were sued once at the Rainbow Cafe, that took a lot of our money, took a lot of our energy. It closed us down in our thinking and in our openness and this most recent (legal) event, it’s taken a lot of our resources and a lot our time and energy, and a lot of our faith. It’s really unfortunate. I think it’s because we are such a big community too. People will see us as ‘they’, and as an institution, rather than understanding that we are a cooperative. There is no ‘they’, it’s we, its us.   

P:  Just to agree, we’ve been sued too recently and I just wanted to echo what you’ve said. I was aware that it had happened to Tuntable earlier than to us. The lesson for me that i take from it and that i hope the community does take from it, is that you can’t afford to just sweep things under the carpet and hope that time and something god magical will fix things. You do your best to minimise conflict, you do your best that your structures and processes help to encourage participation and so forth. But when people withdraw, and you let them withdraw,  you have to wear the responsibility for it. It’s not surprising when people are allowed to withdraw into their own worldview …..  coops are really easy to blame because we’re not perfect. We have faults, we’re well minded, and we have good intentions. But that’s another matter. So it’s a lesson not to let things stay under the carpet and bring things out on the table. Even though it’s conflictual and adds a tension in the community by so doing, to not do that leads to an explosion waiting to happen. 

K: Yes, well let’s try and finish on a positive Robin, Megan, Peter.
P: I disagree – that was a positive. 

K: If you have any closing remarks…. Can we just do a quick roundtable to sum up some of the key points you think from tonight? It’s been a real pleasure to have your collective wisdom here.

R: Yeah, thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this evening and it’s wonderful to hear Megan and Peter share as well. I feel supported by knowing that there’s other people out there going through similar things going on and, to have the conversations. Something I’m interested in here is that in the chat, I was just trying to catch up on some of the other chat questions that we haven’t had a chance to answer and there’s some good links that people have been posting. I just wanted to ask Karl if there’s any way you can copy all of that and send it out as a follow up email so that people have still got access to some things like that. Because i think this conversation has only really just begun. 

So I guess I live in hope. Like Megan, I’m feeling my age a tiny bit. I’m pretty much 65 these days, and I feel like I’ve still got a lifetime of work here in the community that I’d like to, to be part of so. Yeah, hoping I stay healthful and fit for a few more years yet.

And yeah, that handover to younger people. How do we transition gently and pass the ropes on to the younger folks without it feeling like either we’re holding the power and they’ve got to earn it or that kind of stuff? That’s a bit of a question in my mind at the moment for another conversation. Thanks, Karl for the invitation. I’ve enjoyed this very much. Thanks, everyone, for showing up.

K: Yeah, any last words? Megan. If this were to happen again, I would ask the people who are writing in the chat to be able to speak actually I know it’s complicated and difficult on Zoom. But just to broaden the points.

K: Yes, I did ask for anyone to speak up but it’s our ….And Peter any last words. 

P: I think what’s important to hang on to here is that we are basically agreeing. The issues of living in community are the same, they don’t change, circumstances change. The fundamentals of living in a village with others, they are the same issues. How we respond to them are different and we’ve got some options and choices but fundamentally, we’ve been mapping the Forever issues of living in community.  and it’s worthwhile. It’ll grow you, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and embrace the journey.

K: Beautiful. Excellent. Well, thank you so much Megan, Robin and Peter, fantastic discussion. We’re going to try and distil this conversation into an infamous Google Doc. We’ll incorporate some of the chats as well and that’ll go on our resources page once our panellists have had a bit of time to give some further feedback to that because yeah, we keep hearing of people and and working groups trying to get communities up. There must be a way we can help them shortcut through some of these common issues we’ve identified today. 

Thank you all for attending. Hopefully, you can chime in via our website There’s all the social links there. Love to see some more chatter on our networks. I put up a little podcast Morag Gamble and I recorded the other day so you can hear more about Grounded there. Let’s continue this conversation! Hit me up anytime, via the website. Let’s look forward to more conversations like this later this year. If you know any other communities out there where there’s a particular perspective we might not have covered tonight we do want to do another one of these explorations in governance talks further down the road. So let’s see who we can pull out of the woodwork to bring forth all of these key learnings. So thanks, everyone. Have a good night. And let’s hope we can really start to see more intentional communities, preferably with a bit of an affordability lock in place to ensure that future generations can also afford to buy in. That’s what we’re passionate about at Grounded and yeah, I thank you once again All right. See you soon.

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