Hi from Scilla and Sharyn. We are deep friends. We are also members of Narara Ecovillage in New South Wales, Australia. Our ecovillage website, https://nararaecovillage.com is a mine of information – so go dig! We met 7 years ago when the ecovillage site had been purchased but no building of new homes had begun. Scilla and her partner were in transit towards a shared life, leaving their separate homes in Tasmania and Sydney while Sharyn was in the process of selling her beautiful home of 25 years in order to live at Narara.
Both energetic, socially committed and somewhat rebellious ‘Maga’ women in our rich Autumn stage of life, we found much in common, despite birth places literally ‘poles apart’: Scilla was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and Sharyn grew up in the heart of Sydney. We both chose paths quite early in life that deviated from the norms expected by our families, we both lived in an ‘intentional community’ with our young children and we both found our greatest personal and professional satisfaction in the spheres of inner growth, conflict resolution, and therapeutic support.
Sharyn was one of the ‘pioneer’ members of Narara. Inspired by the determination of Lyndall Parris, Narara Ecovillage founder, she joined around 20 other visionary contributors pooling resources to buy this glorious valley property. Narara Ecovillage Cooperative is now the steward of 170 acres nestled between the deep peace of Strickland State Forest and the suburb of Narara. Intercity rail links give us easy access to both Sydney and Newcastle.
Narara Ecovillage was legally constituted as a trading Cooperative with all memberships holding an equal shareholding. Membership is a prerequisite to buying a plot of land and building a house at the ecovillage. The commitment and courage of the early members to the vision of building an inspiring, sustainable ‘demonstration’ ecovillage was remarkable and Sharyn was a critical catalyst in the manifestation of this dream.
Sharyn designed and built her ‘hippy’ home of 17 years living in a community in the northern New South Wales rainforest. After many years of more suburban life, Narara gave her the opportunity to revel in the design and construction of her beautiful natural build home. Drawing on her talents as a painter, aspiring glass artist, budding sculptor, and accomplished clothing creator she offered specialist builders and artisans the scope to demonstrate their skilled craftsmanship in working with natural and recycled materials of all kinds.
Laying down the ‘social foundations of community is arguably more important than the physical infrastructure and Sharyn stepped early on into the role of community catalyst by setting up the Wellbeing Circle and facilitating monthly Members Meeting for many years. She enriched early policies and procedures with insight from her decades of training and practice in mediation, conflict resolution, and crisis counseling as well as her own inner work. When talking to prospective members of the ecovillage, she cheerfully affirms that ‘living in community is the toughest personal development course you’ll ever take’! She knows this from personal experience!
Scilla came across ‘intentional communities’ while studying in California in the ’70s on a scholarship from her Scottish university. The trauma of war veterans she met in classes, the courage of social changemakers, and the commitment of environmental activists defending our fragile planet Earth as well as disillusionment with the economic and social consequences of actions by the dominant Global North helped to plant seeds for her life of ‘active pacifism’. Her areas of work included practice and policy in child protection and juvenile justice, teaching, disability support, journalism, and an ongoing reverence for the healing power in the space between people and horses.
While Sharyn’s earlier ‘community’ (and her mothering) experiences were set in the remote rainforest of Eastern Australia, Scilla found herself the parent of two small boys living in a large shared property with a volatile group of young people living as long-term WWOOFers in a 19th century English country house under renovation. This was a fascinating and tough introduction to stepping outside the norm of Western family homes and taught her a great deal about what was wonderful as well as what does not work in a community. In particular, the unilateral power held by a founder/leader can spell disaster when the going gets tough.
Having encountered Quaker communities in her earlier overseas exchange experience, a year of traveling with 2 small children a decade later connected her with the worldwide intentional peace-building community’ of Servas https://www.servas.org.au. This strengthened Scilla’s commitment to conscious ethics-based community building and moving to live in Tasmania in the late 1980s presented the opportunity to explore place-based intentional community once again.
She became involved in at least eight aspiring or emergent ecovillage projects in that time … most failed to materialize due to legal, planning, or finance impediments or did not meet her needs and expectations at the time. Factors that deterred her included insufficient clarity around a shared vision, remote physical location, lack of inclusive decision-making, damaging inequity in resources, or incompatibility of personalities in key leadership roles.
However, this time in Tasmania also introduced Scilla to inspiring organizations and catalysts to creating healthy sustainable communities – be they for purpose or place-based. These included GEN, Pachamama Alliance, Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Conflict Resolution Network (CRN), Alternatives to Violence (AVP), and Permaculture, including a focus on Social Permaculture. A powerful and enduring sense of community formed around her rural property where she offered equine-assisted growth and learning experiences.
Meeting one another, with tapestries of life weaving in so many similar threads, felt like a ’knitting together’ at a soul level. We laugh a lot and cried a fair bit too! While occasionally treasuring silence – especially in forest walks, we have shared many rowdy dinners and countless discussions as co-leaders of our Community Circle. We enthusiastically deepen our practice of Sociocracy and are currently exploring the application of the Prosocial ‘lens’ to strengthen collaboration in our community and honestly accompany people interested in considering membership on their ‘Journey to Joining’ Narara Ecovillage.
We feel blessed to be here and grateful for our capacity to continue to grow and learn. Above all, we are enlivened by the opportunity offered by this ecovillage – and the international movement it is part of – to contribute to shaping a peaceable world for our grandchildren’s grandchildren and all Life.
You can find more information about Narara Ecovillage on their website here.
About the Authors
Sharyn Wilson. Narara Ecovillage, Australia
Sharyn is a pioneer member of Narara Ecovillage. Born in Sydney, she has led an adventurous and creative life. She built her home in the rainforest of northern New South Wales, raised her son, and lived with self-sufficiency and personal growth as her intentions. She has pursued a lifelong journey of learning and practicing conflict resolution, mediation, and personal development as well as art, travel, and a commitment to the community. Returning to the North Shore area of Sydney she found and later re-designed her beautiful Avalon home while continuing to help others through crisis counseling work. Drawn back to the quest for a more intentional community, she attended a gathering at the critical decision-making point in the purchase of Narara and said YES in no uncertain terms by joining the early investors. She has been at the heart of the Community Circle, is a member of the ecovillage Steering Circle, and facilitated the monthly Members’ Meetings throughout the early years, and is deeply committed to the practice of Sociocracy (and now the introduction of Prosocial) at Narara Ecovillage.
Scilla Sayer. Narara Ecovillage, Australia
Scilla was born in Scotland and grew up with a deep sense of commitment to place-based community. She discovered ‘intentional community’ while on an overseas scholarship year at the University of California in the early 1970’s. Scilla found work as an editor and art correspondent in London before moving to join a small community in Norfolk. Life circumstances and a need to escape Thatcherism in the UK led to a radical life shift in the 1980s. She and her husband traveled for a year with 2 small children and moved to Tasmania. Her lifelong connection with horses and deep appreciation for the transformative power of the relationship between them and humans led her to explore equine-assisted therapy. She trained in New Zealand, the USA, UK, and Australia, establishing ‘Chiron Horse Programs’ in Tasmania. This flourished for nearly 20 years. All this time she was involved with a number of ecovillage development projects before she felt the draw to Narara Ecovillage. Now living there full-time and deeply involved with supporting social sustainability, she balances this intensity with meeting a growing interest from ecovillagers and others who wish to explore the magic and the learning that exists ‘in the space between people and horses’. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.