Re-visit the Eco Village. Is it Utopia?

photoThe geranium

We went back to Currumbin Eco Village to again search for the elusive Utopian way of life. We all know that it doesn’t exist. They say, it is the search and not the end-station that matters. That sounds a bit strict and pedantic. It is so personal. One’s Utopia is another’s hell. There are those whose dreams of communal celery fests or sweet potato gorging might well be found in the hinterland of some semi-tropical paradise, tucked at the bottom of a rarely visited valley, miles away from the frugality of Aldi or the culinary delights of Hog’s Breath restaurants. ( A chin dribbling Prime rib & Pork Combo for $ 42.-) It brings me to an observations on how anyone can be enticed to dine at such named restaurant? I mean, will you all join me at the trough?  Shall we slurp in unison and do a porker or a baconer? Yet, the Hog’s Breaths  cafes are hugely popular. It defies at least my logic.


Of course, and it goes without saying, that much of those fat, sugar and salt outlets are now under the micro- scope of our health ministers. The response of the fast food monopolies is to show photos of dew-dappled apples and juice exploding crispy celery sticks with all sorts of initiatives including helping the poor kids in hospitals with a Donald Trump look alike Ronald Mcdonald prancing about. This still doesn’t hide the fact that there is a world wide crisis of obesity looming that will easily out kill all wars being fought at the moment. In fact, it is a war like no other war ever fought before. Fast food outlets are achieving what all the rogue warlords with their laser guided bombs are not. And that is the indiscriminate killing of millions by selling addictive foods. All for the defence of nice profits and belching billionaires hoping to have a shot at some Presidency or owning golden Kingdoms.

The re-visit confirmed again that the title of Currumbin being the best Eco village in the world is well earned. Here are just some of the thirty accolades.

“United Nations Association of Australia

Building Commission Award for Best Sustainable Residential Development 2008

FIABCI – International Real Estate Federation Prix d’Excellence Award

The World’s Best Environmental Development 2008″

I thought that the most outstanding feature was that the community seemed to be connecting. None of that obsession of our privacy till the grave. No fences as proof of a demarcation of what is mine and that of which that is not yours. The houses higgledy piggledy jumbled at all angles to each other with at least some roofs facing the sun to carry the solar panels. I spoke to a few and they all loved living there and regretted not having made the move earlier. They cared about the landscape and worked together to make it even better. There were communal work bees in planting hundreds of trees and invitations to ecologists. There were a retired judge,  professors,  agronomists and agriculture experts living at the village. I was told many people living there were from Dutch, German and French backgrounds. I did hear their English spoken faintly in foreign accents from years ago. The European migrants of the fifties now getting old but happy. It looks that since the beginning of this Eco village in 2005, the hurdle of its hesitant beginnings have been overcome. It looks it is thriving and growing even stronger.

It is no Utopia but getting pretty close. It brings me to a fascinating bit of history which for some reason is kept well out of our history books. It is the story of the first  of the  Australian  diaspora.

I wonder how many of us have ever arrived penniless anywhere, away from own language and customs, trying to make sense of a world that is totally foreign? My parents did and so did many others.

In the past there was a group of brave Australians who did venture to a far away non-English speaking country with hardly any possessions, dirt poor. They were the very first of Australian Diaspora. They intended to set up for good, a new society with ideals of justice, sharing of the common good and away from the disappointment of what Australia had failed to provide them.

“We’ll all share alike, all be equal, and live as happy as turtle doves!”

“Yes, but who will do the washing up?”

This was the catchcry in about 1893 of their leader William Lane with a shearer asking the question about washing up.

The recent news about “The Tree of Knowledge” in Queensland’s Barcaldine, the birthplace of Australian Labor Party in 1891 as a result of the Shearer’s Strike, is what prompts me to write about this amazing piece of history that seems to have got lost somewhere.

It has me baffled that Ned Kelly or Bradman the cricketer rank in Australia’s history so much more than the heroic attempts by hundreds of Australians to start a new life elsewhere.

It is especially puzzling when amongst those Australians it included Dame Mary Gilmore (nee Cameron).

The Shearer’s Strike in 1891 resulted in many being imprisoned, when on March 7 a contingent of the United Pastoralists’ Association arrived at Clermont. They were surrounded by 200 rioting unionists.

At Barcaldine hundreds of shearers “stared down” soldiers rifles and hundreds marched behind the Oddfellows’ band. There were threats of woolsheds being burnt down, railway-lines being dynamited and things were getting out of hand.

Thus the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was born, and so was a communism believing group of people led by the charismatic, teetotaller and abstemious William Lane.

The seeds of leaving Australia to set up an Utopian community in Paraguay was born out of those tumultuous years both before and after the shearer’s strike when the pastoralists managed to introduce non-union labour including Chinese and Kanak non-union labourers, shearers and rouse-abouts.

During 1893 on board The Royal Tar almost 500 Australians set sail for Paraguay. They would try and set up a socialist utopia, live in peace and harmony, with equality for all. Can you imagine the feelings of those true blue Aussies and shearers to boot? On board were many tents, building materials, horses and buggies and also included a piano and organ.

After arrival, the men were to set up dwellings on a large tract of land that the Paraguayan Government had leased to the group providing that a minimum number of new Australian settler families would farm and cultivate that land within a certain time frame.

The group included many married couples of whom some of the wives and children would follow later, after the tents and other temporary dwellings were set up in the jungles of Paraguay. There were just 3 single women on board but many bachelors!

The present boatpeople arriving in Australian waters do not have a welcoming committee or a friendly Government that those Aussies had in Paraguay so many years ago. There are no speeches held, nor are they given tracts of land to cultivate.

Some of you will point out that the Australians entered Paraguay legally and that the present boat people are “illegal”.

Desperate refugees’ plights are far worse than our own 1893 Diaspora. Would it not be nice and civil and obliging our Human Rights obligation if the mainly Afghans, Sri Lankans and some others were at least allowed temporary settlement on shore rather than in the isolation of detention camps at Christmas Island, Manus and Nauru?

They might have been smuggled by unscrupulous dealers but they are not illegal people.

Australia is the least populated continent in the world. This is why migrants were and are still allowed to settle here by the hundreds of thousands.

My own parents arrived here with just the clothes they were wearing and a few suitcases. “Speak f***ng English?”, we were told, and Italians and Greeks were dark skinned garlic eating, knife pullers. Anyone darker and the White Australian Policy could prevent settlement in Australia till 1973.

The Paragayan Utopia failed for many reasons. The insistence of temperance by William Lane in favour of the local ‘yerba mate’ tea drink did not go down well with the Australians that had solemnly promised him total sobriety, (after a couple of beers), before departing from Balmain, Sydney.

A very youthful Caroline Jones retraced their steps and an ABC documentary was produced in 1975. The centenary of the 1893 departure of The Royal Tar was celebrated in 1993 which I attended with a few hundred others.

There are some books written on this fascinating piece of Australian history. It does not seemed to have gripped historians to any degree though.

Perhaps it is all too boring a subject. Perhaps the idea that Australia was once seen by some as less than a desirable country? Perhaps also that the word Communism is part of this story?

Who knows?

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29 Responses to “Re-visit the Eco Village. Is it Utopia?”

  1. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    Utopia, the perfect place in an imperfect world. Look at the U.S. the country built by immigrants from all over the world wants now everybody out, we want to build walls to the already existing walls. I will write about my point of view as well, they make me, because I can’t take it anymore.

    Great post Gerard~

    Liked by 3 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Australians, or at least some, claim Australia is ‘full’ and do not want more people to live here. Can you believe it? Apart from the three or four major cities, Australia is pretty sparsely populated, hence the difficulty of providing public transport that thrive on density of population.
      Driving to Currumbin and back, a trip of 2000km, one can’t but be impressed by its space and bountiful/beautiful nature. (apart from the Big Banana and other sad tourist attractions, including a mock Tudor castle somehow connected to macadamia nuts.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Patti Kuche Says:

    Do you ever get the feeling Utopia is more a state of mind than a place?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M-R Says:

    But you can’t have Milo there.
    End of.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Of course I agree with M-R. You can see what happens to poor Milo when you leave him for a week or two. Poor little beggar.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. rodhart (@roderick_hart) Says:

    I knew nothing about this Paraguay adventure. Very interesting. Thanks.


  6. gerard oosterman Says:

    It seems Australia’s history is better known in other parts of the world, Rod.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gerard oosterman Says:

    And this as well;


  8. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Does all this mean you are moving to the eco-village?


  9. elizabeth2560 Says:

    When you find true utopia. Let me know where it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. auntyuta Says:

    ” . . . there is a world wide crisis of obesity looming that will easily out kill all wars being fought at the moment. . . . ”
    This sounds about right!

    I think, Peter and I have already found the best of all possible worlds.
    Not that we do not get upset about a lot of things. But this is life! 🙂


  11. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Very, very interesting post here, Gerard., So many historical facts and things I’d never heard of. Australians to Paraguay. I find that fascinating.

    The exodus of people from a number of countries now is something to behold. The world is ever changing and so are the people.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you Ivonne,
      I came to this by accident and did get involved for a while. I had an article published on our National Broadcaster mentioning the story of William Lane and the diaspora of Australians trying to make a go of it in Paraguya. At least they tried. Well over a million Australians are now living overseas.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Curt Mekemson Says:

    Interesting that I would be reading this as I was finishing my blog on the Olompali Commune north of San Francisco that bloomed shortly in the late 60s, and was also destined to have an unhappy fate. I hope to have the blog up tomorrow. As for the Hog’s Breath restaurants, Clint Eastwood have a restaurant in Carmel during the 70s known as the Hog’s Breath Inn that I frequented a few times. –Curt


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Hi Curt;
      While at the Eco village we were invited to a meeting whereby a Koala expert would give a talk. The chairperson of the meeting started off by acknowleding the tradional aboriginal owners of the land on which this village of over 200 acres is built. I found that heart warming and so refreshing.
      I can’t wait to introduce this at our body corporate meetings. We are not holding our breath!


  13. Rosie Says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Eco Village. Poor Milo – are you really worried that he will trip one of you up when out walking? You made this comment in answer to someone recently.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      When walking with Milo he follows his nose and darts backwards and forwards in any direction. JRTerriers are big on sniffing out ducks and rabbits, even in the main street!
      I now walk either in front or behind Helvi (or vice versa) to try and not trip over him.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. stuartbramhall Says:

    In my view, without the dream of utopia, activists would have little motivation to agitate for social change.


  15. Forestwoodfolkart Says:

    I learnt about the Utopian Paraguay experiment at achool. I had a fantastic modern history teacher! It is a fascinating story and I am glad you wrote about it. What is it with that nut castle? They must have been laughing at all of us!!! As for the Big Banana….well these big things make us look a trifle ridiculous. Did you miss The Big Prawn in Ballina on your way home?


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I have seen the Big Prawn but the highway now passes Ballina. I think federal highways have strict control over advertisements being placed. Plenty of ads on Pies and other delicacies.
      It is mind boggling how a tudor castle is somehow connected to macadamia nuts. I suppose it makes money.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. sedwith Says:

    Never quite got through the book on the Paraguay anarchist experience – “A Peculiar People” Still have it but remember finding it quite depressing, not sure why -must revisit.
    Thanks for posting Gerard


  17. gerard oosterman Says:

    A Peculiar people I bought as well and went to the centenary of the launching of that ship that took them there somewhere up North near Ballina.


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