A place of growth on a mountain
Alastair McCracken wants to combine development with environmental sustainability, Chris Herde reports
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.’’