The Village Community Co-operative, Kuitpo, South Australia

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The Village Community Co-operative was set up in the late 1970s by a group of social and environmental activists who had been involved in the movements against the Vietname War and local uranium mining. This particular group were also involved with renewable energy and consequently set up one of Australia’s first solar panel shops in Adelaide. When the co-operative was first established the group lived in a shared house in the city while searching for land to purchase.

The original members created the community as an alternative to consumer-driven modern life, and the place became a hub for conferences, gatherings, meetings, vision quests, festivals and general activities of movement for social and environmental change. School groups came to visit and enjoyed theatrical and creative antics in the bush, workshops were held in various aspects of community living and the latest sustainable technology. They wanted to create something different not just for themselves, but something they could share with others too.

Over time, the community has evolved and many people have come and gone, some dedicating years of their life to the place, and others for a few months. Although none of the original members live there anymore (although many remain members), the longest standing member has been there for the best part of 25 years, and others for 10 years or more. It seems that those who commit to The Village, seem to take that commitment very seriously and remain for many years.

The years of high activity were followed by some tragic events as happens in any family’s life. These events brought the community together in their sorrow, although the group has not yet returned to the level of activity they once had. The current residents are now ready to bring back some of that progressive energy to The Village by encouraging and supporting the new generation of young people with fresh ideas!

We were welcomed with open arms into The Village and found some of the warmest people we have encountered on our travels yet. They exude an air of quiet peace, and compassion. Our hosts , Susan and Iain were extremely keen to meet people who have a genuine interest in community life and every effort was made to accommodate us. Apart from the weeding and digging here and there for a few hours, most of our time has been spent deep in interesting conversation!

The Village currently has 8 full time residents, and 22 members of the co-operative. The living arrangements are fairly communal with shared bathrooms, and many of the bedrooms under the same roof. However, all members usually have a lot of time to themself and meals are rarely shared. One member lives in her decomissioned bus and others in a tipi. The buildings have been made mostly from reclaimed materials and mud bricks and rammed earth from the site itself. Whenever an extra room has been needed, the buildings have expanded organically! This is because the local authority only allows a single residential dwelling on the rural property. In terms of power, some solar power is harvested for hot water and power in all of the buildings. Most materials, tools and resources are shared, as well as skills, for example mechanics, plumbing and carpentry with the youngest member of the co-op being very much in demand!

The Village installed the first composting toilet and also the first grey-water reed-bed system in South Australia. They were granted permission by the local authority but only if they would monitor the water quality coming from the final stage of the reed-bed system. The Village is situated in a water catchment area, with a creek running through it that flows into one of the only un-dammed rivers in the state. This means the water quality is of high concern. The Village became experts on the reed-bed system, and the local authority frequently consulted them for advice, which has since been incorporated into many new systems since.

The co-operative does not have its own income as such, but each resident pays a low service fee to pay for things like building maintenance, materials, phone land-line and fuel for communal vehicles. Each member tends to make a little income from outside work, but this seems to be fairly low and all members are living very frugally. One couple is growing vegetables for the local farmers market and restaurants. Others are involved in local bush regeneration and another is a mechanic. They hve embraced a simple life and the place is peaceful, beautiful.

A share in the co-operative costs $3000, which new members can take up to six years to pay. Many people who don’t actually live in The Village, feel a close affiliation with it, and will travel for miles around for the monthly members’ meeting. Our hosts tell us that if someone is interested in living in community, they would generally like to see that they have had a strong commitment to the place previously. A 6-month trial period is standard, although some feel this should be increased to one year, as some conflict has arisen with certain members recently. Accommodation for new members is unfortunately limited by the council’s one-dwelling policy, so no new buildings can legally be built.

An interesting situation has arisen in the last 5 years here, which has brought up many important questions for community co-operatives. When a conflict between one member and the rest of the community occurred, The Village looked to The Co-opertives Act for support. But the Act actually only refers to industrial matters, not civil ones. They have since sought legal advice, and tried turning to all possible avenues but there appears to be no legal framework in place to help a co-operative solve a civil matter. They are attempting to bring the matter to tribunal, and the whole affair has been very stressful for those involved. But what does this mean for communities? As co-operatives, it seems all civil matters must be resolved from within, which would be the ideal situation for any community. However when an internal resolution can’t be found, where can they turn for support?

Although life at The Village may seem fairly simple, there is a very high concentration of extremely practical people here doing very impressive things! One member has developed his own composting system where the heap is kept in a semi-circle, feeding the compost material into one end, and mixing and drawing out the fresh compost from the other end. The result is fantastic compost, and a very practical working system. Another member has created on his lathe some of the most beautiful woooden bowls we have ever seen. The skill and precision with which they have been made is impressive, though he never took them to market and has only made them as gifts. Another member has been fine-tuning a ram pump system which doesn’t use any external energy source, only the power of the flow of the water itself. The same member also regenerated the wetland system that has been disrupted by years of agriculture. It is now a fully functioning seasonal wetland, planted with native plants and frequently visited by local fauna. Oh, and did we forget to mention this member also built a complex series of swales across the land for optimum water conservation! And the community is also growing trees for the Trees for Life scheme among many others, the government’s campaign to encourage tree planting in rural areas.

The site has changed a lot over the years, as great effort has been made to conserve water in the two dams, and to replant the indigenous plant species here. Many trees and shrubs have returned and recent aerial photo shows just how much greener the site is now. The future looks very bright for The Village.

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