‘We are under challenge’: The Healesville community built on survival
In 1974 Peter Cock drove up a mountain. He was responding to a small advertisement hed seen in The Age offering 245 hectares of land for sale on Mt Toolebewong, 10km south of Healesville.
As he drove, the dirt road curled up through towering mountain ash and lush ferns, streaked by sunlight, then opened out at the summit. Standing there, awed by the majesty of the place, he was reminded of the words of John Batman: This is the place for a village.
Forty-five years later, Peter and his wife Sandra are still living in that village. Its called Moora Moora, a co-operative community of 50 adults and 20 children.
Peter tears up at the memory of that first day and the long journey they undertook to secure the property. I wanted to live in a place where nature was powerful; not subservient to human activity.
I wanted to live in a place where nature was powerful; not subservient to human activity.
Peter Cock, community member
We are sitting in his sun-filled living-room, looking out across the Yarra Valley, framed by a large picture window. He points to a massive gum in the foreground. It was planted 45 years ago. That gum was beaten up when young. The tops were eaten off. But look at it now. That tree has taught me how to stand tall.
At 73, Peter Cock is fit and charismatic. Its hard to imagine him having to learn to stand tall.
Maybe I chose a place that reinforced my strengths and allowed me to avoid dealing with my weaknesses. I am a big-picture person. I dont always attend to the details. I dont really look below my knees. He smiles, sheepishly. Im working on that.
For Sandra, it is the exquisite air of the mountain that fills her heart. And the dark, bountiful soil. You can dig down deep here, she says. Living on community teaches you that.
In the beginning, when Peter was lecturing at Monash University, a pregnant Sandra was living up here alone on the mountain with their two-year-old. Peter joined her on weekends.
You were here all by yourself? I am awed. Wasnt I lucky! says Sandra airily.
They both had impeccable credentials as alternative-lifestyle pioneers. They lived at Kent State University in the 1960s. Peter was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He is a sociologist, she is a psychologist. They experimented with a few ways of communal living before Moora Moora.
I visited other communities up north and they werent for me, Peter tells me. I didnt want to be sitting on a veranda smoking dope in a benign climate.
Peter was never interested in dropping out. His focus was – and remains – to create a place of life-long learning. Living here keeps people active.
We are under challenge, he says. Its no easy place. People cant sit on their arses. Fire is ever-present in the summer.
But now it is autumn. The fire season is over for another year. The community breathes out and gives thanks. A brisk wind blows up from the valley and bustles through the gum trees.
The wind is a great source of energy, Peter says. A great cleanser. Even my anger can be blown away.
Moora Moora has a written manifesto built on the principles of conservation, sustainability, community and education. The language can feel a bit 1960s, lamenting the superficiality of human relationships in the suburbs. And the need to get away from the foul air and pollution of the city.
Some of it reminded me of the essays we had to write at high school in the '60s: Competitive, violent and materialistic values permeate our society. Discuss.
I meet Bob Rich, a psychologist and author who lived on Moora Moora for almost 40 years. Originally from Hungary, Bob married his fabulously capable Dutch wife Yolanda and together they built their mud-brick house among a cluster of other houses on the mountain.
Now 76, Bob has reluctantly come down to the town, acquiescing to Yolandas plan for a new chapter in their lives.
When I meet them in their new abode in Healesville, I find two lively, defiant and slightly mischievous elders.
Bob and Yolanda joined the Moora Moora community in January 1976. Bob wanted to change the world. Yolanda wanted to build her own home.
This is why I came to Australia, says Yolanda in her matter-of-fact Dutch way.
This is why I came to Australia.
Yolanda Rich, originally from The Netherlands
Yolanda is a practical person, says Bob. Shes not interested in philosophy.
I always thought, I am going to marry a guy who can do things. But I married Bob.
Bob grins cheerfully. I was born with three left hands.
Bob says that his philosophy is all about creating a survivable world – one worth surviving. His fervent belief is that mainstream society only changes when creative minorities on the margins come up with new solutions to the challenges of survival.
When I ask what attracted him to life on this intentional community he quotes an Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy: One man cannot build one house but 20 men can build 20 houses.
A year after they joined the community, Bob and Yolanda set about building their house. Despite being dubbed the most impractical man on earth by his brother, Bob taught himself all the necessary skills.
None of us had any money or contacts or expertise. We just applied ourselves to learning. A decade later he published a book about how to do it, which became a bestseller: The Earth Garden Building Book.
Bob dug his house-site by hand, because he didnt want to use fossil fuels, one member of the co-op recounts, with a slightly bemused smile.
Im not the kind of leader who persuades people, Bob tells me. Im the kind of leader who says, Im going this way. Copy me, if you want.
Yolanda recounts an incident when one of her sheep got stuck in a cattle ramp and had to be shot. Not wanting to waste it, she butchered it with her sons pen knife. She packed the meat up to share.
Youd be surprised how many people in this communityRead More – Source