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

Remembering 50 years ago

One of our past and very early members, Robert Marshall, has recalled in an old diary his early involvement and visits to the Co-op back in 1971. Robert is a well-known Eltham Architect, former Eltham Shire Councillor and Mayor.

Robert graduated as an architect from the University of Melbourne in 1968.  He then worked with Alistair Knox where he says "I learnt everything I know" (about environmental building design) from Alistair Knox and other Eltham identities when her worked in Alistair's Eltham studio and on his building sites back in the 70's. In 1973 he setup his own architectural practice.  He lives in Panton Hill. 

As we continue to celebrate our fiftieth year, Robert has given us permission to print these excerpts from his diaries.

Friday 14 May 1971

Boots [a friend of mine from Corowa, NSW] and I continued out through Eltham to our newly acquired land near the Bend of Islands. (Janet and I have a 1/15 share in 80 acres of superb bush [words illegible] I have been elected [words illegible] the company, and [words illegible] Adviser, etc.) Boots and I walked over the steep, rugged bush of our land, right [words illegible] the secluded valley, we went to Neil Douglas’ house nearby for afternoon tea. Boots was very impressed with the extreme length of hair on Neil (a painter, about 50) and with his eccentricity. Neil is one of the most colourful figures in Melbourne. We liked his house - mudbrick, brick floor, pot-bellied stove.

Saturday 24 July 1971

Mum and I visited Neil Douglas at his mudbrick house in Henley Road (he’s painting a series of Wyperfield National Park) and then our land at Bend of Islands (now increasing by a further 200 acres). We walked all over it, over the beautiful virgin ridges, and I mapped out sites for 30 houses. 

Saturday 24 July 1971

Mum and I visited Neil Douglas at his mudbrick house in Henley Road (he’s painting a series of Wyperfield National Park) and then our land at Bend of Islands (now increasing by a further 200 acres). We walked all over it, over the beautiful virgin ridges, and I mapped out sites for 30 houses. 

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Saturday 31 July 1971

I went with John & Fran Pizzey up to the Knox’s at Eltham, and had a superb afternoon by the open fire in the mudbrick house talking philosophically with Alistair, mostly about our Round the Bend land at Bend of Islands, Kangaroo Ground. I am to start work with Alistair and John during September, which will fulfill the dream I have had for three years. If I could choose any job anywhere, I would choose this one.

Sunday 19 September 1971

The first 70° day since autumn – the day I long for every year. Janet [my sister] & I went to the monthly meeting at the Bend of Islands. I rode over on my bicycle [from Panton Hill], up & down very steep & very beautiful dirt roads around Christmas Hills. I got very hot & very thirsty, & felt like summer. We had a barbeque on the land with about 50 or 60 people, & then a meeting. I put forward the architectural committee’s plans to the members, for the first time, showing proposed houses in a few clusters, leaving the bush mostly untouched. Alistair Knox arrived, very elated, having been elected to Eltham Council yesterday by a resounding victory. Alistair and I chatted & laughed hysterically. He wants to build in a cluster with Janet & myself. I rode back to Panton Hill in the dusk.

Power to the People
A brief history of reticulating power to the Co-op’s house sites
by Norm Parris

Wandering through the Co-op bush it is easy to take the lack of overhead power and telephone cables for granted. Focusing on the natural environment is a far more pleasing experience when poles and wires don’t dominate the vista. 

In the late 70’s achieving this outcome was more difficult than it should have been. No one ever questions the desire to bury other services such as water and sewage lines underground, but the Co-op found itself locked in protracted negotiations with the supply authority of the day, the State Electricity Commission (SEC), to try and provide services without them dominating the landscape. 

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Although a mature technology, undergrounding power and telephone services was then a relatively uncommon occurrence in Victoria. Dealing with an organisation like the Co-op was an even rarer experience for organisations whose bread and butter existence was approving (or not) services for normal subdivisions. Whilst we had a sound engineering basis for proceeding with an underground power network, the SEC’s collective experience appeared to be more focussed on us installing overhead reticulation. It took a determined effort over more than four years, before we gained its confidence and approval to install and connect to the grid. 

At about the halfway mark we almost abandoned our vision and settled on overhead distribution. However, not only would that have resulted in a significant visual intrusion, it was also questionable financially, as there were cost penalties installing poles in our rocky terrain. The final impetus for continuing to pursue underground was the reality of being in a fire prone environment and the difficulty in protecting overhead assets from fire threats. There would also have been the constant maintenance needed to ensure we weren’t to become the actual source of a fire threat, a factor that has become increasingly problematic. 


The Co-op community darted back into the fray and through a combination of local skills and knowledge, and external connections and support, succeeded in obtaining SEC approval for its reticulation design and installation. Installation of a quality underground power reticulation system by the Co-op members themselves was a wonderful, fulfilling and community bonding experience. A contractor trenched down the centre of each of the three tracks and work parties followed up installing cables. The Co-op really had something to celebrate when the SEC signed off on our project and “flicked the switch”. Our vision had finally become a reality.

The Post Master Generals Department (PMG was the forerunner to Telstra) proved to be flexible in how it provided telephone cabling to each site. Whilst it was prepared to provide underground connections, this would have been done with a large bulldozer ripping a trench behind it as it laid the cable. It agreed to provide over two kilometres of conduit that we installed in a common trench with the electricity cables. The PMG returned soon after the power network was completed to install connection pits and cabling for each site. Extra work for us on the installation work parties, but a serious win-win outcome.


Although the telephone cabling is still fully functional and connected to the Telstra exchange, its importance has somewhat reduced with the ongoing emergence of mobile phone technology and internet phone connections. 

On the other hand it is possible that the use of the underground power cables could be extended beyond what was originally envisaged. With the emergence of cost effective domestic scale battery storage technology, excess power generated from roof top solar panels could be shared within the Co-op and only the excess to community requirements added to the grid. 

A Short History of the Round the Bend Conservation Co-operative
by Neil Harvey
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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

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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.


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

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