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ABC Radio National
Life Matters
2 June 2003

The following extract from the ABC's Life Matters program hosted by Kath Duncan helps to explain the diversity and strength of the Maleny community and why it so strongly opposes the intrusion of a retail giant such as Woolworths.

Kath Duncan: Okay, here I am at the Upfront Club in the main drag of Maleny and I'm talking to John. John, you've just said to me that you think the whole of Maleny is a sort of intentional community in itself. Can you explain why you think that?

John: Well it has a tribe. There is a Maleny tribe and it's pretty much based around this place, the Upfront Club. But it's a real thing and it's existed for many, many years.

Kath Duncan: Can you describe the nature of this tribe, common interests, or...?

John: Well it's a subculture, I guess. You'd describe it as a subculture in normal terms. It's a subculture of people who've either come out of or been into and emerged out of alternative sort of hippy-style lifestyle. And that includes me, over the last five years living in caravans in the bush and things like that. But that's about escaping from that world out there and re-establishing one which is-that's why I think Maleny's an intentional community. People are moulding it to suit the requirements of a connected spiritual way of life. There's a bunch of people who are interrelated, everybody's got everybody's kids, everybody spends time together and people come and go out of that and people arrive in town and stay for three weeks and go again. It's fabulous. It's very intentional.

Katrina Shields: I realised this was a town that had really high social capital, and that's something I feel like I've been working towards in the communities I've lived in for a long time. This town actually has done a whole lot of visioning together, a whole lot of putting structures in place; and it's got the right kind of scale to make it work. Not too big and not too small. So that's what attracts me here.

Kath Duncan: Now you're here sitting with me at the Upfront Club, which is a very successful community organisation, set up as a cafe, I guess, and it's also become an entertainment place, owned by the community. What do you think it's been about Maleny that's made places like this possible, made them happen?

Katrina Shields: Well I think the area attracted a lot of very skilled people who knew how to set things up, who knew how to set up businesses, who were artists and visionaries, but who had the skills to put things in place and they've gone ahead and done it and I think the whole community's really benefited from that.

Kath Duncan: Social change consultant and author, Katrina Shields, who's a recent Maleny convert. As you heard, communities researcher Bill Metcalf say earlier, while people living on intentional communities may do it hard, there is no doubt that they bring both cash and expertise to rural towns. Maleny is just one town where the growth of intentional communities and the growth of the town have gone hand-in-hand. One resident, who's been in Maleny for 30 years, is Jill Jordan, who you may remember from an earlier program as being the founding member of Frogs Hollow, or Manduka as it's also known, which is a land-sharing community on the outskirts of town. Jill is a local economic development consultant.

Jill Jordan: We have seen a lot of people now coming because it's successful. And I mean that's the biggest issue, is how to keep social cohesion in a growing town and how to retain-I mean they talk about it in tourism-how to retain what it is that brings people here in the first place: the rural atmosphere, the vibrance, etcetera, etcetera; when the very movement of people in such numbers can very quickly destroy that. So that's something we've always been really aware of and have been trying to impress on the council that to say we want to keep this a rural village does not mean we're saying pull up the drawbridge, but it's just that basically there's enough people leaving for there to be room for people who want to come, and we don't need to keep adding and adding areas for further subdivision here.

Kath Duncan: It's a fairly complex issue, isn't it, because I suppose when a council sees success in such an area it automatically thinks, 'economic growth' and encouraging that is pretty much how the world judges success. But how would you judge the success of a place like Maleny?

Jill Jordan: Well for me it's got to be the satisfaction of the people. And that comes from good relationships and that means not having people stream in here so fast that you don't know people when you go into town. It's about an increased range of goods and services, which certainly the economic development has brought. And it's about cultural richness too. It's about people feeling as though they're fulfilling their potential. There's a lot of artists and performers and a lot of cultural richness here, and there are places for its expression. So really that's what it's about for me, success.

Kath Duncan: In 1977 Jill and other communards set up Maleny's first food coop, which is still going very well today. People from other intentional communities, like Crystal Waters and Cedarton joined along. The action snowballed to create the Let's Barter system, that's proving successful, the Upfront Club, and the Maleny Credit Union among other cooperative ventures in the town. John Ford is the Manager of the Credit Union.

John Ford: I think this credit union is unique in the sense that we are very much focused on this local community. The majority of our lending goes to this community so we have a bond in this area. We also are developing products which I think are a little bit innovative in the sense that we reward green activities in the form of green car loans. We offer lower interest rates if you purchase a car which has lower fuel consumption. We're also developing a cool home loan at the moment, which-

Kath Duncan: A 'cool' home loan, what does that mean?

John Ford: Well basically it's a home loan that will be offered to members at a lower than normal rate, to recognise those homes which are constructed in ways that are environmentally friendly.

Kath Duncan: So they need less air conditioning and power to run them?

John Ford: Yeah. And they run on solar or tank water or they have insulation. All the sensible things that you might apply, and we want to encourage that. So we're quite active in terms of the products we offer and we also invest back in our community. We have up to ten per cent of our profit goes back into the community in the form of community grants. So there are a few ways that the credit union is different.

Kath Duncan: I noticed as well that loans were up 6 per cent last year. Do you notice, having worked in other banks in Queensland as you have; are the loan applications, the sorts of things people want to borrow for, different here in a rural area than in the city, and if so, how?

John Ford: What I've noticed that's most different is the type of lending that the Maleny Credit Union does. We advance loans on forms of title that other banks or financial institutions wouldn't go near. There are some communities that exist that have a form of community title rather than just straight out freehold title and the Credit Union's developed innovative ways to find ways to lend rather than say no, this is too hard, this is not a stock standard form of security, we find a way of doing that. So that's quite different, going through the lending policies they're finding ways to make it happen rather than not.

Kath Duncan: It can be really difficult to get loans to buy into multiple occupancies or intentional communities. What sort of strategies have you worked out to cover that?

John Ford: We very much look for the community to have established a plan and rules which they operate by. So we need to be satisfied as to their level of understanding and cooperation amongst themselves.

Steve Wall: This is an old part of Maleny. This is the old quarter. This is not a bad development. I haven't minded that so much. This is where I live. I'm really stoked, actually. This is my place here, and you can't actually see it. I'm like a minute from town and yet I could stand on the verandah there and not see any of the main street, so I'm really, really pleased.

Kath Duncan: You've got a lot of trees on your property.

Steve Wall: Ah, absolutely. And I'm really lucky because I've got-this gives you an idea of what the rental situation is like-I'm lucky, I've got it for two years and maybe I've got it for another two years, and I've got fixed rent for the next two years at $175, which has become one of the cheaper rents in Maleny now, and it's a four-bedroom place so I'm really, really grateful, you know, being a single parent with two children and a third one that comes and stays quite often. So I'm lucky.

I think probably the greatest thing that distresses me about Maleny more than anything else is that for the first time since I've lived in Maleny, I've seen people worry about not having somewhere to live. A lot of people are living underneath old houses. There is substandard kind of living going on here. There are a lot of single parents struggling financially and having to try and put up with inadequate accommodation. And I think that could be a problem. there is this kind of dichotomy here where you've got a lot of wealthy people coming here, they're wanting to spend money here, they're wanting to spend money here or they're wanting to buy property here; but you've also got rural poor. You've got genuine rural, working poor as well. And that can be difficult. Not because the wealth or the cafes do anything wrong, but sometimes the contrast is just a little bit too strong. Do you know what I mean? You see cafes full, bustling away with people visiting here on the weekends and going to the markets, and you've got people walking down the street wondering how the hell they're going to pay their bills next week. So you do have a little bit of that. It's not a resentment. It's just I started to realise that maybe, gradually, the poorer people will be forced further out of town. Not by any particular sentiment or any kind of bias or anything like that-I just think it's the sheer weight of the finance and the weight of change, etcetera, etcetera.

Kath Duncan: Shall we go and have a coffee, Steve, I'll shout you a coffee. We'll go down to the Upfront, shall we?

Steve Wall: Please, yes, I'd love that.

Kath Duncan: Let's put the money where the community is.

Steve Wall: That's right. We like to keep our money in the community.

Kath Duncan: We're at the back of the Upfront Club in the middle of the main drag of Maleny on a Wednesday-why are you all here today? What are you doing?

Peter Valve: We've all been working on IT projects here in Maleny and just having a lunch break. We all get together and try and talk about IT and other things.

Kath Duncan: Does Maleny feel like a bustling economic centre to you?

Peter Valve: No. Not at all.

Diamond: No. Not all. It's the same as other small towns. Shops open and close. A lot of people in Maleny are anti-development so if big places come in here they disappear.

Drew Nicholls: Down at MENA we've been working for about three years on developing local skills and local products, so we're trying to build up a sort of an IT industry in Maleny. We've been lucky enough to get some government money. We've got Networking the Nation funding for the past twelve months. That's what we've all been working on. Somewhere between twenty and twenty-five people have been involved directly, plus a lot of indirect money, so we're feeling pretty confident, because yeah, we're getting towards the end of it. We've now got a lot of products and we've got a lot of skilled people. As you can see here, this is just a few of the people.

Kath Duncan: Now Peter, you did say no, you didn't think Maleny was a bustling, economic centre. Why do you feel that way?

Peter Valve: Because I used to live in a bustling economic centre and I moved away from it to come to Maleny.

Kath Duncan: Where was that?

Peter Valve: Ipswich.

Kath Duncan: Oh, but would you really want another Ipswich in Maleny?

Peter Valve: Absolutely not. The thing about this is, it's very personal here. You know when we first came up people would say hello. We never got that in Ipswich or Brisbane. People know people. People help people, visit, it's a real rural community in the sense of, you know, you help each other. Just a lot of cooperation and it's obvious probably to you, because you see, you know, talking to people about the coops and all of these different community-based things of which MENA is also a thing. It's to produce something that helps each other in a community.

Drew Nicholls, Diamond and Peter Valve, from MENA, the Maleny Enterprise Networking Association. And you're listening to local musicians performing live on Monday night at the Upfront Club.