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Town's identity shifts as co-op numbers dwindle

PASSIONATE LOCAL: Maleny man Jonathan Waites has lived in with his family in two different community settlement co-operatives.
PASSIONATE LOCAL: Maleny man Jonathan Waites has lived in with his family in two different community settlement co-operatives. Stuart Cumming

MALENY'S changing demography is seeing off a way of living for which the hinterland town was renowned.

Cooperatives, or co-ops, still operate but long-term residents concede they are no longer as common as they were in decades past.

It is a change from even 10 years ago, when Maleny was regarded as having the second-most co-ops per-person in the world.

They included the Maleny Credit Union, which was started as a co-op but no longer operates as one, the Mountain Fare co-op for empowering women and the Wastebusters co-op recycling group.

In general, co-ops are formed by people trying to achieve a similar outcome, whether it be social, retail, environmental, housing or other.

They are governed according to agreed values and are run for the benefit of members and the broader community rather than profits of owners or shareholders.

Resident Jonathan Waites has lived with his family in community settlement co-ops for the past 21 years.

"I guess it was the opportunity to experience alternative living and access alternative education for our young children,” Mr Waites said of his decision to move to Maleny.

He is also a member of the Maple Street Co-op organic grocer, although not as active as he once was.

Mr Waites said initiatives such as the town's Wastebusters co-op brought services to the town.

But the management style changed, negating the need for the co-op.

"There was no longer a reason for them to exist or keep functioning.”

Maple Street Co-op board member Sammy Ringer used to produce a quarterly co-op newsletter in the late 1990s with stories from all of the town's enterprises.

She said sadly, the co-ops that demised tended to take similar paths.

They would be born out of a big need, then thrive on members' huge amounts of energy.

But she said founders would retire or pass away and enthusiasm would wane.

"Most of it is the need is not there anymore,” Ms Ringer said.

She said the demographics of the town were changing.

"When I moved here in 1974 it was just the farmers and the hippies.”

But she said more prosperous people had moved into the area in recent years as well as more retirees.

Fellow long-term resident and founder of the now defunct Mountain Fare co-op Karen Syrmis said new residents didn't seem to have the same desire for the causes which spawned the town's co-ops.

"I don't know that people care,” Mrs Syrmis said.

VALE: Jill Jordan was a founding director of the Maleny Credit Union.
VALE: Jill Jordan was a founding director of the Maleny Credit Union. CHRIS MCCORMACK/cm166492a

She said the 2010 death of Maleny identity Jill Jordan also had an effect.

Ms Jordan was credited with co-founding the Frog's Hollow settlement co-op and the Maleny Credit Union.

She was also heavily involved in the Local Electricity Transfer System co-op, the Up Front Club, Wastebusters and the Local Economic and Enterprise Development co-op.

Most of them no longer operate as co-ops or operate at all.

"We were the co-op town,” Mrs Syrmis said.

"We did lose a lot of the driving force with Jill dying.”

But she said there was still a future for co-ops, particularly in the face of affordable housing difficulties.

"I think cooperatives are wonderful because you work together for a cause.

"As long as you are all coming for the same needs they work.”

She said settlement co-ops were a great way to get a cheap house.

It was a sentiment with which Ms Ringer agreed.

"The future of co-ops is in housing,” Ms Ringer said.

Topics:  community co-op maleny maple street sunshine coast


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