On Saturday 26 August, a group of 15 gathered at Pinakarri cohousing community in Hamilton Hill (near Fremantle) to learn more about this award winning, intentional community of around two dozen people.
Robyn Williams, one of the founders and long-time residents of Pinakarri showed us round and told us how this project came about, how people live here and manage it together, and what they have learned along the way.
How it started
Around 25+ years ago, a group of social and environmental activists, single mums, and families, used to meet up at someone’s place somewhere in Perth, and enjoyed sharing meals. Conversations started about the idea of living together. People thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have more of this…”.
The group kind-a just decided, let’s do this, and got going. Their first step was to get a name. Pinakarri is an aboriginal word that was offered; it literally means ‘ears that stand up, or deep listening’, “through pinakarri we learn to love”.
The next decision was to approach the project as a cohousing community.
And then the journey begins…
Finding a site
The group looked at various options for land and settled on the land in Hamilton Hill. The lots were owned by the Department of Housing. (Robyn said the group was also offered the Moore & Moore building in Fremantle for $1…). It was a large parcel of land, around 1 hectare, and part of a much larger redevelopment strategy for the area. It was perfect, because it allowed for a combination of rental and purchase option.
Interestingly, at the time, the Federal Government was encouraging co-operative housing. Funding was available for groups to purchase land and construct the homes. A unique opportunity. The group was given a grant of $1 million dollars. Unfortunately, this federal funding program was wound up, and Pinakarri the last recipient.
The Federal Government funded the rental part of Pinakarri consisting of eight homes and a common house; those that could afford to buy land and build their own houses developed four strata titled properties adjacent to the chosen site. All are members of Pinakarri Community, and also, people that have bought and moved nearby have joined in.
The community consists of 12 architect designed homes, all passive solar designed. Eight of the homes are community housing (rental) where you pay 25% of your income in rent, and the other four are privately owned.
Pinakarri has been designed using cohousing design principles such as restricting car access to periphery, a common house and shared spaces. The common house includes the kitchen, meeting and office space, and guest room. It is used for tours, shared meals, yoga sessions and more, a real hub.
But it is the fire pit at the back of the common house that is the heart of this community. Twice a week this is where people gather for a community dinner. It is in the shape of a circle, which Robyn says “is the fundamental geometry for human conversation”.
Balancing private and shared spaces
Getting the balance right between private and shared spaces is important in communities such as Pinakarri, providing transitional spaces where you can choose to engage, or not.
Fencing can be one of those contentious issues in cohousing. In Pinakarri, residents have erected (natural) fencing, particularly when they have kids or pets.
When walking around, one of the residents pops her head over the fence, curious to know what we are doing. We’re able to ask her a few questions and she shares what for her the best parts of living here are: belonging, safety, relating to other people.
Operation and management
Pinakarri members, over the past 25 years, has implemented and fine tuned processes and procedures to manage their community. Residents are involved in the day to day management of Pinakarri. There are monthly business meetings with go for an hour and half. Robyn says “conflict starts with the premise that I am right, and you are wrong” At Pinakarri, people have learned to appreciate different strengths of concern, to get to the core – what is really important here, to make compromises and find out what everyone can live with. To get better at arguing well. They have learned what works and what doesn’t, for them. Examples include the honour system for the shared laundry, or the innovative but simple way to deal with dog pooh (a red flower pot!).
When Pinakarri first came to Hamilton Hill, not everyone was positive. The redevelopment of the area was a shock for existing residents, they didn’t know. There was even an action group set up to get rid of the co-op. The community changed the design because there was resistance to the common house facing the street. Fortunately, things have changed and settled down.
The Pinakarri community look out for other people in their neighbourhood. The common house can be used for gatherings and events. One of the residents has physical and intellectual disabilities. The verges have been planted: the olives are pressed into oil for the community dinners, the mulberry tree is well known amongst local kids, and “the snow peas, we simply can’t grow enough of them”, Robyn laughs.
It was an 8 year journey for Pinakarri to become reality, a journey that was intense, challenging and rewarding. The community has been existence for 25 years and is currently going through a re-visioning period: who are we in the next 25 years? Pinakarri is a great example of a well-managed and functioning cohousing community that we can learn from and be inspired by.
Thank you to Robyn and Ted for showing us around.
Want to visit Pinakarri? You are welcome to join their Open House Community Dinners which are held on the first Friday of every month at 6:00pm. No need to book – just turn up with food to share.
For more information about Pinakarri – visit their website