Moora Moora: a Permaculture Garden of Purposes
an article by Dr Bob Rich
published in
Green Connections magazine
December 1999

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   Twenty-five years is a long time. Not many things last that long.
   The Moora Moora Co-operative, near Healesville, Victoria celebrated its 25th birthday in November, 1999. It was established as an experiment in a better way to live, an alternative to suburban alienation.
   The world was very different in 1974. Concepts like 'overpopulation', 'pollution', 'recycling', 'ecology', 'greenhouse effect' and the like were considered the province of unrealistic, rebellious youngsters. 'You can't stop progress' was a cliche.
   Some of us didn't think ourselves to be unrealistic. We felt we were rebellious for good reason. We voted with our feet, and with what little money we had, to trial a different way of doing things. In some ways the movement we were a part of has been very successful. We have changed the world.
   Unfortunately, the forces opposing us have not been idle, and many of our 'unrealistic' predictions have come true. The only hope of survival for humanity is if there is a general change in consciousness, a change in how we as a species live. We can't go on destroying our own life support system without punishment.
   Moora Moora contains many people who are active conservationists. The Co-operative has a 'Learning Centre': we occasionally organise courses, and rent our facilities to others of like mind. And we run a biannual Festival which is designed to be both fun and educational.
   The next Festival, on Saturday 26th February, 2000, has the theme 'Giving Children a Future'. Regular features like alternative building, solar energy and alternative health readily fit into this concept, but we are also focusing on activities children and their parents can do.
   Why has Moora Moora survived? Urban communes have a life expectancy of about two years (probably because our culture trains us to compete rather than cooperate). Many other brave experiments of the '70s have died, or been transformed into a collection of strangers as in a suburb.
   Some organisations are monocultures like a wheat field. Examples are shoe shops and churches. Others are more versatile: they're like a vegetable garden. Department stores and the Salvation Army are examples.
   Perhaps Moora Moora's successful survival is due to the fact that it has always been more like a permaculture garden of purposes. It was set up with three aims: conservation, cooperation and education. Different members have always put these in different orders of importance, put different interpretations on them, and implemented them in different ways. We have no guru, we don't all subscribe to a single philosophy, we're all strong individuals who react badly to being told what to do. Our ideas are like a wild garden where people sometimes act in symbiosis, while competing at other times. So, there is no simple answer to questions like: 'What is Moora Moora's purpose?' 'Where is it going?'
   A few recent examples might illustrate the organic way Moora Moora grows.


   Sally is a very large person. She has brown spots all over her white body, four legs and ENORMOUS udders.
   Most dairy cows are slavery for their owners, who are likely to drown in milk. They tend to be very particular about who is allowed to touch a teat. But Sally is an easy-going lady. Absolutely anyone is allowed to milk her -- as long as she is paid in a large quantity of delicacies. In other words, she is a guts.
   Six Co-op families combined to buy Sally. Some of them have withdrawn from the endless round of the milking roster, because even a fraction of Sally's output is too much for most people. In my family, we now have fresh milk, yoghurt, a variety of soft cheeses, and still there is more than enough for barter.
   The slack was taken up by some of our neighbours, so Sally is not only a source of cooperation within Moora Moora, but has also strengthened friendships with people beyond our borders.

The 'Cafe'

   Over ten years ago, my wife Jolanda added something to our regular Festivals. She complemented the catering section with 'the Cafe': a place where people could buy hot and cold drinks, home-baked goodies, and cheap food like cheese sandwiches.
   After the 1988 Festival, Susanna, who is a professional caterer, decided to copy the idea for ourselves. She ran the Cafe every Saturday, selling a lovely meal for the cost of materials. Group buys of the Saturday newspapers and bread from a nearby bakery were organised, and the Food Coop was run during this time. The weekly Cafe became a centre of Moora Moora's social life. Some of the committees that carry on much of the Co-op's business chose to have their meetings at the Cafe.
   Then Susanna's work commitments changed, and she was busy most weekends. The Cafe was going to fold.
   This was not allowed to happen: now there is a roster of volunteers who take turns in serving the community by serving food on Saturdays.

The 'Horticulture project'

   Every household at Moora Moora has the right to a plot of land for household food growing. Despite this, a few years ago some members pushed a new concept against some opposition: they wanted a communal horticulture area. This was to be developed into a 'model farm' and support itself through sale of produce. After a lot of argument, a fence was started around a very suitable plot of land, then the idea lost momentum for a long time.
   New people joined the Co-op, and one long-term member, Hardy, took a special interest in the project. The fence was finished, and the Horticulture project took off with a burst of enthusiasm. Stone pines have been planted for an eventual windbreak, and a 90 m diameter circle of blackcurrants surrounds the beds of strawberry, asparagus, globe artichokes and annual plants. However, it soon became clear that people needed private reward for all the work of involvement. Hardy established a miniature experimental vineyard, and is looking forward to the first bottling in a couple of years' time. Newer members Tim and Veronica are well on the way to establishing their business venture within the 'Hort patch': an indigenous plants nursery. A trial plot of medicinal herbs is also planned.

   There could be many more examples. Like a real organism, Moora Moora grows in new directions without much planning -- and when do have plans, they soon become of historical interest only.

   Life in a living community can sometimes be challenging, frustrating or surprising. It is rarely boring.


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