Our mission is to create more sustainable and connected communities in our local area. We, as an urban community and farm, are a living demonstration of our intention and we share it with others providing exciting and motivating educational programs based on sound behaviour change
Shani & Tim
So what exactly is Ecoburbia?
Ecoburbia is part urban infill development, where we have shared living spaces to increase the population density without adding to the house’s footprint.
Ecoburbia is part urban farm with chickens, goats, compost systems and fruit trees, plus a large shared veggie patch.
Ecoburbia is part demonstration sustainable house, with cutting edge energy systems, water collection and dispersal
systems and innovative passive solar design.
Ecoburbia is part educational opportunity and community hub, with regular tours, workshops, films and other community events.
We bought our new home at 16 Livingstone Street Beaconsfield in April 2013. The 1970’s Italianate
house sits on a quarter acre surrounded by subdivided blocks – the norm around here is to bulldoze
the house and build two big houses.
There was not a single green thing (except for cooch) as the block had been cleared for subdivision.
We wanted to try something different . .
Our basic goal is to provide smaller living areas for people, housing as many people here as if we had
subdivided the block and built two big houses.
Given the average new home size in Australia is 243 square metres and the average space taken up by each person is 91 square metres, we aimed for much less than that. We now have several separate living spaces, with other shared spaces including a laundry, communal kitchen and dining area. All the separate living areas have Noongar names –
Wardan, Boodjar, Ngardak and Nyit.
Koolark (home) is our place, and consists of an 18 square metre bedroom and clothes storage area, a
small bathroom and a 51 square metre office, kitchen, dining and living space. Koolark is in the
middle of the house but the clever removal of roof space and the installation of a solar pergola with
grapevines allowing northern light to penetrate onto the concrete slab in winter.
Moortung (extended family) is the common shared area of the house, consisting of the front verhandah, large kitchen and dining area (66 square metres), small storage area and laundry (with shower, toilet and composting dunny).
A full height loft provides a space for short term visitors – from visiting musicians to workaway volunteers. This room is called Moortung Nookat (where extended family sleep). This main room in this shared area faces north with 6 meters of sliding doors and a large pergola with grapevines mean there is good northern light and heat control.
Because the house is facing west, summer sunsets mean it gets hot! Treatment on the east of the house included the removal of one large eastern window, replacing it with triple layers of aircell insulation and a passion fruit vine growing on a mesh screen about 10 cm from the wall. On the west there is an extended verhandah providing additional shade for both warden and ngardak, grape vines and Virginia creepers plus pull down shades.
The small community that has been created here is one of the highlights for us. The residents at Ecoburbia would not normally live in the way they do.
Our initial residents were two people in their 20’s, one in their 30s, one in their 40s and one in their 50s. Meals are often shared with a “houseling” dinner every Monday. Everyone is welcome to the 8.30am and 11am cup of tea, and our 1.30pm lunch break. We often laugh that it is somewhere between Melrose Place and Seinfeld with a shared kitchen.
Visitors comment on the casual nature of the community relationships, but it works really well for us and those who live here.
While they are not open to the public, we continue to run private events for our friends and family outside over summer, and we have a purpose-built amphitheater area created from the tiered front garden. The Freo Living Smarties meet in Moortung once a month, a group of PDC teachers use the space regularly, and we have a weekly yoga class and coworking sessions. Four times a year we hold a tour.
We also have wider community involvement, from sharewaste visitors bringing scraps for the compost to folk borrowing boomerang bunting.
We are very active in a geographic community group- the West Beacy Bunch. This informal community group is focussed on the 350 odd houses around where we live. This group organises potluck meals, guerrilla plantings, olive oil pressing, craft workshops, seed swaps and other events that mean neighbours meet and connect with each other. In 2023 Shani presented a TEDxPerth talk about the Bunch.
Over half of the 350 houses in the West Beacy Bunch area are on our community email list! There is more information on this site or you can check out our website to find out more.
By organising smaller and shared living spaces, we have about 223 square metres left for garden.
The front garden is planted with a “help yourself” herb garden that is shared with the household and other neighbours. The back garden has nine 7 metre by 1.2 metre curved beds for more intensive annual plantings – from carrots to corn, cauliflower to spinach. Approximately 90% of our veggie needs comes from the garden in summer and about 50% in winter.
Six citrus trees have been planted on the southern boundary. Because of the limestone caprock they are in large pots – soak well liners. Six deciduous trees (mulberry, two apple, two plums and an almond) are planted in the goat pen, garden and northern boundary. An advanced macadamia was saved from a developer and planted outside Ngardak.
Our two goats, Coco and Lady Marmalade, share their 48 square metre pen with 12 chickens, and this ‘team’ provide us with eggs, enough milk for our needs, and the making of goat’s cheese. Other ‘non residential wwoofers’ trade milking skills for goat’s milk. And the neighbourhood delights in our daily goat walks!
On our northern verge a pile of limestone caprock has been used to create four swales, and after dumping four years’ worth of mulch there the soil has gradually improved. This verge is mostly planted in native goat fodder (mostly acacia). There is also space for four large wicking beds – one for each of the ‘houselings’ at Ecoburbia.
All residents at Ecoburbia share one large laundry. The plumbing in the main house and boodjar all runs through one conduit, meaning shower and laundry grey water is easy to control. The greywater pit is on the bottom corner of the property and its pump system ensures all the fruit and nut trees are well watered.
We have installed a bore (35 metres down) which services the toilets, laundry and the gardens. This bore water is first pumped into a tank before distribution.
The rainwater system proved to be a major project. We installed a 50,000 litre concrete rainwater tank underground at the front of the block (no mean feat when the heavy machinery had to dig into caprock). There is a smaller 8000 litre rainwater at Boodjar for water emergencies and for drinking water when the big tank runs out in summer.
We have a shared composting toilet in the laundry area. This simple bucket system is available for anyone to use. The buckets are composted in large wheelie bins for a year, then further hot composted for 6 months, before being used in the garden.
Tim estimates that with five people living here, with a daily water use of 100 litres each, we should be able to survive 100 days with no rain, essentially taking us ‘off the grid’ for water in a typical summer. This happened in the summer of 2020/ 2021, but we normally don’t manage it and have to endure chlorine tasting water for 2-3 weeks a year.
The main house has had a large 13 kilowatt solar array with a 10 kilowatt inverter. The panels are on the east, north and west roof, meaning we have a smooth production pattern over the day. We also have a 22 kilowatt battery that supplies power at night and ensures we can still pump water etc during central power outages. Although still being connected we are essentially ‘off grid’. Annoyingly, however despite even importing on average 50 kilowatt hours a day into the grid we still have to pay the daily supply charge!)
Two evaporative tube hot water systems serve the needs of the main house and boodjar, with only occasional electric back up heating.
The living spaces with northern aspect do not really need heating, but south facing warden and ngardak have both had wood fired pellet heaters installed. These heaters are common in Europe and use waste or sustainable sourced wood pellets. They use a reduced fuel flow rather than oxygen flow, and burn with 98 % efficiency, without producing carbon monoxides, sulphur dioxide or particulate pollution.
Koolark has a modern wood burning stove with stove top and oven that is used for cooking and heating in winter. Boodjar has a small pot belly stove. By collecting scrap wood around the neighbourhood we do not have to purchase fuel.
Low tech power saving initiatives include solar ovens, cookers and food driers available for residents’ use. There are no televisions and one computer modem services all residents.
Most residents use bikes for their daily transport and there are not enough car parking bays for the residents here. We have electric bikes, an extra cycle cargo bike and various commuter bikes for residents and short term visitors.
We recognise that high and medium density housing, close to good public transport options is a more sustainable way to live, especially if small houses, fewer parking bays and communal sharing of resources mean that more land can be used for urban farming.
But that is not the only reason for having rental accommodation on our property – we are realistic about our financial sustainability as well. We hope that once Ecoburbia is fully established the income from renting the various accommodations, coupled with our reducing living costs, will enable us to spend less time worrying about income and more time doing the sustainability work we love doing in our community.
We are looking forward to being able to more fully integrate our home and ‘work’. We like the idea of retirement being the freedom to do whatever work we like without having to worry about the money involved. We want to be able to age in place.
Sometimes we are asked for brief summary about what we are up to here. We
usually say something like –
“It’s a bit like a combination urban farm/ housing cooperative.”
The main difference however, is rather than an intentional community being run by a committee with long meetings and consensus decision making, Ecoburbia is run by benevolent dictatorship. (even if there is sometimes disagreement who that is!)