It takes a village

A group of like-minded people are building a sustainable village community here in the Hunter. Are they creating a glimpse into the future for all of us?

Lucie Bruvel grew up “just over the back fence” of Shepherd Ground, an innovative sustainable village community near Tocal, that she founded and lives in with her partner Marco. “My parents were on the cutting edge of alternative living and we grew up with self-sufficiency hobby farming,” says Lucie.

“Mum stayed home – looking after four kids, baking bread and milking the cow – and dad was a chiropractor in town. But it was self-sufficiency 80s style: it wasn’t like we relied on the income from the farm. While it was a great way to live as a child, “it was also non-stop ‘busyness’. Doing the bees, doing the cows, the horses. And we all had our pets too.

“It was quite hectic and not a model that you could maintain long term.”

On the contrary, Shepherds Ground exudes a serenity that draws you in. The peace and quiet is palpable and the growing number of residents are finding their feet and seem to be happily settling into their new surroundings and embracing their new way of life.

As an adult, Lucie lived in a French village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, south of Toulouse, and it was this community that inspired her vision for Shepherds Ground Village.

“People living there specialised in different things” she recalls fondly, “someone ran a dairy, someone else had a vineyard, and the older people had time for a chat and to keep an eye on the kids. Life wasn’t constantly busy, and there was time for shared meals in the village square and to have conversations, play music or create art.” The big picture “That’s what we are working towards as a community. We’re still in the early stages but we have made a really good start. Ultimately, we aspire to creating enough free time for all of us to really smell the roses,” she says.

Working alongside Melbourne architect Gregory Burgess, Lucie has developed the masterplan for a village built on 277 acres, including roads and farmland. There will eventually be 27 homes organised around a village square and a community hall. Organised as a company, its future residents buy shares – currently priced at $117,000 – which gives them a 99-year lease for a designated block of land and the right to build a sustainable home on it. The building code in place ensures sustainable building practices and a similar aesthetic, but without stifling welcome diversity or being too rigid.

“Sustainable housing is such a flawed concept, because everybody interprets it differently,” explains Lucie. “The first five houses have all been constructed with hemp, but the latest one is a passive house that doesn’t use hemp at all. And another member is building with recycled material only.”

So far there are 22 signed-up members and a handful of completed homes. There are also plans for shared living, in preparation for older residents wanting to downsize within Shepherds Ground, or for temporary farm workers. It’s a cradle-to-the-grave concept and Lucie is keen to attract members from all walks of life: different age groups, diverse backgrounds and people with varied skill sets. Not surprisingly, candidates with solid farming knowledge are particularly welcome.

Lucie encourages potential new members to make multiple visits and take the time to understand exactly what Shepherds Ground is about. “We ask them to join our working bees, such as tree planting days, or if we have a fire,” she explains.

“We get to know each other before we start the formal application process. We ask them to join our working bees, such as tree planting days, or if we have a fire,” she explains.

We want to make it hard to get in, but easy to get out.” “It’s almost like trying to square a circle: we want independent minded people to join, but we still need everyone to do their bit and be a part of the community. This is not a cult, and we don’t have a guru. Here, every member is a guru or a rock star. And the last thing we want is for someone to be unhappy and disgruntled but unable to move on.”

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Sally Maguire

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.