An Overview of Crystal Waters Permaculture & Eco Village
A socially and environmentally responsible, economically viable rural subdivision north of Brisbane (Australia), Crystal Waters was designed by Max Lindegger, Robert Tap, Barry Goodman and Geoff Young, and established in 1987. It received the 1996 World Habitat Award (assessed by Dr Wally N’Dow) for its “pioneering work in demonstrating new ways of low impact, sustainable living”.
83 freehold residential and 2 commercial lots occupy 20% of the 259ha (640 acre) property. The remaining 80% is the best land, and is owned in common. It can be licensed for sustainable agriculture, forestry, recreation and habitat projects.
The village centre is zoned for commerce, light industry, tourism and educational activities.
Crystal Waters has become a community of 200 people with a multitude of businesses and food producing gardens. Land productivity has been dramatically increased.
By-laws ensure that residents are responsible for the provision of their needs and the disposal of waste within ecological parameters. While these by-laws provide a framework for sustainable living, perhaps more effective is the reality of living where your decisions affect ‘your own backyard’. Here, you can’t just flush the problem away.
Important impacts include the revitalisation of the local bio-region by the influx of new residents, the increased diversity of flora and fauna, the improvement in land quality, the nurturing of new ‘green’ technologies, and the education of the many course participants and guests visiting Crystal Waters. They learn how little you need to change your life in a Westernised country to make a very positive impact on the environment.
Situation before the initiative began
The 640 acre (259 ha) property had been extensively logged and many of the ridges were near treeless. The land was in a stressed condition, and producing little in the way of food or income. 7 adults living on the property had no legal tenure.
The area is typically rural, suffering from unemployment due to the decline of traditional industries (timber and dairy farming) and population drift to the cities. All services from the local shop to the school were suffering. As the environment became over exploited the economy followed in a downward spiral. It was necessary to focus on the strengths of this bio-region and utilise these in a sustainable manner to create meaningful work and security to the remaining residents and to attract more people.
Preparing information and clarifying priorities
The seven existing residents were asked to define their dreams and expectations. The designers worked up sketch plans via a series of further discussions and later presentation of preliminary ideas to the local government authority.
Formulation of objectives, strategies and mobilization of resources
Meetings with stakeholders led to the development of 6 basic objectives for the village design:
The objectives became the umbrella directive in all design processes. The completed design proposal was well illustrated and presented, and sent to each individual local government politician. Strong lobbying and clarity in explanation and purpose resulted in a unanimous approval after a relatively short but vigorous discussion period.
Leadership roles were initially assumed by two of the designers. During the implementation period this extended to four. Weekly meetings ensured that problems were solved relatively painlessly. Each leader was given a number of portfolios and each portfolio was backed up by two designers.
Finance was tight throughout the development period and remains a challenge. As a pioneering project the developer and the government authorities had to learn ‘on the job’. Both parties went through an educational process where solutions were found co-operatively.
Job creation remains an important task.
At the stage after 15 years, most of our objectives have been achieved. For example:
Water quality in our major dams and the adjoining creeks remains excellent. A water testing workshop was held here and one of the participants now regularly tests the water, sometimes sending samples to an independent laboratory. The water downstream of the development has not been negatively affected.
Crystal Waters is now a very social place. Our café serves regular meals on Friday evenings and for Sunday brunch. We have residents writing and producing concerts. People meet for working bees, yoga, permaculture, theatre, music, volleyball, discussion of community issues
The layout of the 83 residential lots was arranged in clusters to encourage neighbourly interaction, co-operation and a sense of belonging.
Many residents have established projects within their cluster, which they work on together. The children’s play areas and the café are popular meeting places.
Food growing is increasing. Most residents maintain home gardens and orchards, many have chickens and some have bees, cows, sheep, pigs, geese….
Residents are encouraged to plan well in designing their homes. Most houses use materials where the impact at the source is considered (eg rainforest timber is avoided, local and recycled timber are popular); they avoid potentially toxic materials (eg: off-gassing of plastic and composite timbers). Site placement and house design aim to maximise passive solar possibilities.
We successfully applied for ‘home occupation’ zoning, as by working from home time and energy are saved. Many businesses now operate within Crystal Waters. Residents employ each other rather than non residents whenever possible. Several businesses here are providing steady employment for other residents and many have a trickle down effect. For example, many run courses in our facilities. These not only pay the teachers but also administrators, cooks, cleaners, food growers and accommodation businesses.
Crystal Waters is an excellent testing ground for ‘green’ technology. Innovative systems have been developed here before being introduced into the wider community.
Many of the ideas introduced here have been adopted well beyond our boundaries – our model of a mixed land ownership and design process has been used in the design of human settlements here and overseas; wastewater techniques tested here have travelled as far as Vietnam and New Zealand. The World Habitat Award recognised our achievements in 1996. We are often the basis for academic surveys and media articles, and receive a constant stream of enquiries from people interested in following our example.
The increase in population has meant our local school has grown, the neighbourhood sawmill was revitalised and nearby Conondale still has a village shop. Our own volunteer fire brigade supplements the Conondale Bush Fire Brigade, and has assisted farmers and residents elsewhere in the valley in times of need.
Crystal Waters has proved to be a model from which lessons can be learned. Many visitors come here from all corners of the world to see that small changes in our personal lives can be made relatively painlessly, that there are viable alternatives to suburban isolation, and to experience the realities of living lightly on the earth.
Here are a series of webpages (currently removed) which show photos of past community events such as building construction, celebrating our community birthday, and new businesses being formed.
We realised very early that it would need the understanding and support of all to be able to reach a high level of social, economic, environmental and spiritual integration. We started with the design process. From March 1985 to the end of that year we learned from the land and the people by watching and listening. This stage showed us where the water flowed during the rainy periods, frost levels, the warm slopes and cool pockets. It also revealed the best areas – which we kept as common land, so all could benefit rather than just one resident. Out of this lengthy but by no means complicated process 15 criteria for lot selection were determined. These criteria were included in the explanation to government. The lots were then pegged out.
Regular meetings with interested settlers and a monthly newsletter (the Village Voice, which is still published) were used to communicate with people and get regular feedback. The planners published and gave to each resident two books. The “Crystal Waters Conceptual Report” and the “Crystal Waters Owner’s Manual” which explained the concepts behind the development and gave tips on living lightly on the earth.
Crystal Waters was financed by the people who wanted to live here. No money was borrowed. The land was not purchased in a conventional manner. The previous owner of Crystal Waters accepted payment in the form of 10 developed lots in lieu of cash, of which the designers accepted 3 as payment. As there had been no money to pay for their services during the 3 years of initial work, this deferment was crucial to the project’s success
Residents purchased ‘off the plan’, paying a deposit once they selected a lot. When 42 deposits had been collected sufficient funds were available to undertake most of the infrastructure. The balance of payments finished the work and included a profit margin. All profits were donated to the Crystal Waters Community Co-op. These profits have since been used to build community facilities.
We never aimed to become totally self-sufficient, believing that interaction with the surrounding bioregion is more sustainable. However, many people are very self reliant. Potentially, we can grow most of our food. Much of our timber requirements (buildings, fencing, firewood) could also be grown here; some timber lots have already been planted. There will always be imports – fuel and metals are items which can be substituted in a limited way but not replaced completely. We thus have a responsibility to offset our imports with some exports. These are as varied as fruit and vegetables, knowledge, skills and experiences. From the outset we used the theme of ‘education tourism’ to define our strengths. So far this has been shown to be an appropriate choice.
A few years before Crystal Waters was initiated a proposed subdivision in NSW received a lot of publicity. Sadly, the project collapsed but we felt it was basically sound and studied it to learn what had worked and what did not. It seemed that publicity – particularly if hyped up too much – can be damaging as it creates many expectations which one may not be able to fulfill.
The NSW project had some legal and financial hiccups fairly early in the process of getting approval. Deadlines which had been promised could not be kept. We learned that it was better to err on the side of caution. Promises tied to dates should be preferably conservative, not overly optimistic. Investors expect steady progress and need to be kept informed. The Village Voice newsletter was created to keep people up to date with progress and avoid misunderstandings.
We learned not to accept speculators in a sustainable project. We had a number of offers from investors wanting to buy multiple allotments for future re-sale. One person offered to purchase 5 lots. While it was very tempting to accept the badly-needed funds, we declined. What an aspiring village needs most is people. It is people who make a community and we knew that speculators would be absentee owners and would make little contribution to the social fabric of Crystal Waters.
When we first put our ideas to the local authority the legal framework and political climate were unfavourable. The accepted wisdom was that rural areas should not be subdivided below 40 acres (16 ha). In Queensland new villages were not permitted (although exceptions existed for mining companies). The combination of agricultural, residential, manufacturing, educational and recreational use of land was discouraged.
However, by patient negotiation and discussion with the local authority we were able to work through these issues, and we have shown that people and agriculture are a healthy combination and are actually interdependent. We have learned that ‘no’ need not be the last answer and that politicians can be convinced with well researched arguments.
Many of our initiatives are transferable if differences between places (climatic, cultural) are given due consideration. Many of our principles and features fit the recommendations of ‘Agenda 21’.
The most obvious and easily transferable features are:
|The Pre-History of Crystal Waters
|Crystal Waters History
Crystal Waters Community was established about fifteen years ago by Bob Sample.
Bob bought the property and raised horses here. During his ownership, the property was home to an alternative community (which was named Crystal Waters). Some of the residents of that former community are still at Crystal Waters today. Over time Bob realised that he wanted to allow people to legally settle on the property and to have a design which took into account environmental needs, social interactions and the economic realities.
The Community Co-operative was registered as a Land Settlement Co-op in 1981 as the legal framework for the original community. This group did not have local government approval for rural residential occupation, nor did it have an overall development plan, and after some years virtually ceased.
In 1985 the remaining resident members initiated the planning and design process for legal settlement of the land as a community. This was achieved when Crystal Waters Village received Local Government Approval in April 1986.
The History of the Mary Valley
In the early 1850s prospectors panned for gold in the Conondales and through the Mary Valley. Loggers also took out licenses on timber, particularly brushbox and red cedar, through the valley, and this industry remained a major contributor to the local economy for decades.
Once the land was partially cleared, and people were settling, sheep and cattle roamed the huge stations. During this time (the 1860s) Cobb & Co serviced the area on a regular basis, although it is said that the steep slopes of the range often caused them difficulties. Aherns Road is said to have been one of their major routes to Kenilworth during this time. However, the gold rush of the mid 1860s led to many people leaving the area for Gympie, and a faster route from Brisbane along the coast was created, which slowed the white settlement of the region.
The first white baby born in the area was John Ahern, and the road through the valley is named after the family. One of the family descendants became Premier of Queensland in the 1980s.
Dairy farming and timber were the backbone of the local economy from the 1860s and are still very important income earners in this area.
|The Evolution of Crystal Waters
|In 1985 the residents of the original Crystal Waters community called on the services of Permaculture Services Pty Ltd (now Eco-Logical Solutions Ltd) to design and implement a subdivision which would prove that developments which considered both the agricultural potential and the ecological needs of a property were viable.
The design was to be an example of sustainable development in a rural environment, providing:
The four member design team assessed the land, determining areas which would be residential lots, commercial areas, and common land.
If any one of the team felt that a piece of land was particularly special, the land was immediately designated common land.
The best agricultural land was also designated common land for future licensing to residents. Dams, roads and provision of services to lots were planned and drawn up.
Crystal Waters was designed to accommodate approximately 250-300 people, and to have 83 residential lots. Two additional commercial lots – one to serve as short-term visitors’ accommodation (the Visitors Camping Area), and the other to be the commercial Village Centre, were also incorporated.
The subdivision was accomplished under the Queensland Building Units and Group Titles Act, 1980, and allowed people to purchase their own parcel of freehold land, while the balance of the land (approximately 80% of the total area) was to be owned in common.
(The Building Units and Group Titles Act has been amended twice since 1980, is now replaced by the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997.)
Once the plan was approved by Landsborough Shire Council (now amalgamated within the Caloundra City Council) in April 1986, Crystal Waters Permaculture Village became a real possibility. Through advertising and word of mouth sufficient future residents contributed deposits to fund the necessary infrastructure. Within a year all blocks were spoken for, construction completed, and the first new residents arrived!!!
Crystal Waters is still evolving, and could be considered to be in its childhood, with lots of growing and learning still to come. Most of the lots are now actually occupied, and we have around 200 full time residents.
|In December 1985 the application to the Landsborough Shire Council (now Caloundra City Council) for subdivision under the Building Units and Group Titles Act, was completed. This allowed the Village and Visitor’s Camping Area to exist within the community framework.
The application was then lodged with Council in January 1986 and approved by them in April, followed by some seven months of negotiations to meet the sometimes exacting Council requirements.
During this period of waiting, preliminary work was done on site to establish the position of lots, roads, dams etc.
The design was to be an example of sustainable development in a rural environment, providing:
These were to be all in close proximity to each other, providing neighbourly security to the residents and reducing the need for travel by car to between different human needs.
The criteria for positioning all items in the development were met by the method of exclusion. Such information as slope of land, amount of standing forest, agricultural land, proximity of natural water courses and wet areas, aspect to North, were each plotted on a transparency and then overlaid on a map.
The resultant areas not excluded became the residential lot cluster areas. The lots were then plotted on the drawing, followed by fitting on site using the other criteria that needed to be met. Roads were then positioned and service trenching lines fitted between roads and lots.
The method of installation of services was unique to Queensland at that time. We had already decided on underground mains electricity to the distribution points, and we had planned reticulated water pumped from the two adjacent creeks to be available to every lot for both non-potable use and firefighting.
After detailed negotiations with SEQEB (Energex), Telecom (Telstra) and the water supply contractor, we managed to get agreement on common trenching for all services which gave us a substantial cost saving.
Our roads are all bitumen sealed for low maintenance, without kerb and guttering which we considered an unnecessary luxury.
There are fifteen dams with multiple uses such as provision of access by roads across their walls, climate control, aspect improvement and recreational uses. We do not use the water from the dams because as soon as you do the level falls and many of the uses are no longer available. They could be used during drought conditions in an emergency however, we got through the longest drought in the State’s history without such use.
The site works were completed in 1988 to the satisfaction of the Council who then sealed the plans, enabling registration of them with the State Office and sale of the lots to prospective residents.
|Design – The Land
|The Crystal Waters property is 259 hectares (640 acres) in size. 14% of the total land area has been subdivided into 83 privately owned lots. A Visitor’s Area and The Village comprise another 6%. The remaining 80% of the land we own in common and includes small lakes, areas for agricultural and horticultural development, forestry plots and areas set aside for habitat. All the best land was identified during the planning process, and kept as common land to ensure everyone had access.
Crystal Waters is a permaculture village, designed in 1985 by Permaculture Services (now known as Eco-Logical Solutions). Implementation of earthworks was finished in 1987 and the separate freehold titles were finalised in June 1988.
A permaculture village is one that is consciously designed and maintained to optimize and balance the ecosystem of the natural environment and the people living in it.
At Crystal Waters, the first step was strategic planning of the overall site with the objective of working with Nature in the design of the community. The character and qualities of the land, including topography, vegetation type and distribution, waterways, soil types, prevailing winds etc, were studied and mapped. Appropriate areas were then identified for specific uses, such as agriculture, roads, utilities, lot sites and a village centre, occupational and entrepreneurial activities.
By 1988, the supportive infrastructure was in place and sales of lots began. Since that time, the growth of the community, development of systems, and stewardship of the land have moved Crystal Waters towards realization of the ultimate vision of a fully functional permaculture village, though this is recognised as a continuing journey.
A few examples of the design elements:
|Design – Lot Selection Criteria
|The parameters outlined by Christopher Alexander in his classic books “The Timeless Way of Building” and “A Pattern Language” provided a clear set of design criteria for Crystal Waters, including the decision to design for around 300 people, as Alexander argues that this is the minimum size for a settlement to be economically viable. The history of European villages also helped establish important considerations.
The layout of residential lots was carefully considered. The following was used to determine the configuration and placement of lots.
Lots were laid out in “clusters”. This was done for the following reasons:
|Design – Structure
|All land at Crystal Waters is private property and, in the interests of residents’ comfort and security, visitors are required to book prior to arrival and to follow village guidelines.
The village is a private Group Title Development with two administrative bodies, the committees for which are elected annually by residents/members.
The Body Corporate
The Crystal Waters Body Corporate Committee consists of a Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary and four Committee Members, elected annually. Various sub-committees are nominated by the Committee to focus on specific issues. Portfolio Managers are appointed to carry out much of the day-to-day maintenance.
Residents may apply to use common land for a variety of purposes (eg timber lots, nurseries, orchards, wildlife habitat), and their application is reviewed by a Land Use sub-committee which reports to the Body Corporate Committee. The costs of managing the common land, the roads, water system, fencing etc are met by an annual levy.
The Community Co-operative
Today its main operations are the management of the leasehold lots, the Visitors’ Camping Area, the Village, the Community House and the Carousel (which are used for meetings and courses).
Design – Sustainable Building
|About 90% of the lots have now been built on. The homes vary greatly in design and materials used, but most residents have tried to build homes as environmentally sustainable as possible.
Issues such as the embodied ‘grey’ energy in materials such as aluminium, the impact at the source such as with rainforest timbers, the distance the material has to be transported, the effectiveness of the material in solar passive building…. All these issues (and many more) are important to us.
Building materials include: timber, straw bale, rammed earth, blockwork, bamboo, mudbrick and compressed earth bricks.
Home designs have generally taken climatic and environmental factors into consideration. Solar hot water systems of different types have been used, and some houses use photovoltaic cells for electricity production. Composting toilet systems have been installed in many homes; indeed the demand for sustainable treatment systems for wastewater has been so great here that one company, Dowmus, used the village as a testing ground for many of its designs. The use of secondhand materials, particularly of doors and windows, is popular.
As there was easy access to the existing mains electricity grid for the valley, the designers decided to link into this electricity source rather than to insist all residents rely on stand-alone photovoltaic power systems. There were several reasons for this decision, but the main ones were essentially:
However, it was decided to ensure residents reduced their power consumption by installing low voltage cabling which only carries approximately half the normal current supplied to the average Australian home. This cable not only carried less power, it was also cheaper. It was installed via underground trenches, reducing visual pollution.
Residents are encouraged to use a variety of energy sources, including liquid petroleum gas (LPG), and to design solar passive homes. Guidance and ideas on these issues was provided at the outset to each new lotholder, in the form of an ‘Owner’s Manual’ created by the designers.. Technical advice was also available via a sub-committee of the Body Corporate Committee. Many homes use wood fired combustion stoves in winter, and some residents have planted wood lots for future supply of timber and fuel.
Crystal Waters’ requirement for sustainable building methods and products has assisted several new businesses, eg Rammed Earth Constructions, Natural Paints, Dowmus composting toilets, and the property has been a testing ground for innovative new ‘green’ technology.
|Crystal Waters Climate
|Crystal Waters is located in the upper Mary Valley, SE Queensland, Australia. It is a subtropical climate with half a dozen or so winter frosts each year.
Summer (December-March) is our ‘wet season’. They can be wet, humid and relatively hot – in the high 20s to low 30s Celsius, with occasional hotter days.
Spring (September-November) and Autumn (April-May) are mild with cool nights.
Winter (June-July) days are generally mild – in the low to mid 20s Centigrade, but the nights are cold, with occasional frosts and temperatures falling below 0degC.
The annual rainfall of about 1350mm falls mostly in the first 4 months of the year- our ‘wet season’, although the past few years have proven to be unusually dry. We expect to enjoy breezes most of the year, (with some stronger winds in September) and lots of sunshine and clear skies. Heavy morning dews makes “sleeping out” a wet experience most of the year.
As dogs, cats and hunting are prohibited at Crystal Waters, an abundance of wildlife can be observed from close range. Wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas, frogs of many kinds… and over 160 different types of birds have been recorded. Several endangered species can be seen at Crystal Waters, eg the Glossy Black Cockatoo.
Some mosquitoes have to be expected during the warm part of the year in early morning and late afternoon. Ticks can be picked up in scrub and tall grassy areas. Snakes are also part of Australian country life – normal caution is recommended when visiting.
For more information on our regional weather see the Maleny Weather Station website here.
|Crystal Waters Demographics
|(as at January 2002))
Trying to do a definitive demographic survey of Crystal Waters residents is like trying hanging onto the tail of one of our more welcome native species – the carpet snake or python. The harder you try to hold on, the faster it slithers away from you!
Crystal Waters community is anything but static. It is a constantly evolving,dynamic and ever-changing population made up of Lot Owners and their families, tenants, woofers, visitors, course participants. Some people come, fall madly in love with the place, buy or rent, stay awhile, change their minds, leave – occasionally all within a few months. Or perhaps they arrive for a 2-week course or a holiday and to their surprise, never leave. We have many stories like that.
Of the 132 adults living in the Village, August 2000, there are 35 original titleholders still living on their Lots (22 over 12 years). This means they have been living here more than 10 years and represent over 30% of the community. In the last couple of years alone we’ve acquired at least 14 new sets of Lot Owners. The rest have probably been here around 5 years on average. Of the current Lot Owners or Leaseholders, there are 35 couples, 28 female owners and 34 male owners, which give a total of 69 males and 63 females.
Not all the Lot Owners are actually residing here as there are 11 lots for sale, most of which are rented out. As well as those who own their Crystal Waters properties, there are an additional 3 couples, plus 10 single female and 8 male tenants renting or sharing, some of whom have been here for several years. There is often a lot of swapping about with the tenants as properties are taken off the market or Lot Owners take on houseminders to rent, for instance when they travel overseas. It is not a satisfactory situation for those people wishing to live permanently at Crystal Waters who can’t afford to buy in. It is becoming imperative that more suitable and long-term rental property be provided in some way or another.
Of the 62 children aged between 6m and 18yrs (31 boys and 31 girls), approximately 20 or so were born on the property, though many more who have since moved on with their parents have chosen Crystal Waters as their birthplace. We always warn young women who come to live here that it is an extremely fertile environment! Quite a number of these children are living predominantly with single or separated parents.
Nationalities: 16 at last count…
From: Australia, Austria, Germany, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Switzerland, S Africa, New Zealand, Holland, Denmark, USA, Canada.
From 2 months to 89 years young – with more on the way!.
|Body Corporate By-Laws
By – Laws Group Title Plan No1833
PRINCIPLES OF USE
For the purpose of interpretation in the Bylaws the following shall apply:
‘Resident’ shall be a proprietor or occupier of a lot.