If the idea of communal living conjures up images of `70s flower power and mung-bean-eating hippies, think again. Modern-day communes – or intentional communities, as most are now known – are thriving.
We look at four communities around Australia offering an alternative to the conventional dream of a quarter-acre block.
Moora Moora Co-operative Community
If you had to sum one of Australia’s oldest intentional communities up in three words, long-time member Dr Bob Rich says it would be: community, conservation and education.
Established in the mid-1970s, Moora Moora is perched on Mount Toolebewong near the Victorian town of Healesville.
About 50 adults and 20 children live across six small hamlets, while a learning centre offers courses on everything from yoga to eco-village design.
Rich and his wife Jolanda lived in the mountain community for 35 years, before injuries forced them to move to Healesville.
The house they built from scratch is up for rent. However, new members must go through a strict, and lengthy, membership process.
Rich likens residents of Moora Moora – many of whom work outside the community – as “transformational agents” who take the skills and ideas they’ve learnt to the wider world.
He believes the greatest benefit for his family was raising three children who became capable of living and socialising with people of all ages.
Far from fading away over time, Rich believes the desire for strong community is only growing. “Over the last 10 years I’ve noticed a change – more and more young people with families are looking for community life.”
Set up by a small, idealistic bunch of ex-Sydneysiders a few decades ago, Patanga’s original residents saw it as a place of healing where they could work in co-operation with nature and the land.
One of the first things the original residents did was tear down all the fences, which subsequent – and more practical – residents spent thousands of dollars replacing.
Like many intentional communities, Patanga is set amid stunning scenery, in the Bellinger Valley, south-west of Coffs Harbour.
However, unlike some, it has a solid management structure in place. Patanga is set up as a company with 15 directors who each own a share.
After a “getting to know you” process, a new shareholder can grab a slice of rural paradise for about $65,000, plus the cost of the house, which is negotiated between an outgoing shareholder and the newbie.
Residents are expected to pitch in on monthly workdays, and a strong work ethic, inside and outside the community, is encouraged.
In the 1970s, after counter-cultural festival Aquarius was staged in Nimbin, hundreds of young people stayed on and set up the first communal camps.
More than 40 years later, there are still many intentional communities dotted around the hinterland, including Jindibah, a 46-hectare property between Byron Bay and Bangalow.
“When we (three couples) bought our 113 acres in 1994, there were 37 intentional communities in the Byron Shire, with 100-plus more in the adjoining Lismore and Kyogle shires further inland, where land is much cheaper,” says Jindibah co-founder Christobel Munson.
However today’s communities are a far cry from those of the `70s, with different legal structures in place.
These days, Munson says it’s much harder to find suitable, affordable land on which to establish a community – and there’s far more red tape involved.
The 12 households who call the former dairy farm home have worked hard to rehabilitate the land, planting more than 11,000 indigenous native trees.
More than 114 solar panels help reduce the community’s carbon footprint – as well as offsetting the methane output of the resident cows (which double as lawnmowers).
Munson says people interested in the concept are often surprised that this kind of community doesn’t always equate with cheap living.
“Lots on existing communities in our shire would start at around $400,000 and can be over $1 million with an established house, much the same as they would be in the neighbouring area.”
Murundaka Cohousing Community
You don’t have to live in the country to experience life in an intentional community.
In Heidelberg Heights, 12 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, Murandaka Cohousing Community has been “bringing community back” since 2011.
In a city beset by skyrocketing property prices, this alternative housing arrangement offers quality, long-term rental accommodation for up to about 40 people who must not exceed certain income and asset levels.
Set on three large suburban blocks, “Murundakians” live in private apartments set a common area including vegie gardens and living space, and usually share meals at least once a week.
Co-founder Giselle Wilkinson says “myriad crises,” particularly climate change, forced her to take the radical step of helping setting up the co-op, which also offers community workshops.
Like all co-living arrangements, there’s never any shortage of meetings to resolve the problems that inevitably crop up. There’s also a steady stream of volunteers passing through, who visit as part of the global Help Exchange program.