A place of growth on a moun­tain

Alastair McCracken wants to com­bine de­vel­op­ment with en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, Chris Herde re­ports

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Prime Space -

IT was in Bali while he was run­ning a fives­tar re­sort in the early 1990s that Alastair McCracken first had an inkling of his cur­rent ca­reer path. The idea of mar­ry­ing tourism, ed­u­ca­tion and a sus­tain­able lifestyle in a vi­able de­vel­op­ment didn’t crys­tallise, though, un­til 10 years ago on a beach off the Gold Coast.

Back then he was the gen­eral man­ager of the five- star Couran Cove Is­land Re­sort on South Strad­broke Is­land, and the re­al­i­sa­tion of what was needed came to him shortly af­ter cel­e­brat­ing the open­ing night of the land­mark eco- tourism de­vel­op­ment.

‘‘ That night I went on to the beach with two or three staff mem­bers and we were stand­ing there look­ing at this 27km of un­touched, un­spoiled beach­front and this beau­ti­ful dune struc­ture un­der the starlight, and it was mag­nif­i­cent,’’ McCracken says.

‘‘ I re­call ask­ing my­self what we had done. De­spite ev­ery pro­tec­tive mea­sure we put in place, ev­ery ini­tia­tive to pro­tect, re­store and re­gen­er­ate this won­der­ful pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment, we had very lit­tle con­trol over the ac­tions of the peo­ple who chose to visit us.

‘‘ It made me re­alise a place was needed that helped cre­ate in peo­ple a deeper re­spect for our eco­log­i­cal and cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment and their place in it.’’

In 2003, af­ter steer­ing Couran Cove to a string of awards, McCracken and three busi­ness as­so­ciates — Tim Med­hurst, Phillip Crock­ford and John O’Brien — es­tab­lished the Ethos Foun­da­tion, which joined forces with the Gond­wana Cen­tre to de­velop Aus­tralia’s first com­mer­cially vi­able, holis­tic ed­u­ca­tional re- treat and eco- vil­lage, The Burra near Beech­mont in hin­ter­land.

For McCracken, 47, it has been a long and wind­ing ca­reer path since telling his par­ents in the late 1970s that he wanted to be part of the tourism in­dus­try.

With a fam­ily tree firmly rooted in the Bris­bane es­tab­lish­ment — boast­ing a pre­mier, scores of lawyers and pub­lic ser­vants — the young McCracken’s ca­reer choice cre­ated a few wor­ried looks.

‘‘ In the late 1970s no one knew what tourism was all about,’’ he says.

His tim­ing was per­fect, how­ever. Start­ing out as a bell­boy at Crest In­ter­na­tional in Bris­bane, he rode the tourism wave up­wards dur­ing the 1980s at some of the best es­tab­lish­ments around Aus­tralia.

In 1990 he packed up his wife and daugh­ters to be­come res­i­dent man­ager at the Grand Hy­att in Nusa- Dua. It was there that he learned that tourism not just a com­mod­ity but ‘‘ about cre­at­ing place and re­flect­ing val­ues of a cul­ture’’.

It was also in Bali where he met In­terPa­cific Re­sorts owner Chuck Feeney, which led him to help de­velop and run Couran Cove.

The Ridge is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from Couran Cove for a man want­ing a deeper com­mit­ment to a nat­u­ral and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence.

McCracken, who is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Ridge’s de­vel­oper, Liv­ing Com­mu­ni­ties, says the $ 40 mil­lion con­cept on the edge of Lam­ing­ton Na­tional Park on the Queens­landNSW border, fol­lows in the foot­steps of Ridge, at Binna the Gold Coast over­seas holis­tic learn­ing cen­tres Schu­macher Col­lege in Bri­tain.

‘‘ We wanted to es­tab­lish a place in Aus­tralia that was a vil­lage of­fer­ing peo­ple a place of en­rich­ment, a place of con­nec­tion and a place of learn­ing and growth,’’ he says.

‘‘ We didn’t want a lux­ury re­treat in the rain­for­est but a whole vil­lage — a holis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence — not just a con­nec­tion to na­ture, not just a won­der­ful nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, but a place with all the el­e­ments of sus­tain­able de­sign, ways to mit­i­gate hu­man im­pact and a place where peo­ple can learn about the en­vi­ron­ment, cre­ativ­ity and cul­ture.

‘‘ What tourism is about is ex­pe­ri­ence. We want the whole vil­lage to be an ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

Build­ing of the vil­lage will start later this year and is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2011. With West­pac back­ing the project there are


as plans for 120 eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able man­aged apart­ments and hol­i­day homes on 13ha, with 77ha re­served for open space.

De­signed by Bris­bane’s Dim­itriou Ar­chi­tects, the stage one apart­ments cost $ 349,000 while four- bed­room homes are $ 725,000.

The vil­lage’s pulse will be the Ethos Cen­tre, which will pro­vide cour­ses rang­ing from lead­er­ship and cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity to ones fo­cus­ing on per­ma­cul­ture gar­den­ing, ecol­ogy, cook­ing, spir­i­tu­al­ity and health and lifestyle.

The vil­lage will also have a bak­ery, gen­eral store, tea rooms, an art gallery and with the sup­port of the Beaudesert Shire Coun­cil a lo­cal en­ter­prise hub. There are plans for or­ganic gar­dens and or­chards to pro­vide a large por­tion of the vil­lage’s fresh food.

McCracken says Liv­ing Com­mu­ni­ties is in the process of find­ing a de­vel­op­ment part­ner.

‘‘ We have a tremen­dous amount of in­ter­est from the main­stream de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity. We have fielded ap­proaches from sev­eral de­vel­op­ers who recog­nise that this is the fu­ture,’’ he says.

‘‘ Peo­ple want to live in en­vi­ron­ments of great nat­u­ral beauty that are pro­tected, they want to live in places with a good set of val­ues and a cul­ture, and they want to live in a place of learn­ing and well­ness.

‘‘ The de­vel­op­ment in­dus­try be­lieves it can cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties that will give peo­ple well­ness and pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment.’’

McCracken says de­vel­op­ers are recog­nis­ing the de­mand for in­no­va­tive sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties, but the fi­nan­cial sec­tor and gov­ern­ments are well be­hind the pace.

‘‘ The cur­rent busi­ness- as- usual approach by gov­ern­ment, fi­nanciers, in­sur­ers and bankers makes it very dif­fi­cult to be in­no­va­tive and of­fer a prod­uct that is seen as out of the or­di­nary,’’ he says.

‘‘ We tend to be tamed and timid peo­ple and the cur­rent eco­nomic sys­tem is founded on the fear of loss and the in­abil­ity to recog­nise the eco­nomic gains of healthy, na­ture- fo­cused com­mu­ni­ties.’’

McCracken says there is a de­vel­op­ment trend to­wards cre­at­ing neig­bour­hoods with a real sense of com­mu­nity.

‘‘ Peo­ple re­alise that the way we grew our so­ci­ety in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury is un­sus­tain­able,’’ he says.

‘‘ We are recog­nis­ing that we need to cor­rect that and there is a pen­du­lum swing­ing back to a re­lo­cal­i­sa­tion of life, so peo­ple know their neigh­bours, grow veg­eta­bles in their back­yard and feel they be­long.’’

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