Hilary and Jeph

An interview about life and community at
Nightingale ParkLife
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Tell us a little about yourselves. 

JEPH: Hilary's a painter.

HILARY: And Jeph’s a sculptor. 

JEPH: I work in the public realm. I usually work with Indigenous artists, collaboratively, and at the moment we’re doing a work on each of the platforms of the new Metro Tunnel, as well as the Munro Library at the Victoria Market site. Hilary shows in Kyneton. We feel very privileged that we’ve been able to live off our art all this time. 

HILARY: We have an artists’ co-operative in Northcote at the moment - Artery Cooperative - and there are 70 artists there. It’s a lot of fun. There are always interesting projects on.

How did you come to live in a Nightingale home?

HILARY: We’ve been personally trying to do what Nightingale does for a long, long time. We lived in a mud brick house up in the bush. It was a conservation cooperative, with the goal to live sustainably and with minimal environmental impact. That was back in 1969, and we managed what we could with the technology that was available at the time. We did it from scratch: put in underground power, built all our own homes, were battling council, battling planning schemes, running meetings, keeping people together over 30 years.

We moved back into the city to go to university, but that sustainable part was seriously missing. We bought a factory in Queens Parade in Clifton Hill, and eight of us tried to set that up as a gallery-studio-apartment mix, with communal areas and courtyards and laundries, very much like Nightingale. We did a lot of work: got rid of asbestos and contaminated soil, and spent a lot of money and energy on it. We lived there, while we were doing all this work. 

A member of our artists’ co-op introduced us to [Nightingale founder] Jeremy McLeod. And we thought, ‘Here’s one that’s been built for us!’ It’s using today’s technology, and it’s more affordable for us, as we get older. It’s bloody perfect. It’s got community. It actually feels very similar to a co-op, in the way we live and share.

What appealed to you most about the Nightingale approach?

JEPH: I’m just really pleased that something like this is being done, that there’s a way of living more densely - which we need to do - in a way that’s less interfering to the environment. 

HILARY: We liked the sustainability and the community. We didn’t worry about what the building looked like. We knew whatever we got would be terrific. We’re makers, so we can make anything fit our needs. There's something good in every place that you live. We’ve lived in plenty of houses; we’ve looked after farms; we lived in Blues Point Tower in Sydney for a while, with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve.

What has been your experience of those community and sustainability principles, since moving into your Nightingale home?

JEPH: It’s interesting how, having lived here for a few months, people are so much of the same ilk as us, that we actually feel like we’ve known them for years.

HILARY: Not too much the same, because they’ve all come from different places. So within that sameness, there’s a lot of difference. But the core of why we’re here is sustainability and community; because of that, we’ve got this connection. 

JEPH: At this age, you’ve got some experience of doing most things, which is a nice, comfortable place to be. It’s interesting for us to see what we can contribute to the rest of the community. I remember soaking up all the information I could get from other people, in previous arrangements I've been in. 

HILARY: I suppose you realise that you’ve been around, and not many people have set up things like a communal garden before. But they’re smart. What is wonderful about living here, for us, is that all these people are much younger and have a lot more energy, so we can say to them, ‘It would be a great idea to do *this*’, and boom, it’s done. So we can back them up - and it’s a nice addition to the diversity. 

You get the most enthusiastic person putting their hand up. So if you want some graphic design done, somebody will say, ‘Oh that’s me’, so you get the best of the pick. It’s fantastic. 

Published January 2023

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