The Transition Towns initiative is one that seems to have taken the City of Banyule by storm. With seven Transition groups established in the area, Banyule is currently a seedbed of community groups whose focus on sustainability is proving immensely successful. Sustainable Macleod is one of these groups, and it is flourishing. Participating in monthly vegie swaps, bi-weekly community gardening days, as well as workshops, seminars and more, Sustainable Macleod is a Transition Town that is ready to take on the challenges of climate change in the near future.
Group founders Robin and Paul were inspired to start a Transition Town in their local suburb following a trip to Portland, Oregon in 2011. The impressive array of community initiatives that were on offer in Portland provided an example to Robin and Paul of how sustainable suburbs and towns could work. When they returned to Melbourne, they became enthusiastic about the idea of establishing a Transition Town right here in Macleod.
Robin explains that ‘Transition Towns were founded to address the challenges of peak oil and climate change.’ Being a largely grassroots movement with no central control, the Transition Towns model encourages instigators of their own groups to follow an ethos based on building resilient, sustainable communities that also allows for autonomy in order to adapt to the specific needs of each community. ‘There are no two alike,’ Robin says. ‘The focus of a particular suburb may reflect the people who initiated that group.’ In the case of Sustainable Macleod, they began with a focus on vegie swaps and gardening, but have recently scaled things up. They are moving beyond ‘a food and gardening group into doing something much more substantial in terms of energy and renewables and it’s been quite successful,’ Robin says.
The group is more strongly emphasising clean energy as a result of a conference held earlier this year with keynote speaker Ian Dunlop, a retired executive from the coal and oil industry and a climate expert. Transition to a Safer Climate Energy Group is a specialised project group within Sustainable Macleod whose aim is to workshop clean energy solutions for the local community. Sustainable Macleod also auspices a wider community group, the Banyule Clean Energy Group, which also arose from the conference.
Whilst energy is a key focus, the lifeblood of Sustainable Macleod is most definitely the Macleod Community Garden. A place where all are welcome, this impressive space has been a labour of love over the past three years. Culminating in an official opening in October 2018 which well-known Australian gardening personality Costa Georgiadis attended, this community garden stands out from the crowd due to the planning that has gone into its layout. The space is gardened communally, rather than through individual plots, which means that no single section is neglected.
Robin describes how the garden has been established on ‘two old tennis courts at the back of Macleod College.’ With a view of the nearby train line, the garden itself embraces Sustainable Macleod’s new clean energy focus, being off-grid and drawing all of its energy through one solar panel.
‘We’re slightly different to most of the other groups in that we have a desire to be ultimately self-funding,’ Robin says. The group holds an auction each year to raise funds for the community garden, as well as regularly applying for grants. Happily, they have just secured a grant for 240V off-grid solar with battery storage.
The group is incredibly welcoming of new members, co-founder Paul explaining that ‘we’ve managed to draw in a large number of people. It’s pretty exciting.’ He also describes his passion for building something important for a community that ‘has a real sense of what it is to be sustainable, especially in terms of climate change and the need to live a little more lightly on the Earth.’ With over 150 paying members and a mailing list of over 500, Sustainable Macleod is a group that’s overflowing with skilled and dedicated volunteers. Sandra is one of them, describing herself as ‘the queen of the seeds,’ as she does the seed collection at the garden, organising packets of them to be given away for free at the local vegie swap.
Robin says, ‘it’s about trying to build a resilient community but also a resilient local economy’: a common ideal amongst Transition Towns. Sustainable Macleod is therefore also heavily involved with the local Macleod shopping strip and the Macleod traders, with the aim of keeping business within the local economy and strengthening community partnerships in the process.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not just about building a strong and sustainable community that’s ready for climate change – it’s also about taking stock of the perhaps less appreciated elements of being part of a community group like this, such as spending time outdoors with like-minded people and tilling the soil. ‘I just adore it,’ Robin says of gardening. ‘I think that it gives me a sense of meaning and it enlivens me and I just have a real passion for growing things and producing my own food. I love everything about it. It just makes me feel alive. I’m never happier than when I’m in the garden.’
Such a feeling is shared by others in the group, and the excitement with which they all tend to their thriving patches of fruit and vegetables is enviable. This Transition Town is indeed a standout amongst the 52 currently running in Australia, and is a much-needed reminder of how the strong will and ceaseless determination of a local group of people to live sustainably can result in an even more secure, connected community.
Sustainable Macleod meets every Wednesday and Saturday at the Macleod Organic Community Garden from 1pm to 5pm, and Monday evenings from 5.30pm to 7.30pm in summer. Their vegie swaps are held on the third Saturday of every month from 11am to 12pm, at the Rotunda in Macleod Park opposite the Macleod shops.
This story was originally featured in the Banyule Community Conservationists magazine published by Remember The Wild and supported by Banyule City Council. You can view the magazine in full here.
Banner image courtesy of Caleb McElrea.