Chumlangi Co-operative

by Steve Whitemore and Lynn Dean  

The year was 1979. Twelve starry-eyed urban socialists – Grant Borchers, Vicki Nobes, Steve and Anne Whitmore, Simon Harvey, Brian Tyler, Malenka Polkowski, Sally Mendes, Ian Locke, Jan Bennett, Lyn Dorrington and Colin O’Brien – met in Noone Street, Clifton Hill to discuss the possibility of forming a rural settlement co-operative in some obscure provincial town called Toolangi. Seduced by the sheer beauty of what had once been a tree nursery called Rimington’s, Chumlangi Co-Op was formed. After securing the first co-operative loan ever created by the then State Bank of Victoria, the property was purchased for $128,000, through members purchasing shares.

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, with views extending over the Yarra Valley to the Dandenongs and beyond, this rural idyll had once been the largest established tree nursery in the southern hemisphere. To this day, its cleared paddocks are punctuated by remnant rows of mature Copper Beech, Japanese Maple, Rhododendron and towering Douglas Fir, ringed by Australian Eucalypts and Wattle. On its 198 acres sat seven houses in varying states of disrepair, a reminder of the time when workers lived and worked on the property. German prisoners of war were also employed here during World War 2.

The most pressing tasks after purchase were to restore water and electricity to the houses and begin renovations. In a nod to simpler times, members were allowed to source power poles from trees on the property and erect them in hand-dug holes, five feet deep. Local electrician Len Cosson secured the cross arms and thanks to the SEC Gippsland Supply Manager (Anne’s father), reconnection to the grid was secured in record time and power to houses, barn and sheds was available before Christmas. The concrete dam walls were repaired and later covered in bitumen. (As was Vicki when the pressure in the drum was too great for the hose she was holding!) Fed by a bore, the dam provided water to homes and served as an excellent swimming pool in the summer months. The annual dam clean was a highlight of the co-operative experience.

For over eighteen years Chumlangi was both rural settlement and rural retreat. Houses became comfortable, habitable homes. Children were raised in a place that remains dear to their hearts. Blackberries were cleared, paddocks slashed, roads maintained, firewood collected. Grand plans were floated, but never materialised. Residents enjoyed many a co-op dinner, often after a strenuous working bee. Dishes were swapped, wine consumed, and what was that sweet smell that drifted in the evening air? There was also the fun of the fair at the annual picnic on the Toolangi oval.

As the years progressed, and personal situations altered, there were changes in membership and commitment. In 1981 Jan Bennett and Ian Locke sold their shares to Lynn Dean and Tony Stevenson for $20,000, plus paying the mortgage, which was paid off by 1989. In 1985 shareholder Tony Stevenson died. In 1986/87 Lyn Dorrington and Colin O’Brien sold their shares to Tim and Di Royce-Hampton. Trevor Stasey took on Tony Stevenson’s share. Malenka Polkowski left and Gail Jones purchased Malenka’s share. In 1996/97 Vicki Nobes and Grant Borchers sold their shares to Nick Skewes and Gordana Saric.

Those wanting to leave the co-op were finding it difficult to sell their shares and it was eventually decided to wind up Chumlangi. The property, with seven houses, was sub-divided into three lots in 1999 and those wishing to leave were compensated by those remaining. The remaining group included Nick and Gordana, Lynn Dean, Simon Harvey (original member) and Anne and Steve, who had been the first couple to take up residence in 1979. Chumlangi Co-operative Limited was officially dissolved on 18 May 1999. In 2012 Lynn Dean bought Simon Harvey’s share of their shared land, leaving five former members who still live on the three properties in 2021.

Some former members have passed away: Tony Stevenson in 1985, Tim Royce-Hampton in 2019 and Simon Harvey in 2021. There were three weddings on the property over the years: Lynn and Tony in 1984, Brian and Gail in 1985, Nicholas and Alex in 2019. Four babies were born at home on the property: Alice Stasey in 1988, Grace Hilton-Harvey in 1983, Jasper Hammerstrom in 2004 and Joss Stevenson in 2011. There were also two babies born on the property whose births were attended by Lynn Dean. These were the children of people who travelled from Gippsland and rented one of the houses throughout their pregnancies. The children who lived at Chumlangi led a happy life of freedom and healthy activities.

Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes
Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes