PO Box 20433, Nimbin, NSW 2480

Nimbin is a community of communities. Nestled in the hills and mountains around the villages are tens of multiple occupancy communities such as Tuntable Community and Blue Springs. They are all different yet share a unique philosophy of sharing land and living in common that was spearheaded by the hippies who arrived in Nimbin in the 1970’s.

What is an MO?

In 1988 the NSW Labor government (Wran) adopted State Environmental Planning Policy No. 15 “Multiple Occupancy”  so as to regularize scores of intentional communities purchasing & settling on marginal farmland in north-east NSW and building homes without subdivisional approval. SEPP15 supplied state-wide a town planning mechanism whereby this process could be approved with housing density as per a formula. SEPP15 was amended by the right wing Greiner government in 1994, reissued in 1998 (under the Carr Labor government) but ditched in 2016 by the conservative Baird government. However, MO approval remains as an option that local councils can voluntarily choose to adopt. Very few (including Lismore, Byron & Shoalhaven) have done so. There are probably about 150-200 MOs approved in NSW.

MO communities are groups of people sharing a single cadastral lot and (in theory anyway) co-operating in their lives & land use. They vary in size from 2-3 households (maybe 6-8 adults) to about 150 households. They may be structured as tenancies-in-common (if small), companies or co-operatives. Preferably, they should have written internal rules or constitutions that are tailored to managing their needs. Some have a specific focus (e.g. Buddhist lifestyle or permaculture) but most are secular. Some encourage voluntary group involvement but many end up being “sandheaps of individuals”  like another suburb. Usually they manage their communities & common lands democratically.

NCOC encourages intentional communities as a way of utilizing & repairing marginal land, supplying homes at lower cost and fostering group co-operation & self-management. MOs enable housing choices, denser settlement of outlying rural areas, pooling of resources, minimizing of development costs  and can assist improvement of rural roads. On the other hand, they can increase demand on public facilities in villages & towns, enable unequal rate-contribution, lack genuine desire for communal living, involve dispersed rather than clustered house-sites,  conduce to poor land-management & weed infestation and be costly for councils to assess & administer. The restriction against subdivision prevents separate titles being available and so frustrates mortgaging.

By David Spain,  BA; LLB (Hons.);  LLM;  solicitor