History

Members' potted histories, memories and versions of the development of the Co-op over the last 50 years.

A Short History of the Round the Bend Conservation Co-operative

by Neil Harvey

The Co-op was incorporated in May 1971 in Christmas Hills South. (now Bend of Islands), with 12 Shareholders on 80 acres of land and the purpose of the Co-op was to protect and conserve a large parcel of land while living on it. Later the same year an opportunity to buy the neighbouring property of 246 acres came about and it was decided to purchase the land and add another 20 Shareholders to create the current Co-op with 32 Shareholders on 326 acres of land.

The Co-op was the fruition of an idea by Neil Douglas who wanted to bring conservation minded people into the area to help look after and conserve a relatively intact piece of Australian bush near Melbourne. Tim Ealey and Randell Champion joined with Neil to get the idea transferred into reality by recruiting members and organising a Non-profit Co-operative under the Victorian Co-operatives Act. This meant that the Co-op would create a constitution allied to the Model Rules in the Act and organise members to elect a Board of Directors (seven) to run the Co-op on a yearly basis.

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A controlled burn

The first challenge was to get a permit from the planning authority and we had to deal with two at the same time. The Shire of Healesville was our Council at the time and the MMBW (Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works) had just created the new plan for the Greater Melbourne Area called the Green Wedge. The initial response from both organisations was negative and we were labelled hippie dropouts looking for an alternative lifestyle. It was the presentation of our Management Plan and our constitution that impressed the planners that we were serious about the land and its preservation for the long haul. Something we have validated by still carrying out the plan after 50 years with good evidence of our successes.

The Co-op decided to set out a program to eliminate and control weeds, repair erosion, use fire as a tool to stimulate regrowth of native species and reduce fuel loadings on the bushland floor. We also maintain three tracks on the property that allow access to the houses that have been built over our 50 years on the land.

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A Work Party briefing

The Management Manual gives members guidelines on what duties are needed to complete the tasks as set out above. This is a detailed and thorough series of documents that has had many years of discussion and effort to keep it up to date and effective. Members have recorded native birds, plant species (even rare ones) and many different fauna.

The Directors meet monthly to discuss various issues that involve the running of the Co-op and monthly Work Parties are carried out by available members to put into practice the works as laid out in the Management Manual. All major policy decisions are ratified by the total membership and three General Meetings are held each year to keep the members in touch and to discuss and vote on any new policies.

There are 24 houses on the Co-op spread along the three access roads into the property and eight are as yet still unbuilt. A shareholder is entitled to 1500sqm for a house site. This is leased to the member under the rules of the Co-op and must contain the house and any ancillary buildings plus the garden site. The garden site can be used for non-indigenous plants for food or decoration as long as they do not spread into the bush as weeds e.g. Plum trees, Passionfruit etc.

A Directors meeting

Installing underground electricity 1977.

Putting the electricity underground in 1977

One of our biggest tasks in the 1970s was to get the power connected to the various house sites. The government authority at the time was the SEC (State Electricity Commission) and when we approached them with our intention to put the power underground they refused permission. It took many months of negotiations by a few members (one Electrical and two Electronic Engineers) before we were able to convince them to agree. Now of course it’s compulsory.

When we started weeding our land the most obvious targets were Boneseed and Pine Trees and for many years we attacked the problem, gradually removing them from the property, to the extent now that if any are now found it is almost a trophy. We are currently concentrating on grasses and more specifically Ehrharta and thistles with some other woody plants that sneak in on the wind or are carried in by birds.

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During the 70s when members started to build their houses, other members pitched in and helped to build each other’s houses. This trend continued when new members joined and more houses were built. The houses are mainly constructed from mudbricks, but some are concrete, hebel block or Colourbond. The design has been left to members but the siting of the house is discussed on site to enable the member to create the least impact on the land. A building committee was created from experienced builders to help new members when starting out.

I have been a member since 1971 and I’m still living the dream.

Gathering to see the latest build