Twenty-three acres of bucolic land with its own fresh water supply, several sparkling dams and the lazy waters of Suckling Creek running through it. The land nuzzles up against the south-eastern town of Nubeena. There, however, the connection with 21st century Tasmania largely ends. This community has more in common with the 1960s than the present. Or is it the future that it resembles?
. . .
The last tee-shot was played at Fairway Lodge more than a decade ago, but Jack Webb is still finding balls.
The first-hole fairway is now a bucolic jumble of crops, parenthesised by hay bales, rustic fences and plastic greenhouse vaults. Freehand signs at the gate read Fat Beets Garden and Community Market Garden. A scarecrow supervises, his bucket head shaded by a wide straw hat.
As Jack Webb works the allotment, he unearths golf balls. Their proliferation is surprising. Benign, dimpled landmines emerge between the broccoli, or appear while digging carrots or turning the loam to reseed. The are relics from a previous life in whose absence they are rendered curious and odd.
The old golf course and accompanying motel are no longer open for business. The greens and bunkers have been given over to the rough; the associated buildings have survived by conforming with the property’s transformation.
The current incarnation is observable in the prayer flags and herb gardens that now adorn the ‘60s breezeblock structures. Every planter and verge seems to brim with oregano, dill, lemon trees, rhubarb, chervil, mint … The asphalt drive and carparks have been gouged in several places, as if by time, replaced by garlic clusters and mad sprawls of nasturtium, like some post-apocalyptic rebirth.
One such oasis is impaled with a vibrant directional signpost, each direction a different colour: Community Kitchen, Village Green, Food Production Area.
The community kitchen is a reimagining of the old motel games room. Where kids in terry-towelling shorts and bad haircuts once clocked three-digit ratings on Galaga and Pacman, now stainless-steel benches and bubbling pots rule. Out the back, the circular hardstand of an old basketball hoop has been transformed into a rough mandala of shells, jar lids, flowers and the odd golf ball (presumably donated by Jack), strewn out in temporary childish expression.
The old greenkeeper’s lockup has been upcycled as a common room, still sentimentally referred to as The Shed. Where once tools and Victas were kept, now there is a worn oak table, a drum kit, a well-loved piano and threadbare couches. The corrugated walls are softened with drapes and wicker mats. An ancient Saxon burns at the room’s heart.
One of the village’s organisers, Karen Weldrick, gives me the penny tour. As we stand in The Shed, she explains the space is usually only for residents, but tonight will be the scene of a shindig to celebrate the village’s fifth year of existence. Karen is enthusiastic about the transformation and optimistic about the future.
“We haven’t killed each other after five years so we should be OK,” she laughs.
Indeed, at least on the surface, the community does seem harmonious. Several families linger in the sun by the hardstand mandala; the adults in the recusant conversation of the non-conformist, while twice as many children play games of fantasy. Three in home-spun Tolkien shawls sit making timber talismans, while a little girl in a pink tutu and dreadlocks rides a wobble-wheel tricycle around the mandala. An older boy performs backflips on a small trampoline.
Thirty-odd people call the village home. A good portion of the old motel has been converted into apartments, easily identified by the flags and wild herb gardens that relax the austerity of the breezeblock facades. A few have been preserved, unadorned, for guests, creating a before-and-after shot of stark, grey contrast.
. . .
Jack’s castle is an eclectic bivouac beyond his plot, where the land bulges and folds into an intimate cleft. A ramshackle arrangement of recycled timber, corrugated iron heliographing in the mild spring sunshine, rough-hewn branches and the remnants of past purpose form Jack’s home, which he shares with his wife Hannah and three children. A rendered straw bale cabin anchors the camp in permanency. Its timber door is blazoned with a hot pink, dinner plate-sized badge that reads simply, “Be Happy”. There’s a wholesome atmosphere of fertile cultivation, old boot mobiles, grow-bags of herbs, bicycles and guinea pigs producing fertiliser for the plot. The collection speaks of a life lived in the moment and close to nature, with jovial productivity.
Others dwell in a cluster of houses in an area close to the north, known prefiguratively as Pod A. It’s the first of five pods planned to spread down over the fairways of the old front nine. The master vision is for more than 50 dwellings clustered around communal commons, food gardens and facilities.
Karen Weldrick is sanguine about the ecovillage’s proximity to town. “Most villages of this type are away from society, but being so close allows us to engage more with the larger community,” she says as we meet Hannah outside a former motel room that now serves as produce store.
People from the broader Tasman Peninsula community are here this morning to buy produce from the market garden. Fat Beets, they call it. People leave with organic vegetable-laden boxes, and a smile.
Hannah has laid out a spread of olives, seasoned walnuts and vegan dips for all to enjoy. “The olives are from a tree just outside Nubeena,” she tells me as I munch on the chicken-flavoured walnuts. “The owner is happy for us to pick them. Her husband used to make olive oil, but he’s passed away now.”
Such is the Fat Beets ethos – that which the community garden doesn’t provide is sourced from the broader community. The relationship is as symbiotic as the permaculture in Jack’s plot.
I head to Kelp & Co, the old 19th hole and public restaurant face of the village, for a coffee and slice of vegan cheesecake, which is delightful. As the sun begins to wester, others gather at Kelp & Co, where some of the kids perform songs they have been rehearsing during the day. A girl of five gives an ambitious rendition of Sia’s Chandelier, another tries on Rolling in the Deep, before a pair of local musicians assume the mantle.
They belt out an eclectic set which includes Irish folk, Amy Winehouse and TLC. All the while, delicious fragrances begin to emanate from the kitchen.
The fare is a delicious selection of curries, a particularly good pulled-duck dish, and several other options self-served from large steaming vats. A local fish farmer has provided a couple of Atlantic salmon. My carnivorous tendencies are well catered for.
Later, after licking their plates clean, the crowd gradually wander over to The Shed, where a local band is bringing the room to life. The neighbourhood cidermaker is peddling his wares and villagers take turns vending more processed options, for those that need a little nudge towards the dancefloor.
Not much prompting is needed; soon the dancefloor is crowded. Kids weave between adults in manic celebration, an elderly man in a tweed jacket nods his head to the bass, while a cluster of 30-somethings effect something more recognisable as dancing. The old outbuilding is loud with eclectic merriment, like some G-rated rave.
When I finally zigzag my way back to my room, I’m one over the eight on home-made cider, but the sounds of festivity linger and lull me to slumber.
. . .
The mornings here are peaceful in a way that makes you notice bees landing on lavender. The silence amplifies their wing-buzz. The sun-vested breeze carries mellow perfume.
Jack inspects his harvest, occasionally stooping to remove a weed. A few early-bird kids wreck the hardstand-mandala or ride their trikes, giggling with the unfettered joy of youth.
There is no urgency or imperative here, just community, and an interesting mix of symbiosis and autonomy. And golf balls.