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Baw Baw Sustainability Network 2007 to 2024

The  Baw Baw Sustainability Network is an independent not-for-profit group bridging the gap between talk and action on Sustainable Living.

We started in January 2007 from an initiative of Craig Holmes, the pharmacist at Trafalgar, who as a member of the Trafalgar Community Development Association called a meeting of people interested in addressing climate change and sustainability issues. About 20 people, mainly from Trafalgar and Yarragon met in the Baw Baw Shire meeting room in Trafalgar and the ‘Trafalgar and Yarragon Sustainability Network’ was formed. Current members who were at that first meeting were Malcolm McKelvie, Carol and Bernie Rowley and Ken and Wendy Savage.

The executive formed was Craig Holmes as Chairman, Rod Wellard Secretary, Malcolm McKelvie Publicity and Communications and Geoff Boadle Sustainability Advisor. Malcolm later took on the role of President and held the position for 15 years with Inge Mitchell taking over in August 2023.

Later it became evident that we were drawing people from a much wider area, so it was renamed the Baw Baw Sustainability Network and gained Incorporated Association status in Victoria in 2008. Initially we met once a month in Trafalgar and had general discussions, talked about what we might do and invited guest speakers along. 

As time went by, and the membership widened, it was decided to form a committee that would meet monthly to sort out the business matters. Guest speakers and other events were organized for members and to attract the wider community.

The group gradually expanded its activities, partly as a result of strategy meetings held each year, and sometimes because of particular circumstances that arose which offered opportunities.

Free energy workshops led by Steve Walsh were run for some time to help people understand their electricity bills and work our how the appliances they use contribute to the cost, allowing them to reduce their electricity consumption. 

Sustainable House Day, a national event, was taken up by BBSN, sourcing local people to open their homes so visitors could get ideas if building or retrofitting their own homes. Each year about 4 or more houses were open and generally attracted very large numbers of visitors. 

A Food Buying Group organised bulk purchases of dry goods and locally grown fruit and vegetables for members of the BBSN at very competitive prices. The priorities were good quality, organic, biodynamic, Australian grown or locally grown wherever possible.  

Guest speakers formed an increasingly important focus, and we publicised them widely to spread the message as far as possible. Two notable successes were Alan Pears from RMIT who spoke on Sustainable Building to an audience of 85 in Warragul, and Graeme Ambrose who spoke on the latest in lighting development to over 55 people. 

Around 2010 the BBSN employed a project officer for one day a week and this position is vital to keep things running and co-ordinated. Tammy Logan was our first project officer and did much to set us on our feet.  Next we employed Natasha Brown who did a fantastic job taking on publicity and went well beyond the call of duty in her time and commitment to our group. Anthea Merson was next.


Anthea with her energy and enthusiasm, and a marketing and communications background, was responsible for setting up the WIX website and Mailchimp database. She was instrumental in event co-ordination and evaluation and played a vital part in developing BBSN into a successful organisation. After Anthea came Krista Mountford.

Krista held the position for 3 years, retiring in 2023.  Again, Krista spent many hours doing marketing, communications and event co-ordination.  Her title changed to Communications Manager. The use of social media has become vital to spreading our messages and it was Krista who grew this aspect of our work.

Around 2012 Geoff Boadle and Simone Goekes, who owned Sustainable Impact, bought the property next door that had an old house which had been set up as a restaurant. It was leased out as a café and for a time the BBSN had a table in one of the rooms where information was available and volunteers when present could answer questions. 

Some members loaned money to help with the initial purchase, then the building was retrofitted as a demonstration of a sustainable building. Insulation, solar panels, water tanks are some of the features, and all available materials on site and donated second hand were used around the grounds such as brick paving and paths. Incredible hard work was done by Geoff and Simone and BBSN members.

The back yard was leased to the BBSN for 9 years, renewable every 3 years, at zero dollars a year. Geoff obtained two portables, which were to be removed from the old Yarragon Primary School next door, by approaching the company that supplied portables to the Education Department. Due to the strict rules of the Dept of Education, the portables had to be transported to the depot on the western side of Melbourne, then transported back to the site. One of them was donated to the BBSN by the company.  The whole site was called REstore and the BBSN used it as a base for presentations, workshops, meetings and displays.

A demonstration permaculture garden was developed around the café, and this is how the Gardening group began. Keen volunteers met each Wednesday morning and in the first year laid out the bones of the garden designed by the local permaculture group. 

When a new café was opened by Michael and Ruth Fozard the BBSN benefitted again, as they were keen supporters of our group. A synergy operated between the café and the BBSN, with the café drawing in people who could learn about what the BBSN had to offer, and the BBSN drawing in people who would use the café. 

Wicking beds were set up using old railway sleepers to form beds which were lined with thick plastic. There was a mandala garden, herb spiral, chook pen, pergola covered with a grape vine and at one stage an aquaponic system. Compost bins and bays were used to deal with the café and garden waste. A poly tunnel with a self-watering system allowed seedlings to be grown. The garden was very productive with produce used by the café, or taken home by volunteers. The café particularly liked being able to pick herbs, leafy greens and flowers. It required a lot of work, and fortunately over the years there has been a constant group prepared to do this. Morning tea was in the REstore building and a lot of discussion took place and friends made.

Ruth and Michael were happy for us to have a plant stall in front of the café with plants supplied from the garden, or brought in by garden members from their own gardens. It relied on an ‘honesty system’ with the café collecting the money for us, it was very popular with café clients and a good money spinner for the BBSN.

There appeared to be quite an interest from the public in seeing how food was grown in home gardens, so Wendy Savage started sourcing gardens that were willing to open to the public. These were opened as part of the Gardivalia Festival, a well established open gardens weekend. They were listed as ‘Food Gardens’ and Wendy and a committee organized this for 6 years. 

In 2017 Gardivalia didn’t run due to a shortage of committee members so the committee decided to go it alone. More committee members were sought and it was decided to include artists in the garden to broaden the appeal. The name Creative Harvest was born, and as time went by the artists expanded to include any creative person associated with gardens and producing original, sustainable products such as soaps, garden ornaments or preserves . The event became bigger and more successful over time with about 12 gardens opening and a steady flow of people viewing them, drawn from the local area and well beyond. It made a good profit for the BBSN to use to help run the organization.

The feedback from visitors and gardeners alike was always positive as they found it a real knowledge sharing experience. Visitors were able to learn how to get started, get tips on growing and new ideas on things to grow and how to do it. Gardeners also learnt from the visitors’ experiences.

Kristy Plumridge joined the committee in 2020 after opening her garden and had ideas and skills in advertising and social media. It was fortuitous that she had when Wendy found she had cancer at the end of 2020 and had to withdraw from organizing roles. Kristy seamlessly took over and over the last 4 years the event became bigger and better with people employed to develop and manage the website, social media and advertising. The offerings have expanded to include workshops and food and coffee vans so visitors can plan a whole weekend around the event.

The home energy assessments and retrofitting activity area has grown from the domestic energy workshops started and led by Steve Walsh. A few members attended home and then business energy auditing training sessions run by Ryan at Reduction Revolution and from there a home energy assessment service was started. A guest speaker from Passive House Australia introduced blowerdoor testing as part of her presentation and the committee decided to seek funding for the equipment and training as it was an exciting addition to our assessment services. Malcolm McKelvie became the lead operator of the blowerdoor and went on to complete accreditation with the Air Tightness Testing and Measurement Association (ATTMA). He also completed level 1 thermography training with our thermal camera.

The experience of testing homes and diagnosing the leaky areas led naturally to deciding to start sealing the leaks at the same time. Draught proofing became our first retrofit activity to add to the growing range of assessment services, performed mainly by Malcolm, Andrew Mountford and Mike Hafner. 

The Residential Efficiency Scorecard tool had been in development by the state government for some years and community organisations were invited to participate by having experienced home energy assessors do training and gain accreditation to use the tool. Malcolm completed this and was joined by Michele Geoffrey and Rhys Freeman in South Gippsland. More recently, Mike Hafner completed Scorecard and ATTMA accreditations. Scorecard provides a star rating on existing homes and is only delivered by accredited assessors. 

Underfloor insulation is another retrofit service BBSN can now provide, though we are still to complete the voluntary accreditation with the Energy Efficiency Council. At the time of writing we are in negotiation to become regional distributors of Magnetite and Ecoglaze, both forms of secondary glazing for poorly performing windows. We are also setting up a partnership with an Accredited Provider in the Victorian Energy Upgrades system so that some of our draught proofing work will attract certificate funding and thus reduce the cost to our customers. 

In 2018 Geoff and Simone sold the property and the new owners were not sympathetic to the BBSN and made things increasingly difficult for us to remain there. We did however remain until a year shy of when our lease expired and then found a new home at the Uniting Church in Yarragon. The hall behind the church is our base and a garden is being built behind by the same loyal group of gardeners who did such a good job at REstore.

The benefit to the Uniting Church is the work done by the BBSN to make the building energy efficient, including draught proofing. The church applied for and won a grant to help change from gas appliances to efficient electric, including cooktop, hot water and heat pump heating and cooling. Gippsland Climate Change Network also facilitated the provision of a solar PV system and a destination electric vehicle charger at the front of the church.

There are many other things the BBSN has done and continues to do to spread the sustainability message, such as film nights, pizza nights using a hand built oven, articles in the local papers, displays at events and festivals and a regular newsletter to our members. 

We have tax deductibility status as a registered environmental fund with Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), and have an active website. We have a steady membership of about 100 and an extensive email list of more than 700 interested people and an ever-growing social media followers. 

Since 2007, our membership grown and our demographics have changed but we would be nothing without the work and dedication of many to the sustainability cause.



Wendy Savage, 2024

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