"It takes a village to raise a child" may be an African proverb, but for some Australians it's words to live by.
A sense of community is what has inspired a group of friends to invest in a rural property on the outskirts of Barrington Tops National Park in NSW with the intention of living together in a land sharing arrangement.
It all started with a small group friends over dinner in 2005.
"We dreamed big in those early days," Jemma Bailey said.
But as the years passed, the dream only got stronger with the group growing in numbers and devotion to the idea of buying land where they could escape from the city, grow food, build sustainable houses and be creative.
In early 2010, the group of 11 friends stumbled across 144 acres they call Black Bulga, and the dream to build an intentional community took a giant leap forward.
Bulga is about 100km inland from Newcastle in the HUnter region of NSW.
"The sweet taste of the river water, the cool, deep swimming holes, stunning views and fertile soil made it easy for our group to realise we'd finally found the place we'd been looking for," Jemma remembers.
As the land was lacking infrastructure, the group had their work cut out for them, pooling resources, both financial and physical, to begin molding the land to capture their vision.
"So far the group has built a strawbale agricultural shed, established a citrus grove and fledgling food forest, grown crops of garlic, potatoes and pumpkins, tended hives and harvested vats of fragrant honey," Jemma explained.
"We have also worked with friends and family to clear weeds and revegetate the riverbanks."
The group hasn't gone into this project lightly. They've spent a lot of time researching other shared community structures in order to develop a solid legal and financial framework for Black Bulga's ownership and management. And in August, MidCoast Council approved their development application to construct multiple buildings under the State Environmental Planning Policy No 15 - Rural Landsharing Communities.
The plan is to construct a cluster of buildings with everyone living in relatively close proximity to each other, with a few shared spaces where they can meet, eat, laugh and play together.
"Clustering also means that we will keep our environmental footprint on the land as small as it can be, as well as economic advantages of shared infrastructure, such as laundries and water," Jemma explained.
For many of them, it's about affording their dream of living sustainably; buying in a group provides more financial power to fuel the vision.
For Jack Thieme, Black Bulga allows him to combine his desire to pool resources and have meaningful social connections.
"By sharing resources such as land, buildings, equipment and other infrastructure I do not own everything on my own and I think I'm reducing my ecological footprint this way," Jack said. "It also makes it financially possible for me to live a rural life and make a bit of a living off the land."
Geoff Evans and Deb Hartman see Black Bulga as a place where they can enjoy the best of community and country life.
"We like living in a multi-generational community where we can see each other, chat, help out, have fun, work and eat together regularly," Deb said. "By being together in the Black Bulga community we can learn about sustainable land use, about the social skills of living in a cooperative community, and how we can create multiple income streams that draw from our various passions and talents in arts, ecology, building, farming, cooking and using what we grow."
On paper it may be rural land sharing, but for Jemma, Black Bulga is a family.
"I was attracted to building community, to being able to dream bigger than I could if I was doing this on my own and to having a group of people who I could learn from and grow with," Jemma explained. "We have three young children and we are not convinced that a nuclear family is the best way of bringing up kids. With Black Bulga, our children have a group of quasi aunts and uncles."
Each member of the group brings with them a set of skills that helps strengthen and diversify their eco-village. Jack has experience working in community development and education projects.
"I have lots of practical skills such as building, landscaping, horticulture, land management and farming skills to contribute to the community," Jack said.
Geoff and Deb are currently working within an Aboriginal community, Deb in early childhood education programs and Geoff with a background in community development and environmental management.
"We bring a deep knowledge and experience of teaching, raising children, working with Aboriginal communities, writing and research, community education and development, gardening and celebrating nature," Deb explained.
With their plans to build approved, each member will be working toward a permanent move to the property on their own timeline.
"Our group share a unifying mission, we are all involved in environmental or social justice in one way or another and believe in actively contributing to the wider community - rather than retreating from the world," Jemma said.
"We have established the master plan for a small eco-village based on affordable sustainable housing and permaculture principles."