Neil and Heather Barrett, developers of the Paddock, with the Honourable Steve Bracks AC.

There weren’t many people acknowledged in the sustainability and climate space in the Australia Day honours. And though the awards have been controversial again this year, scouring the long list is usually a way to find some of the people who routinely go the extra mile in their chosen passion but are rarely acknowledged.

It’s people like Neil Barrett and his wife Heather Barrett who change the world.

Never heard of them? Well, you may have read about them in these pages when we wrote about their Paddock development in Castlemaine in central Victoria – noted by us because the project aims for Living Building Challenge standard, notoriously one of the toughest to achieve.

The other way you may have heard about this intrepid pair is if you live in Castlemaine and over the past 40 years have kept tabs on the couple’s steady work to raise awareness of sustainability.

This has ranged from Neil’s early job as Victorian co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth in the 70s and the pair’s establishment of a community solar purchasing outfit that has now “stretched its tentacles into central and northern Victoria and is going gangbusters,” Neil says.

Neil and Heather Barrett, developers of the Paddock, with the Honourable Steve Bracks AC.

Check out the website MASH (More Australian Solar Homes) Barrett urges. It boasts more than 850 solar systems installed by suppliers in the network and its role in raising penetration in the local Mount Alexander Shire from 18 per cent four years ago to 28 per cent today.

There is also The Hub foundation that helps small community groups with sustainability projects, as well as the program to rid this charming tourist mecca of plastic bags.

And after Tuesday there’s their Australia Day honours, with both Neil and Heather separately awarded Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).

It was just one of a handful of people working in this space we found who were recognised, and we know there are hundreds if not thousands more we could track down and interview.

Another award winner was Brisbane based sustainability and resilience advocate Jeremy Mansfield who was awarded an OAM, a medal in the general division.

Jeremy, who’s national sustainability operations manager and regional sustainability manager with Lendlease, thanked his employer,the Green Building Council of Australia and Green Cross Australia, as well as to the “diverse and smart diverse and smart network of engaged people.”

He also thanked the inspiration of his parents who’ve both taken home OAM honours.

He told us on Thursday that he feels the pressure is now on to keep doing good work. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and perhaps to inspire more support for the Green Cross organisation, which he chairs and is passionate about.

It’s a good point. There may have been controversy around the awards this year, as last year, but they are still useful as a way to recognise and reward outperformance that benefits the wider community. And hopefully inspire others.

In our patch of sustainability, we trawled through the list but didn’t see much recognition for people’s tireless work, from the community level to corporates to various levels of government (often quietly so not too many people notice but the work get gets done.)

With the Barretts, sustainability has been their life’s passion and a very open one. A key step to The Paddock was the $1million restoration project of an old pub to become The Hub, now occupied by various environmental groups all designed to influence change.

It seemed like a logical step to go further and inspire others to build their homes sustainably, especially as they’d worked so well with the architect Geoff Crosby of Crosby Architects and new builders working on stage two, Langdon Building, of Ballarat.

So, how’s it going?

It’s been tough, Neil says. “It’s been quite a huge task for us, much bigger than we imagined.”

And Heather admits that achieving Living Building Challenge status might just be a stretch too far. In the end it’s possible the project won’t qualify. “The buildings have to do the waste properly and they have to manage the low toxic waste and a certain amount of recycled energy.”

However, aiming for those tough standards might well be achievement enough, she hopes.

“The people living there are extremely happy. During Covid there was a sense of community because they had close neighbours of similar outlook.”

And residents have been paying about 70 cents in energy a week.

Another eight houses will be finished by November, taking the total number to 15 from a total of 26.

Sales wise, stage two is also going well with all eight dwellings all pre-sold at $610,00 for two bedrooms, $710,000 for three bedrooms and $810,000 for four bedrooms.

The next two stages will bring total dwellings up to 26 but prices for these have not yet been determined.

The Fifth Estate hopes to bring more news on the work Jeremy Mansfield is doing. As he says, the work that comes after winning an award may well need to surpass what generated it. At least such will be the sense of expectation he’s already feeling from friends and colleagues, he says.

We’ll be keeping tabs too. No pressure though!

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