November 8, 2019
In the years since its inception, there were some who immediately labelled the Shepherds Ground Farm and Village as just another hippie commune.
That statement is far from the truth. With 22 of a planned 29 houses built, the vision that inspired the creation of Shepherds Ground is well underway. Originally starting out as a not for profit company with the aim of gaining enough funds to buy the land that was needed to build on, a development application (DA) was unanimously approved by Port Stephens council in October 2014.
Occupying a five-hectare area on a 112-hectare farm in Woodville, Shepherds Ground was founded with the goal of creating a village where residents embrace a style of living that promotes cultural expression and refutes claims that farming has to be exploitative of animals and the environment to be economically viable. The remaining area of the land is utilised for sustainable farming practices based on organic and biodynamic principles. All houses are solar powered and are built from materials such as hemp masonry. Residents are also restricted to one car per household and are required to park in a parking bay, as there are no driveways connected to any of the properties. This is to help further reduce their carbon footprint.
To Jane Purkiss, the idea of living in a community such as this had been something she had been dreaming of for years. There were many times in the past where Jane and her late husband Jack were close to joining an environmentally conscious group like Shepherds Ground before talks would break down. After hearing talk about plans for what would eventually become Shepherds Ground at her local organic café, she had a feeling that this time things would be different.
“It was like he (Jack) was saying to me “Yes! Go!”. So, go I did.”, said Jane.
Despite not having DA approval at the time, Jane could see that the project had a strong foundation. This led her to becoming the first resident to build her home on Shepherds Ground, a process which was both daunting and exciting.
“I was so inexperienced. I didn’t know what was facing me but I knew that I had a really creative builder and that it would be a different experience because this house is made of hemp. Not a usual bricks and timber home.”
Changes to the house plans meant that progress had to be halted for nine weeks. During that time the frame of the house was damaged by severe rain and thunder storms and had to be rebuilt. Despite these setbacks, Jane couldn’t be happier with the finished results of her new hemp masonry home.
“I love it. I love it’s texture. I love it’s imperfections because I like things that look as if someone has actually made them.
“It was an exciting thing to do and sometimes when things were not going as well as I’d hoped with weather or whatever was happening with the building materials of course it’s a bit of a bother. But it was certainly worth it and I’ve got a lovely home.”
It was through Jane that Karon Lidner first discovered the plan to create an eco-friendly village, and like Jane, Karon was immediately interested in becoming a part of Shepherds Ground. At the end of a classical music performance at Maitland Art Gallery, Jane spoke to the audience about “a visionary community” that was in the early stages of development.
“I loved that idea. I drove out to where the property was and had a bit of a look, made some phone calls, attended a few meetings and went from there.”, said Karon.
Despite the many benefits that come with being a part of a community such as Shepherds Grounds, it can be difficult to attract new members due to the many rules that must be followed. Not only are households restricted to one car, there is also a restriction to the number of pets one can own. Residents are not to own more than one dog if that dog were to die it cannot be replaced. Karon believes this particular rule will soon change as more members come on board.
“It’s possible that that may change. We’d have to consider guide dogs and other animals in those situations.”
Restrictions were also in place for the materials that homes could be built with, with the only option available for a time being hemp. This is no longer the case, with future residents now able to use other materials such as Weathertex panels, corrugated iron and timber to design their homes. Despite being a more expensive option, hemp is still a popular choice for many residents, including Karon.
“I would prefer hemp. Hemp can be locally sourced. Generally speaking, we look for low carbon footprint materials and non-toxic materials.”, explains Karon.