Tree Changers embrace a sustainable lifestyle in Castlemaine, in an innovative housing model

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Since Deb Shand moved from Melbourne to an ecovillage in Castlemaine, every aspect of her life has evolved to become more sustainable.

“I was going in that direction in Melbourne, but it was a lot harder to do it.

“Moving here makes it so much easier to live sustainably.”

Moving from a two-bedroom unit in town to a three-bedroom house in The Paddock, his electric bills went from around $200 a month to around $50 a month.

“It’s very well insulated, with double brickwork on each side, and we have double-glazed windows.”

“It keeps the coolness or the heat inside, very well.”

Deb Shand tries to use as little plastic as possible, as she separates waste into four types of recycling. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Ms Shand also drives much less, has started growing her own vegetables and uses four bins for waste and recycling.

“I tried to grow vegetables. I had a backyard garden in Melbourne. I was not a very successful gardener.

“Here we have it set up. So it’s great to be able to go out and pick some fresh vegetables for dinner.”

For Ms. Shand, the sustainable lifestyle and sense of community has transformed her life in positive ways.

“I think if people could see what a great way to live that was, they would want to do the same.”

neil heather barrett GOOD
Neil and Heather Barrett worked with Friends of the Earth and started the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group, before launching The Paddock.(Provided: Richard Baxter)

A retired couple launches a pioneering project

A ‘retired’ couple living in Castlemaine, Neil and Heather Barrett have devoted most of their lives to environmental and conservation work.

But in reality, they haven’t retired at all.

They have been busier than ever over the past seven years bringing their vision for a Castlemaine ecovillage to life.

Stage 2 of Central Victoria’s first sustainable housing development is currently under construction after several delays and hurdles due to COVID-19.

A garden bed in the foreground of the image, in the background two-storey wooden houses with solar panels covering the roofs.
Mr Barrett says the end date for the final stage of homes has been repeatedly delayed, due to supply shortages caused by COVID.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Mr and Mrs Barrett said that when they started it in 2015, they realized it would be a lot harder than they initially thought.

“We completely underestimated what would be involved. But it was worth seeing the houses completed and the residents living in them, which has a positive impact,” Barrett said.

“Electricity bills are now close to zero because we export so much solar power,” Barrett said.

“We export so much of it. It’s a pretty good income. We export about two-thirds of what’s produced.”

the solar paddock
The homes have an 8.5 star energy rating and collect more solar energy than is needed to power the homes. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

During a heat wave in January, when it was over 33 degrees Celsius for a week, new residents Emily and Rich Kratzmann barely turned on their air conditioner.

It was something that shocked them.

“As soon as you open the door to come in, it feels like an air-conditioned house,” Ms. Kratzmann said.

“When we lived in Melbourne, we pretty much had the air conditioning on all day.”

A woman crouched in her garden outside her front door in a blue top stares at the camera.
Barb Ashworth was one of the first residents to move into the ecovillage in 2019. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

A sense of community is built

Dr Masa Noguchi, associate professor of environmental design at the University of Melbourne, said The Paddock has lifted the benchmark for sustainable housing design.

“I think it’s an innovation,” Dr. Noguchi said.

“There are so many built-in sustainability features.”

“Not only environmental but also socio-economic. You can see that the human definition of sustainability comes into play.”

He said it was rare to have so many different durability features incorporated into the design and construction.

“My appreciation for this project is the integration of features in a way that comes together as an ecosystem.”

Residents say the strong sense of community is now one of their favorite things about living in the ecovillage.

“They’ve had this connection where they can help each other shop or get together,” Ms Barrett said.

This has been a blessing for many during COVID, where shared gardens or community spaces within the village have provided a haven for much needed connection and socialization.

With the final stage of development complete in late 2023, Mr and Mrs Barrett admit they might need to find a new project.

“We’ll probably be working on our next project, but it won’t be about building. We’re not sure [what the next project will be]“said Ms Barrett.

But they don’t want to think too much about the future, as they focus on finishing The Paddock.

“It will be the fulfillment of a vision that has kept us from doing stupid things for six years.”

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