I STAYED a while at Crystal Waters, an ecovillage about half an hour from Maleny, on the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Over 200 people live on 85 one-acre lots, spread among bushland and fields. No cats or dogs are allowed, but kangaroos and wallabies abound.
On my first night I woke after only a few hours. I was the only guest in the bunkhouse. The room seemed particularly familiar. As I lay thinking, I realised the room was set out exactly same way as the bedroom of my childhood. The bunk bed, the door and the window: they all fitted precisely. I looked up at the slats above me, at one moment utterly disoriented, and the next, so vividly a child again. The timing was slightly unsettling – I turned 30 this week.
When eventually I slept again, I woke to a sunny, steamy morning. The evening before I’d met Les Bartlett, who bakes sourdough loaves twice a week in his small bakery on Crystal Waters, and sells only locally. Today was a baking day and he’d said I could pop in.
In the morning I watched Les and Penny mix their doughs: sourdough starter, organic stone-ground flour, water, salt. Penny is from Melbourne, but is staying here to learn the craft. I came back at lunchtime and watched them shape the loaves with Leslie (Les’s partner), then returned again in the evening to watch the baking in a wood-fired oven – each time staying an hour or two to talk (or eat pizza and sip beer).
When the baking was nearly done, two young children knocked on the door. The boy said his mum had sent him for a loaf. Penny put a still-hot Pain de Campagne in a paper bag, and told him to set it on a cooling rack when he got home.
As they left, Les said, “That’s something isn’t it? He’ll never forget it.”
It’ll be a fine memory one day: walking to the community baker with your kid sister, and returning for dinner with fresh hot bread from the wood-oven.
It was a day to remember for me too. A gleaming day, a day when people are so kind and welcoming that everything clicks, like a turn at Chinese checkers where you jump all the way home.
Half a dozen Japanese hippies had set up camp during the afternoon. Les gave me a fruit-and-nut loaf for them. It was warm from the oven. The Japanese didn’t speak much English, but some things I understood: the murmurs in appreciation of the smell, the extended silence as they chewed, and then the contented mooing – the sound of satisfaction from their bellies.
Finally, one guy, called Nobu, held the remainder of his portion aloft and said: “It’s like art.”
Left to right: Penny, Leslie and Les