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Crystal Waters

Crystal Waters

  1. Description

Full Description

An Overview of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village

A socially and environmentally responsible, economically viable rural subdivision north of Brisbane (Australia), Crystal Waters was designed by Max Lindegger, Robert Tap, Barry Goodman and Geoff Young, and established in 1987. It received the 1996 World Habitat Award (assessed by Dr Wally N’Dow) for its “pioneering work in demonstrating new ways of low impact, sustainable living”.

83 freehold residential and 2 commercial lots occupy 20% of the 259ha (640 acre) property. The remaining 80% is the best land, and is owned in common. It can be licensed for sustainable agriculture, forestry, recreation and habitat projects.

The village centre is zoned for commerce, light industry, tourism and educational activities.

Crystal Waters has become a community of over 200 people with a multitude of businesses and food producing gardens. Land productivity has been dramatically increased.

By-laws ensure that residents are responsible for the provision of their needs and the disposal of waste within ecological parameters. While these by-laws provide a framework for sustainable living, perhaps more effective is the reality of living where your decisions affect ‘your own backyard’. Here, you can’t just flush the problem away.

Important impacts include the revitalisation of the local bio-region by the influx of new residents, the increased diversity of flora and fauna, the improvement in land quality, the nurturing of new ‘green’ technologies, and the education of the many course participants and guests visiting Crystal Waters. They learn how little you need to change your life in a Westernised country to make a very positive impact on the environment.
Situation before the initiative began

The 640 acre (259 ha) property had been extensively logged and many of the ridges were near treeless. The land was in a stressed condition, and producing little in the way of food or income. 7 adults living on the property had no legal tenure.

The area is typically rural, suffering from unemployment due to the decline of traditional industries (timber and dairy farming) and population drift to the cities. All services from the local shop to the school were suffering. As the environment became over exploited the economy followed in a downward spiral. It was necessary to focus on the strengths of this bio-region and utilise these in a sustainable manner to create meaningful work and security to the remaining residents and to attract more people.
Preparing information and clarifying priorities

The seven existing residents were asked to define their dreams and expectations. The designers worked up sketch plans via a series of further discussions and later presentation of preliminary ideas to the local government authority.
Formulation of objectives, strategies and mobilization of resources

Meetings with stakeholders led to the development of 6 basic objectives for the village design:

Clean air, water and soil (thus food)
Freedom of spiritual belief
To work towards a guarantee of meaningful activity for all
To create a place for healthy play and safe recreation
Active social interaction
Healthy shelter
The objectives became the umbrella directive in all design processes. The completed design proposal was well illustrated and presented, and sent to each individual local government politician. Strong lobbying and clarity in explanation and purpose resulted in a unanimous approval after a relatively short but vigorous discussion period.

Leadership roles were initially assumed by two of the designers. During the implementation period this extended to four. Weekly meetings ensured that problems were solved relatively painlessly. Each leader was given a number of portfolios and each portfolio was backed up by two designers.

Finance was tight throughout the development period and remains a challenge. As a pioneering project the developer and the government authorities had to learn ‘on the job’. Both parties went through an educational process where solutions were found co-operatively.

Job creation remains an important task.

Results Achieved

At this stage (15 years down the track) most of our objectives have been achieved. For example:

Water quality in our major dams and the adjoining creeks remains excellent. A water testing workshop was held here and one of the participants now regularly tests the water, sometimes sending samples to an independent laboratory. The water downstream of the development has not been negatively affected.

Crystal Waters is now a very social place. Our café serves regular meals on Friday evenings and for Sunday brunch. We have residents writing and producing concerts. People meet for working bees, yoga, permaculture, theatre, music, volleyball, discussion of community issues
The layout of the 83 residential lots was arranged in clusters to encourage neighbourly interaction, co-operation and a sense of belonging.

Many residents have established projects within their cluster, which they work on together. The children’s play areas and the café are popular meeting places.

Spiritually Crystal Waters is very open and tolerant. Christians of various denominations mix easily with Jews, Bahais and Buddhists and others.
Food growing is increasing. Most residents maintain home gardens and orchards, many have chickens and some have bees, cows, sheep, pigs, geese….

Residents are encouraged to plan well in designing their homes. Most houses use materials where the impact at the source is considered (eg rainforest timber is avoided, local and recycled timber are popular); they avoid potentially toxic materials (eg: off-gassing of plastic and composite timbers). Site placement and house design aim to maximise passive solar possibilities.

We successfully applied for ‘home occupation’ zoning, as by working from home time and energy are saved. Many businesses now operate within Crystal Waters. Residents employ each other rather than non residents whenever possible. Several businesses here are providing steady employment for other residents and many have a trickle down effect. For example, many run courses in our facilities. These not only pay the teachers but also administrators, cooks, cleaners, food growers and accommodation businesses.

Crystal Waters is an excellent testing ground for ‘green’ technology. Innovative systems have been developed here before being introduced into the wider community.

Many of the ideas introduced here have been adopted well beyond our boundaries – our model of a mixed land ownership and design process has been used in the design of human settlements here and overseas; wastewater techniques tested here have travelled as far as Vietnam and New Zealand. The World Habitat Award recognised our achievements in 1996. We are often the basis for academic surveys and media articles, and receive a constant stream of enquiries from people interested in following our example.

The increase in population has meant our local school has grown, the neighbourhood sawmill was revitalised and nearby Conondale still has a village shop. Our own volunteer fire brigade supplements the Conondale Bush Fire Brigade, and has assisted farmers and residents elsewhere in the valley in times of need.

Crystal Waters has proved to be a model from which lessons can be learned. Many visitors come here from all corners of the world to see that small changes in our personal lives can be made relatively painlessly, that there are viable alternatives to suburban isolation, and to experience the realities of living lightly on the earth.


We realised very early that it would need the understanding and support of all to be able to reach a high level of social, economic, environmental and spiritual integration. We started with the design process. From March 1985 to the end of that year we learned from the land and the people by watching and listening. This stage showed us where the water flowed during the rainy periods, frost levels, the warm slopes and cool pockets. It also revealed the best areas – which we kept as common land, so all could benefit rather than just one resident. Out of this lengthy but by no means complicated process 15 criteria for lot selection were determined. These criteria were included in the explanation to government. The lots were then pegged out.

Regular meetings with interested settlers and a monthly newsletter (the Village Voice, which is still published) were used to communicate with people and get regular feedback. The planners published and gave to each resident two books. The “Crystal Waters Conceptual Report” and the “Crystal Waters Owner’s Manual” which explained the concepts behind the development and gave tips on living lightly on the earth.

Crystal Waters was financed by the people who wanted to live here. No money was borrowed. The land was not purchased in a conventional manner. The previous owner of Crystal Waters accepted payment in the form of 10 developed lots in lieu of cash, of which the designers accepted 3 as payment. As there had been no money to pay for their services during the 3 years of initial work, this deferment was crucial to the project’s success

Residents purchased ‘off the plan’, paying a deposit once they selected a lot. When 42 deposits had been collected sufficient funds were available to undertake most of the infrastructure. The balance of payments finished the work and included a profit margin. All profits were donated to the Crystal Waters Community Co-op. These profits have since been used to build community facilities.

We never aimed to become totally self-sufficient, believing that interaction with the surrounding bioregion is more sustainable. However, many people are very self reliant. Potentially, we can grow most of our food. Much of our timber requirements (buildings, fencing, firewood) could also be grown here; some timber lots have already been planted. There will always be imports – fuel and metals are items which can be substituted in a limited way but not replaced completely. We thus have a responsibility to offset our imports with some exports. These are as varied as fruit and vegetables, knowledge, skills and experiences. From the outset we used the theme of ‘education tourism’ to define our strengths. So far this has been shown to be an appropriate choice.

Lessons Learned

A few years before Crystal Waters was initiated a proposed subdivision in NSW received a lot of publicity. Sadly, the project collapsed but we felt it was basically sound and studied it to learn what had worked and what did not. It seemed that publicity – particularly if hyped up too much – can be damaging as it creates many expectations which one may not be able to fulfill.

The NSW project had some legal and financial hiccups fairly early in the process of getting approval. Deadlines which had been promised could not be kept. We learned that it was better to err on the side of caution. Promises tied to dates should be preferably conservative, not overly optimistic. Investors expect steady progress and need to be kept informed. The Village Voice newsletter was created to keep people up to date with progress and avoid misunderstandings.

We learned not to accept speculators in a sustainable project. We had a number of offers from investors wanting to buy multiple allotments for future re-sale. One person offered to purchase 5 lots. While it was very tempting to accept the badly-needed funds, we declined. What an aspiring village needs most is people. It is people who make a community and we knew that speculators would be absentee owners and would make little contribution to the social fabric of Crystal Waters.


When we first put our ideas to the local authority the legal framework and political climate were unfavourable. The accepted wisdom was that rural areas should not be subdivided below 40 acres (16 ha). In Queensland new villages were not permitted (although exceptions existed for mining companies). The combination of agricultural, residential, manufacturing, educational and recreational use of land was discouraged.

However, by patient negotiation and discussion with the local authority we were able to work through these issues, and we have shown that people and agriculture are a healthy combination and are actually interdependent. We have learned that ‘no’ need not be the last answer and that politicians can be convinced with well researched arguments.

Many of our initiatives are transferable if differences between places (climatic, cultural) are given due consideration. Many of our principles and features fit the recommendations of ‘Agenda 21’.

The most obvious and easily transferable features are:

Basic human needs (clean air, water, food, work, social interaction, spiritual freedom, recreation, shelter) are interconnected , not artificially separated.
Wastewater is utilised on site
Rainwater is collected on site
Energy saving is part of policy, not an add-on
Careful choice and use of materials
Clustering of housing to enhance social interaction
Planning takes economical and environmental sustainability as the basis for design.
Permaculture is design.

“A new method based on old ideas, Permaculture is not a dogma, but it has fixed ethics. Permaculture is not one person’s way only, but follows the expanding paths of many. Permaculture is not just local, it is worldwide. Permaculture is not stationary, it is growing in its fullest sense. Permaculture is not back to nature, but it uses natural methods. Permaculture is not organic gardening alone, but it includes it. Permaculture doesn’t happen, it is designed“ (Barry Goodman).

Permaculture has its basis in PERMA nent agri CULTURE but it has bearing on all aspects of culture, as the land is our natural heritage. The origins of the two words are “to remain” and “to care”. From this came the three ethics of Permaculture.

We care for the earth

All living and non-living things; animals, plants, water, land, air.
We care for people

Promoting self-reliance and community responsibilitys
We disperse that which is surplus to our needs

Distribution of surplus labour, information, money, skills.

Where’s the Permaculture?

Permaculture is about design, and the efficient and productive use of land while taking care of the earth. Permaculture looks at the incredible diversity of plant and wildlife, the intricacies of eco-systems with their natural checks and balances and uses this knowledge to create a sustainable way of life.

Examples of principles used in the design are:

The balance of the hydrology was maintained, ensuring that the quality and quantity of the water downstream has not been negatively affected by Crystal Waters’ development.

17 dams were created and are multi-purpose –

increasing the ‘edge’,
providing access for traffic from ridge to ridge,
opportunities for aquaculture, climate moderation, recreation, beauty and habitat.
They provide a flood mitigation strategy; as they absorb runoff and the overflow is directed into the Mary River and Kilcoy Creek via specially placed swales.
They are also a source of emergency water.

Re–use and recycle are two catchcrys of Permaculture. Evidence of this philosophy can be seen all around Crystal Waters, in the overall design and in individual lots. There has been a consciousness change towards human waste. It is not seen as someone else’s problem but as a resource.

A long term sustainable approach is taken, particularly with regard to forestry. Trees have been planted with the intention that they provide habitat and moderate environmental extremes, as well as various timber end uses.
Buildings make extensive use of renewable materials such as earth and wood, with particular emphasis on solar passive design.

The multiple usage of land. Crystal Waters can now accommodate up to 300 people, 83 home gardens. The best land has been set aside for agriculture, the steeper areas for forestry, recreation and natural habitat.

Zoning can be seen on individual lots, but also in the overall design.

The public face of the village is placed in Zone 1, and all are welcome here. This area is in the early stages of development. The Information Centre is part of this zone.

Zone 2 incorporates the Visitor’s Camping Area (VCA) and the Community House/Training Centre, where visitors come for short term stays and to take part in courses.

Zone 3 contains the residential, agricultural and habitat areas, and visitors need to be invited here.

Over two hundred residents of all ages coming from many cultural backgrounds live on 85 private one acre lots. Two community lots owned by a co-operative of residents contain buildings for community events and for the operation of businesses. Residents are interested in a wide variety of social, cultural, environmental and spiritual activities.

Many homes are built from an interesting array of eco-friendly materials. Mudbrick, pole- frame, rammed–earth, recycled and straw bale dwellings are found on the community. Most homes exhibit the following features: compost toilets, solar passive design and energy saving devices. The land is a sanctuary for wildlife.

Crystal Waters Community Co-operative Ltd.
Crystal Waters Permaculture Village
65 Kilcoy Lane
Conondale, Qld, 4552