The Seeding of Bellbunya

Reflecting on how it all started….

“18 years ago I  saw a notice posted in a health shop, inviting interested people to discuss ideas for building a land-based residential intentional community on the Sunshine Coast. I called that number and spoke with Kestrel, who was very warm and welcoming. I asked Kestrel if she already had land or necessary funding; and she said she didn’t. I have clear memories of that first meeting of about twelve people gathered together in someone’s lounge room. We started out by getting to know each other, discussing and exploring individual and group values; focusing in on what we wanted and also what we didn’t want. We looked at what we valued most for a conscious and sustainable community. We looked at our non-negotiables and then worked on turning our individual values into collective values. I remember there was a high shared value on growing organic food on our own land, as well as a high value placed on spirituality. We wanted to build a community which supported a diversity of personal growth modalities; not based on any one system or philosophy, but as a consciousness building process.

We all wanted to be part of a nature respecting, organic farming and financially viable community, welcoming and encouraging a range of personal development and spiritual practices. These were our shared values and goals for conscious community. It was inspiring to learn that everyone in the group valued growing their own organic food and having spaces for meditation, and it was incredible to for me meet so many like-minded people holding in high esteem the same human values. Already through that first meeting, we were experiencing what it feels like to be part of an intentional conscious community. Kestrel and Chris had sown the seeds of inspiration for Bellbunya; a community which actually began on that day. Kestrel and Chris continued to nurture those seeds through ongoing meetings.

Bellbunya was seeded….

Before the Association for Sustainable Communities was established, people interested in sustainable and regenerative living were being called to sit together. By the second meeting we were addressing and acknowledging the quadruple bottom line of Spiritual – Social – Financial – Ecological. In addition to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, there is a fourth component of purpose or personal/spiritual growth. The basis of the ASC constitution was being formed as we sat together in community discussing the purpose of life. Although there was a great deal of passion and interest in the group, I wasn’t confident that it could come together in time.

Our group was high on dreams, but resources were low….

Around 25 years ago, I had started one of the first health shops in Queensland. “Natural Style” was a 100% organic shop/cafe on Sunshine beach. We had a great library with books about organics that customers could borrow. We were often asked why organic goods are more expensive when they are naturally produced. We had many discussions about the value of organics. After that period, I started up “Trew Organics” where I was creating organic gardens and retrofitting home gardens for others. I had been working hard and wanted my own land. So with hard earned savings and the help of a few friends, I purchased land and began Noosa Forest Retreat. I still didn’t believe that Kestrel’s group would find a way to get the land they needed. 

The group kept meeting regularly over the year and had started to find parcels of suitable land. They had shortlisted the Bellbunya property in Belli Park and were able to purchase it with a small deposit shared between the core group; along with a large bank loan. Kestrel called me and said that they had land and had gathered the resources needed, She asked if I would still be interested. I felt a tinge of regret that I hadn’t trusted that the group would find a way forward. I wanted to see the land. At that time Bellbunya was a retreat centre established on farming land, and the pasture was covered in newly planted saplings. I was definitely interested in being part of a conscious community, but felt torn between these two worlds; Bellbunya as a community retreat and education centre versus the untamed native landscape of Noosa Forest Retreat. Wanting to keep my options open, I signed up and paid $5000 as a member of Bellbunya Community Association. I attended regular ASC meetings and Bellbunya workshops, and stayed in touch with the progress of the Bellunya community. Deb and I attended a John Seed “council of all beings” weekend at Bellbunya, which was a transformational workshop deeply identifying with aspects of nature. As the years passed by, Bellbunya appeared to be thriving as an intentional community and was successfully cultivating its own permaculture gardens. I used to get phone calls informing and encouraging me to come to ASC meetings, with a value on what I was learning by myself through developing Noosa Forest Retreat. After Kestrel and Chris left Bellbunya around 2016, these calls dropped away and Bellbunya was no longer on my radar. 

I was kept busy with my family life and work commitments….

One day in 2019 I picked up a hitchhiker traveling to Bellbunya to attend an event called “The end of an Era”. Bellbunya was closing!! It was a surprise to discover that Bellbunya was having financial challenges and about to close. This news ignited me into action to save the project. I contacted them and was told the mortgage could no longer be covered and that the property would be going into the hands of a property agent.

It was the midnight hour! 

It was down to a handful of residents… no newsletters, no events, no income. Community members were wanting their money back, so they had decided to fold up ASC and sell the Bellbunya property. The real estate drones had flown over Bellbunya and the retreat centre was going to be launched on the public market the following week. The only way to hold the property from the agent was to pay the bank. Our first action was to gather together a non refundable deposit to cover the monthly bank interest and give ourselves time to work out a rescue plan.

Bellbunya had become a beautiful property with an amazing structure and strong constitution behind it. It is a place built on love and regeneration in action. It had good infrastructure and would be a great asset for the alternative Sunshine Coast. We continued to act in trust, and again handed over a larger sum of money which gave us more time. We created a website landing page and posted notices at health stores. Our landing page attracted great interest, and there were over fifty responses and expressions of interest. In a month we had raised half the money needed to pay out the shareholders. We struck another deal to put a considerable offer down to maintain the structure of ASC and buy out the shareholders. We put this sum down with full trust that we would find the right people. At one point we realised we had raised and handed over considerable funds from a range of people; without even so much as a receipt. It was all based on trust and an inspiration that it had to be done. The foundation, property infrastructure, organisational systems and council approvals were already in place and were precious. It needed to be saved for further exploration, growth and greater service. Carsten asked to stay at Bellbunya and keep his share and remain on the ASC. We were very happy, as it meant we would have the benefit of his living knowledge within the community. In the following month we had raised sufficient money to pay out all the previous shareholders. That heralded the beginning of chapter two of the ASC.

Just as we turned the corner Covid hit (a story for another day…)

Picking up that hitchhiker on the way to Bellbunya’s closing party was our wake up call about the challenges the community had been facing. It seemed Bellbunya community failed to have a succession plan and wasn’t successful in its attempts to encourage more young people to join or support the community. After the departure of the younger members who were the main initiators of Bellbunya, a hole formed in the community which wasn’t filled. Kestrel’s advice to us after the transition of management, was to work with the organisation’s circle groups and develop its systems based on accountability checklists. If systems are transparent and well documented, new people can easily slide into any role or position. Her advice was to make sure the community had a clearly defined operations manual. Previous members did the work that was needed, but neglected to systematically pass across the operational knowledge. Communities are often initiated and led by charismatic personalities, so it is risky to have a top down system which relies on only one or two people. Spreading the work and wisdom across the whole community is necessary to keep it sustainable over time; and it is important to ensure that everyone is doing their share. Individual passion is the strength which builds and holds community, but it can also challenge the long term sustainability of a community.

Ian Trew & Deb Pepperdine

Bellbunya is thriving again!

We felt so much gratitude to simply be able to help save Bellbunya, and know that all our actions came from a place of trust. It felt like a sacred mission and we were led by the heart and the helping hands of so many supporters. Bellbunya community is a sacred place founded on love, truth and deep connection to the land and our common human values.

From my heart to yours I extend an invitation for you to join us!”

Ian Trew (2023)

2 thoughts on “The Seeding of Bellbunya

  1. Wow Ian….what an amazing journey! Thankyou for sharing this story, it has recharged my inspiration in so many ways. Being a long term Sunny Coast resident, I have always been interested in the how’s and why’s of Bellbunya, so this has read has been very enlightening indeed. All I need to do is actually get out there, and as I live just down the road, I’ve got no excuse! 🤣

    My partner and I have been looking at small footprint/sustainable living and I have been wanting to commit and continue my PDC. We’d love to come visit and poke around those amazing looking gardens of yours and get even more inspired by like minded individuals, so thanks again for this great blog post.

    Have a truly wonderful day!
    Alli 😀🌞🌿

  2. What a beautiful blog, Ian! I remember too our early meetings; establishing core values and giving us the platform from which to launch a new intentional community on the Sunshine Coast. 12 months later we had found the property, and 6 months after that – just before Christmas – we moved in – some of us meeting each other for the first time as house-mates! Very busy, joyous days (years) filled with learnings, fun, laughter, music, great food and lots of work!

    I loved living in community, and wow did I learn so very much about… everything! Permaculture. Health and healthy food. Nature restoration. Community building and living. Setting boundaries! Working out personal, work, social and monetary issues. Discovering great community processes. Trusting.

    Mal McKenna, our beautiful Permaculture grandad co-founder, used to describe community as a hot-house for personal development. I have so many beautiful memories of working together, learning together, growing together.

    And the wisdom from Chris, one of our most experienced community co-founders – communities are founded on respect and care. It is not necessary to agree with each other, to like each other even. But our core value of choosing to see the divine in each and every person was a fundamental glue.

    We put our primary focus on building community spaces, community processes. Cooking together, eating together, working together. Laughing together. Like the impromptu lunch with the girls where we erupted in fits of snorting laughter, rolling around the floor laughing so hard it hurt. Celebrating together. Like Pratika’s birthday, where in honour of his bare scalp we all wore stockings on our head. Like Jude’s hand-made birthday cards, crafted with love. Like our community songs. Meal blessings. Manna’s cooking nights where she spent days making kimchis and fermenting ingredients for her Japanese restaurant nights. Karen’s Sunday afternoon cob pizzas. Scott’s pride with loppers and hedges.

    I loved being a part of the ongoing ISV nature restoration projects with Joan and Rose. Leading young people, mostly American college students, to connect with nature and themselves. To consider life and life goals from new perspectives. And the deep connection that I formed with nature through this.

    I left originally for a year sabbatical, but fell in love with a Dutch man and decided to make my home here. I miss Bellbunya deeply; but mostly I miss the camaraderie. The morning breakfasts with Lisebel which could extend for hours. The hugs from Rose. The day I’d had a fight with Chris and person after person turned up at my door with poems, treats, hugs, care. The nightly dinners with interesting discussions about… everything! The impromptu music nights in the community house with guitars and a warm fire on a cold night. Workshops, events, always a myriad of people sharing their lives, their stories, their inspirations and their knowledge with us. Healing mornings in the hall, our swap-meet cafes. Organising Biodynamic flowform workshops, David Holgrem and future-proofing conferences, permaculture courses, massage, yoga and healing retreats – so many amazing and wonderful things that I feel honoured to have been a part of.

    I am so grateful that Bellbunya continues for intentional community and to co-create a better future. And mostly for Ian, Deb and the incoming group who took such passionate and deliberate steps to save and re-invigorate Bellbunya.

    Looking back, the most important value from our original group was choosing to see the divine in each person. There are many viewpoints possible about what was the hole that grew in Bellbunya; for me this was when this core value was devalued by a new community entry process premised on the idea of judging right and wrong people for community. There is a time in an organisation where stability and control could be seen as desirable. Yet the growth, the inspiration, the joy sit on the edges of our comfort zone. It heralded a contraction in the community and a contraction of thinking and of being.

    With every part of my heart I wish Bellbunya – and by this, I mean the people living there now and in the future, joyful. abundant and inspiring times in this time of growth and redirection.

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