About a year ago I went ‘round the bend’.

I moved into a conservation co-operative in the Bend of Islands, a unique residential community located on the Yarra river about 50 minutes northeast of Melbourne.

The idea came out of the blue, via an ad for a house that instantly answered my growing desire to connect with two undervalued - but to my mind essential - elements of life: community, and nature.

I moved into a conservation co-operative in the Bend of Islands, a unique residential community located on the Yarra river about 50 minutes northeast of Melbourne.

The idea came out of the blue, via an ad for a house that instantly answered my growing desire to connect with two undervalued - but to my mind essential - elements of life: community, and nature.

Round the Bend Conservation Co-operative owns 132 hectares of pristine bushland with 25 houses nestled in the landscape along three brick paved tracks. The land is characterised by Box-Ironbark forest that flows over a succession of dry ridges and wet gullies.

There are no fences, no dogs and no cats, so wombats, wallabies and kangaroos roam freely, and in the evenings Lesser Long-eared bats flit through the trees, occasionally huddling under the eaves of my house to catch their breath. I watch Sugar Gliders, Possums, and the endangered Brushtail Phascogale in the trees around the house, their eyes glowing like headlights in the beam of my torch.

The Co-op marries conservation with residential use - it’s been likened to ‘living in a national park’. It’s home to over 130 bird species, including the endangered Powerful Owl and White-throated Nightjar which chooses these slopes to breed after flying down from New Guinea each spring. Echidnas wander about and frogs, owls and grey flying foxes contribute to the night music.

If this all seems too bucolic it comes at a price. Bushfire is a real threat, shops are 20 minutes’ drive away and there is no public transport.

Members get together for work parties, management meetings and expert talks, but live otherwise independent lives. They represent a cross-section of society and stages of life, from families with children to retirees. But there is one unifying characteristic – a love of environment and a wish to conserve it.

Membership is a protracted process – and for very good reason. Time is needed for both parties to size each other up and see if they ‘fit’. I’ve been here a year and I’m content to still be in the 'fitting room.'

Encounters with nature here are not confined to the bush. Soon after arriving, I discovered my house has porous borders (and I don’t mean people who rent!). There are phascogales living in the roof and tiny scorpions venture inside and need to be escorted out again. I even discovered a baby Small-eyed Snake in the laundry! To me, these encounters – not so much nature at your door as through it – are a thrill.