Growing the community

A vision for the future

SAGE President Stuart Whitelaw shares his vision of what life might be like in the Eurobodalla 20 years from now.

Valentine’s Day 2030

The beach looks beautiful this morning as we enjoy our morning walk. Despite the 20cm of sea level rise in the past 20 years, it is hard to tell what has changed. The dunes are about 10 metres further back, and the lagoon has changed shape slightly, the middens are more exposed and some of the old banksias on the foredunes are now stumps sticking out of the beach. Small changes compared to the impact of sea level rises and storm surges on man made infrastructure like drains and sea walls.

It hasn’t bothered the sea eagles or the herons.

Bateman’s Bay town centre has had to come to terms with the sea level rises and several storm surges, which have so far only caused nuisance flooding, but are a sign of things to come. A decision has been made to introduce canals through the business centre and new businesses are locating at first floor level. Images showing the town as the Venice of the South Coast have appeared on the local news screens.

Today is my day to do volunteering at the University of Sustainability. I pack my basket into the buggy. Our carport has two vehicles, the long distance bio-diesel car which we use every couple of weeks and the handi-buggy.

I love my trips to the highway in this rechargeable 2 seater. The trip takes about 5 minutes longer, but I get to hear the birds. The buggy is made locally from recycled components, bicycle style wheels, timber chassis, electric motors and rubber suspension.

At the top of the hill, there is a neighbour who I regularly pick up. She works part time at the Uni. We travel together to the highway hub.

We pass what was the Council green waste dump and is now the Country Energy/Council micro generator that uses tree loppings and other green waste to produce enough power for our small community. It produces bio-char which is in great demand for vegetable production. The plant is the size of 3 shipping containers and runs most of the year, providing jobs for 4 people. There is occasional noise from the chipper, but people have accepted it. The fires of the past 3 years have seen large numbers of dead casuarinas which are slowly being used as the areas are replanted and regenerated to coastal red gum forest.

Concept drawing of highway hub for commuters

"I park the buggy and plug into the charging bay at the base of the wind generator."

We drive the 10km to the highway, and I see the batteries need charging. I park the buggy and plug into the charging bay at the base of the wind generator. The cost is billed to my account automatically. There is also a space for a share car at the highway hub, but it is empty and the booking screen shows it won’t be back until the afternoon. There are a group of bicycles in the racks from the early morning commuters as well as the usual borrow bikes accessible by ratepayer cards.

The highway shuttles run every 15 minutes, and can seat about 20 people. We have just missed one, but spend the time catching up on the latest fishing news from some other residents. The beach fishing is continuing to improve, which is great news for old fishos like me who can’t get around the rocks too easily anymore.

On the way to Moruya township, we pass one of the first micro communities in the district on an old dairy farm. A result of flexible planning policies as well as investment schemes from the local ‘slow money’ exchange, there are now 30 of these communities that are net exporters of food and energy. They are true zero waste communities, and are given special rate dispensation for their reduced load on community services, and for their employment generation.

The one on my left looks like a small village surrounded by pasture and food forest shelterbelts. It specialises in white rind raw milk cheeses, and has a large methane generator that feeds excess power to the local grid.

The shuttle pulls up outside the farm gate to pick up people and the container of cheese goes into the refrigerated trailer for transfer to Sydney markets. Eurobodalla is becoming well known once again for its individual cheeses.

As we head into Moruya, We pass the first part of the University, on what was originally Moruya TAFE. This section specialises in organic horticulture and food networks, including hospitality and tourism, with some building technology streams.

Passing the turn off to South Heads, we see the first part of the Moruya Floodplain Market Gardens. This small start of about 20 hectares of vegetable gardens has been overtaken by the enterprises on the Northern side of the river, which are a major food exporter of fodder crops as well as vegetables. Council played a pivotal role in this 500 hectare project by providing free treated effluent piped from its plant in Surf Beach to the early adopters. The flats now employ over 200 people in a variety of farming, horticulture and environmental management roles, and the Moruya campus is actively involved in several exciting pilot schemes.

The flats are now criss-crossed with shelter belts of carobs and honey locust trees which are just coming into full production. Free range poultry share these zones which also protect the crops from the increasingly strong winds.

Concept drawing of a community farm in 2030

"On the way to Moruya township, we pass one of the first micro communities in the district on an old dairy farm."

The big floods of 2020 and 2022 taught many lessons about intensive horticulture management on the flood plains. The crop losses were compensated by the top dressing of 10mm of river silt across the flats. There is speculation that this mechanism will keep pace with the water table rise.

The Council had shown great vision in ensuring that any land close to town with good soil was protected from sub division and could be used for agriculture even if it backed onto housing development. The banning of most pesticide spraying and the rise of organic practices mean that this is not such a problem. So despite the loss of production of some vegetables from the floodplain in the big floods, there was little need for food imports.

I am heading to the built environment faculty, which is right in town. This co-operative effort from two regional universities has changed Eurobodalla. There are centres in Narooma (aquaculture and marine studies), Moruya (Food and built environment) and Batemans Bay (Coastal and catchment studies and renewable energy).

The Moruya campus is mostly integrated into the town, with lecture places and admin areas located above the retail areas. Some student housing is also a part of the town centre, but many prefer to live closer to the coast, using the cycleways to get to classes.

The University has almost 4,000 students now, spread across the region. There is intense competition for teaching positions in what is one of the most desirable coastal locations. Many retired academics and professionals are encouraged to be mentors and part time tutors in several faculties. Today is my day to take a drawing class and to be a guest judge at a design ‘pinup’ of the ‘garbage housing’ project.

Since Eurobodalla became a Sustainability Hub in 2013, the production of building materials from the waste stream has continued to increase. Over half of the factories in the industrial complex are now involved in recycling waste stream products.

After the drawing class I walk to the “slow money” exchange. After several years as an online service, our local stock exchange has now got a physical presence in the town. I want to have a chat with their investment advisor about a new start up that aims to produce a new stock feed concentrate. I regularly check on my other little local investments on line with the live web cams, but it is good to talk to someone who has a better handle on the new agriculture systems.

The concept of investing 50% of your assets within 50km of your home has caught peoples’ imaginations, and local employment is the benefactor.

The afternoon lectures at UoS are just beginning so I am able to find a seat at one of the town’s new breed of busy cafes. We all now understand that what we flush today, is returned to us as food in a year’s time. Local food is no longer a novelty, it is what we expect.

The marine park has benefitted from the ocean and river outfalls being diverted to land irrigation, fish stocks are booming, and the advantages of a small community waste catchment has resulted in safe, clean fertile soils.

The student exhibition is being set up in the central gallery space, which is also used by the local visual artists and musicians. There will be an opening tomorrow, where the best entries will get a chance to have full scale prototypes of their “garbage houses” constructed at the experimental building station that Council pioneered in partnership with the Uni.

After the judging, a few of us head to the pub for some of the local micro beers that have started to be produced. We have a lot to thank the students for. My elder flower ale is spectacular. I am getting a bit old for the music bars that the Uni has spawned, but the craft beers are appreciated.

After some shopping, I catch the 5.45 shuttle south along the highway. We pass one of the few large trucks that now use the highway. This has meant longer life spans for road pavements. The supermarket trucks now back load with primary industry products for Sydney.

As the real price of liquid fuels has increased 4 fold over the past 20 years, the radial distribution network in Sydney has made less and less sense for many items. Relatively low cost, bulky goods like fruit and vegetables were particularly affected and regional distribution became the norm. The south east has emerged as a region with enough variation in climate and soil types such that most food items are now produced and consumed here.

I leave the shuttle at the charging station, carrying the eggplants, cheese and red wine that I bought at the Locavore store in Vulcan street and load them into the tray of the fully charged buggy.

It’s a balmy evening, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m planning a meal from the garden for the two of us with char grilled eggplant and goat’s cheese washed down with some delightful local wine.

Stuart Whitelaw
14 February, 2011

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