Jill Jordan on Community Building

Warwick Rowell, Saturday 14 January 2012

Below are some relevant excerpts from the several talks Jill Jordan gave while she was in the area. These include a description of all of the activities Jill is involved in around Maleny in Queensland.

The third great wave of resettlement from the cities to the country – this time to the coastal regions – which David Holmgren identified last September, was also one of the themes of Jill’s talks. While David talked about the implications of this resettlement for changing land use, and forms of land ownership, Jill talked about how the old settlers feel dislocated while the new people feel unconnected, and how to address these issues. She talked about the importance of people talking and listening to their own stories, and using them to sift through the advice and experience offered by people like her. The key realisation for her community was of their need to take charge, to manage, to steer development to avoid ending up like Los Angeles, with “wall to wall” undifferentiated development. A key element was the well-resourced people coming into the community. But only one third of newcomers in the labour force can become employed in the “expansion” economies of construction, retail and commercial created by their arrival: the other seventy per cent have to create their own niche in the economic market-place. So the community needs to work really hard at employment creation, and look particularly at the many people who are underemployed.

Over the last fifteen years, Maleny people have started about twenty different bodies, to meet a wide variety of emerging needs. One example from each area is given below:

Food: There is a local food market.

The first LETS system in Australia in 1987.

Land Settlement: Crystal Waters Permaculture Village; 80 house sites on 300+ ha.

Alternative Technology: Particularly in housing; they are not doing very well.

Education and Training: Independent schools keep state schools on their toes.

Community Services Provision: Wastebusters; a recycling co-op that makes money.

Media: A free weekly co-op newspaper everybody reads; it goes to 9000 people.

Environment: The Green Hills Fund buys farms and other land crucial to the ambience and sustainability of the area, and maintains them in community ownership.

Arts, Culture and Recreation: An add-on; last on the list in fact. There is an arts and crafts collective.

In Maleny, organisations which catered for basic necessities such as food, money, land, housing, jobs, and so on, were set up first. It was only then that they started to create organisations for catering to arts, cultural and recreational needs.

Maleny has a Local Economic and Enterprise Development group; they help people develop business plans, get started and then they provide a mentor for 12 months. The goal is to diversify the work available and the services offered in the area. A new need has been identified, and a start made on developing a home based business association in the region.

The dynamic found in business innovation also applies to community development, with people fitting into one of a number of different roles; Innovators, Early starters, Left out, or Isolates. In the community, the last two don’t know how to come into the community, but approached the right way, they may become a key resource.

Community building takes a lot of energy, so you must make the most of every chance for “plerking” – combining play and work. They have a community fair where all the various groups of the community are invited to attend – it shows the community to itself, and demonstrates it diversity.

The audience in Busselton identified:

  • This area has strengths because of its growth, its diversity, and its fluidity within established structures. It strengths were in its geographic location, the climate, the fact that it was a friendly place, there were lots of clubs and sporting facilities, as well as medical and alternative health provisions.
  • Weaknesses identified included the other side of the rapid growth in both permanent and tourist populations, the need to channel the energy of newcomers – it needs an information network. Youth is not being catered for; we’re not valuing our youth; new structures may be needed.
  • Gaps identified were in the areas of affordable permanent housing, housing for transient workers, secure employment, a community bank, better local public transport, and not many local vegetables at local markets.

Jill’s commented that a Community Bank or Credit Union is THE most difficult thing to achieve. In WA it takes a minimum of $5,000,000, but we should look at co-opting and localising an existing institution. For instance, any Association can raise and lend money to achieve its purposes, and all it needs is an ordinary bank account; but be careful about anything beyond a revolving fund.

A sustainable community is not the same as a self-reliant one. A sustainable community needs lots of people to become prosumers – both producers and consumers – and this requires both a balance and a diversity. Their Shire has had considerable success with letting small local groups expand to take on local tenders rather than awarding them to large “foreign” companies.

Our thanks to Jill for a very stimulating visit, and to Rosneath Farm and Shelley Cullen for sponsoring her talks.