Personal involvement in the outdoors, and in particular, in bush regeneration, can be expressed via a wide spectrum of opportunities in all states of Australia, from couch surfing, online activities, motor touring and bushwalking to joining a Friends group… and even to owning a slice of a bushland property along with other like-minded people.
In various states a number of properties have been purchased by cooperatives: to protect them from development, to regenerate them, or simply to allow the members to enjoy the outdoor experience together.
The earliest cooperatives in Victoria were the Round the Bend Conservation Cooperative on the Yarra River in Kangaroo Ground (1971), a residential conservation community with an objective of building environmentally friendly houses; the Montrose Environment Group Co-op’s 9 acres at Wartook, northern Grampians (1971); the Moora Moora Co-operative Community at Mt Toolebewong (1974), another residential community; one in the north-western Grampians; and Urimbirra Cooperative Society Ltd in the northern Little Desert (1973).
Land held by a “cooperative” can be held under a number of different legal forms: for example, a group title/strata title/community title (the states have different regimes); a company limited by guarantee; or a cooperative under state law (such as the Co-operatives National Law (Victoria) Act 2013) which in recent years has conformed to the Australian Uniform Co-operative Laws Agreement.
The Urimbirra story is illustrative
The Urimbirra Co-operative Society was formed in 1973 to acquire and protect remnant bushland in the Little Desert region of the Wimmera district of Victoria. It followed the conservation battle of the late 1960s against State Government and AMP plans to alienate and subdivide most of the Crown land in this area for farming. At the time of purchase, privately owned bushland properties in good condition were still being sold for farming purposes. Professional people from outside the area were incentivised to buy the land through tax concessions on clearing costs. ln this area, the climate and soil type ensured that, once it was used for farming purposes, the land was likely to revert to a weedy scrub after the first drought year. There are several examples of properties close to Urimbirra which have been devastated in this way.
The Blackburn & District Tree Preservation Society, which had a substantial involvement in the fight to save the Little Desert from subdivision for farming, decided to form a co-operative to buy 400 hectares of remnant bush for conservation. Shares were sold at $25 per share. In 1995, the Cooperative acquired a further 600 hectares of adjoining land. Today, Urimbirra has over 150 active shareholders and owns 1,040 hectares of land under Trust for Nature conservation covenants.
The Urimbirra blocks are located on the northern boundary of the Little Desert National Park between Nhill and Kaniva. The blocks sit on a mix of sandy soils of low natural fertility (named Lowan Sands) and shallow clay with some sandstone. The low natural fertility of the soils supports a diverse range of Mallee shrublands, woodlands and heathlands as well as Yellow Gum, Black Box and Desert Stringybark woodlands that sustain rich biodiversity. Thanks to Alex English, Secretary, for this account.