(Australian Associated Press)
Families living in a Gold Coast ecovillage say they are saving up to $10,000 a year after going off the grid and growing their own food. The O’Callaghan family moved to the Currumbin Ecovillage eight years ago and say it has rewarded them with lifestyle benefits and more money in the bank. “As a family, we save at least $10,000 each year just living in this community. It’s Australia’s best kept secret,” says Ben O’Callaghan, who, with his wife Heather, moved to this community at the southern end of the Gold Coast in 2010. “We have no water bills and almost no electricity bill. And we enjoy more daylight due to the passive solar design,” he said. The co-founder and pioneer of this successful eco-endeavour, Kerry Shepherd, believes it’s time to remind people of their individual impact on the environment.
The ecovillage was the brainchild of Ms Shepherd and her late husband Chris Walton, aided by a group of friends who shared their vision in the late 1990s. When they started they had a lot of government support in areas such as solar rebates. “It’s disheartening that support for sustainability initiatives seems less of a priority today,” Ms Shepherd says. “It’s time for sustainability to become sexy again.”
Every home in this award-winning community is ‘off-the-grid’ for water, has rooftop solar power and has been designed to adhere to strict sustainability guidelines. The ecovillage also has 109 hectares of bushland with 184 species of birds and native wildlife such as wallabies, echidnas and bandicoots. The O’Callaghans are happy to be raising their two daughters – Imogen, five years old, and Skye, one – in this community that is close to the Gold Coast, but far removed from the urban rush and clamour. Mr O’Callaghan says it has taught him a lot about smarter and healthier living, which he has incorporated into his sustainable design business. “It’s about quality of life at the end of the day,” he says. “We have kangaroos at our doorstep, banana trees in our backyard and if I need a babysitter at the last minute or some eggs for breakfast, the neighbours are only too happy to help out. “Normally, when you live in a community you’d be lucky to know one or two people. I reckon I know 350 of our 400 neighbours and that creates a lot of benefits.”
The Currumbin Ecovillage has won 33 state, national and international awards, including The World’s Best Environmental Development at the FIABCI Prix D’Excellence Awards 2008. Houses must meet specific building codes, improve quality of life for occupants, and help reduce ongoing operational costs. Ms Shepherd says they are driven by the notion that you can look after the natural environment while enhancing personal well-being. “Whether you agree or not on how much we as humans have contributed to climate change, the facts remain that the climate is changing and we should be trying to make a difference,” she says.
There are so many weather events now.
“It just makes sense, as human beings, for us all to do our bit.” Kerry says they decided to build the ecovillage on the Gold Coast after a hunt for a sustainable place to live. “We travelled the east coast of Australia looking for somewhere to live and to build a sustainable home, but we just couldn’t find something that had that combination of community, shared values, beautiful climate and sustainability.” By 2006, the first home had been built. Twelve years later the ecovillage is home to more than 300 adults, 100 children, 65 kangaroos and multiple small businesses. Tragically, her husband Chris was killed in 2012. However, the ecovillage remains a legacy to his memory. Occasional public, group and professional tours of the ecovillage are provided by Ecomplish Sustainability, by appointment.
Facts about the Currumbin Ecovillage: * There are 147 lots of various sizes across 270 acres. * Blocks range from 600m2 to 8000m2 (up to two acres). * 80 per cent is open-space, with 50 per cent being environmental reserve. * There are more than 184 bird species. * All homes are 100 per cent self-sufficient for water with rainwater tanks and a centralised wastewater treatment plant, which provides recycled water for toilet flushing and extra garden irrigation. * Homes use up to 76 per cent less energy on average, compared to the average Queensland home according to studies by The University of Sydney and University of Queensland. * No cats or dogs are allowed. * Home designs must meet The Ecovillage Architectural & Landscaping Code performance criteria. * It has won 33 awards, making it Australia’s most awarded residential estate.