Their names are Paul Downton and Chérie Hoyle. They are ecological architects, designers, community organisers, activists and changemakers who have given astounding service to Adelaide and Australia for over thirty years, both professionally and as volunteers, in their advocacy of green cities. They arrived here from England and Cymru (Wales), via Jordan, where Paul had been teaching in the university.
Because of these two people, I became involved with a progressive community organisation called Urban Ecology Australia, which they initiated, and which was advocating for green, ecological cities long before it became a 'thing'. Adelaide hosted the Second International Ecocity Conference in 1992, following the first hosted by Urban Ecology in the US in 1990. In 2017, Melbourne hosted this biannual event which is now the Ecocity World Summit.
Through UEA, and its shop front, the Centre for Urban Ecology (where I worked as a volunteer full time for five years), I had opportunities to go to Global Forum ’94 in the UK, the Queen’s Trust Youth Forum in Brisbane, the Forward From Bejing women’s conference in Melbourne in '95, and Habitat II in Istanbul in '96, where I presented to the International Institute of Architects about the Halifax Ecocity Project proposed for Halifax Street, Adelaide.
The first of these trips also yielded my encounter with Bill Rees of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, creator of the Ecological Footprint, which spun off another line of involvement both as an activist and professionally. This led to me getting a chance to go to the US in 2001 on a part scholarship for six weeks and work directly with Rees's former PhD student, Mathis Wackernagel, who now heads up the Global Footprint Network. Through my role in government, Mathis was brought to Adelaide twice, and the first Ecological Footprint accounts for SA were developed in the mid 2000s, as a result of this chain of events.
At the Centre, I discovered email and the internet, and the Green Map System initiative out of New York. This led to UEA running a series of workshops with the Adelaide City Council, and Adelaide had the first Green Map in the southern hemisphere. Years later, smartphones and vastly better web sites would take these maps online, and led directly to the project that became Share N Save - mapping community sharing assets.
From Paul, Chérie and many others, I learned about ecologically sustainING development; complex adaptive systems before I knew what it was; passive solar design, thermal mass and different building techniques like straw bale and stabilised rammed earth; urban form and sprawl vs shrink; green corridors and ecological restoration; Shadow Planning; Barefoot Architecture; cohousing and Community Land Trusts; ethical funding, LETS and alternative currencies; roof gardens and energy and water management; community engagement processes; how to network, know what people are doing, and connect them and how to develop political smarts; public speaking/presenting and organising events; how to appreciate, be curious about and talk to many different people from different walks of life.
A large, ever-changing tribe of us, many university students and older people, worked as volunteers to manifest a piece of ecological city and community driven development in the central business district of Adelaide, which started out as an idea known as The Halifax Ecocity Project. It's name is Christie Walk, and it has won international awards from California to Tehran. It was at the Centre for Urban Ecology that I met so many overseas guests - from the Korean National Housing Corporation to Solar Car Challenge drivers from the US to French backpackers to the leader of the South African Communist Party.
Following my years with UEA, I completed a Grad Dip in Regional and Urban Planning without having to enter the library once (except for planning law) - I had just spent five years in a built environment action-learning environment. Paul was one of my lecturers in my undergrad degree at the University of South Australia, teaching Urban Ecology, Ecological Architecture, Urbanity and Landscape, Critical Regionalism, and introduced the ideas of ecocity pioneers and ecological thinkers going back to the 19th century, up to and including contemporary thinkers and doers like Paolo Soleri and Richard Register.
Christie Walk was built while I went to work in State government. Paul and Chérie remained my friends, and moved close to my neighbourhood some years later, which meant I got to see them a lot more often. In 2015, they moved to the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
If Paul Downton & Chérie Hoyle hadn’t chosen to come to my city, there are so many things I never would have had a chance to do and learn, and my life would be very different. Adelaide is so much more the better for their presence here over the last thirty plus years, and so am I.
Thanks Paul and Chérie for the adventures, the learning and mentorship, the laughs and the amazing things achieved here as a result of the energy that coalesced around you, and the gifts that you brought to this city.
Your work has, and will continue to impact, the world in ways none of us may even know about, or live to see.
In loving memory of Chérie Hoyle, 1946 - 2024
I met Chérie Hoyle in June 1993, when the Centre for Urban Ecology (CUE) opened at 83 Halifax Street, Adelaide. She was 47 and I was 21. I am now 52, and she is 77. I've known her over half my life.
I had just started university at the beginning of February 1993, and, in arguably the most serendipitous moment of my life, had discovered the last remaining flyer in the Magill campus student union office for something called ‘The Halifax Ecocity Project’. The little stick figure juggling balls which was the project’s logo I found out was drawn by Chérie’s partner in life and work, ecological architect Paul F Downton (who was later one of my university lecturers).
I discovered the CUE was opening that June, and wrote a letter to a newly formed organisation called Urban Ecology Australia (UEA), which had emerged out of the Greenhouse ’88 conference held in Adelaide. Following that, the Second International Ecocity Conference was held in Adelaide in 1992, and Chérie Hoyle was the organiser. I just missed it. The next one to be held in Australia wasn’t until 2017, in Melbourne.
A handwritten reply came from Chérie inviting me to the opening of the CUE in June 1993. Six months into my university degree, all thoughts of being on campus aside from lectures and tutorials vanished. The CUE became my campus. I began a five year stint working full time as a volunteer five days a week, 10am - 6pm, around university contact hours. Sometimes weekends, sometimes evenings. Sometimes, a bit of money for paid work came via the company Paul and Chérie formed, Ecopolis Pty Ltd. It was formed so no one else could use and misappropriate the term, or snare the domain name for this newfangled thing called a web site.
Through Urban Ecology Australia, and its home at the Centre for Urban Ecology, I met the most amazing variety of people - from the librarian David Munn, to the thoughtful academic-activist Matt Fisher, to law, architecture and design students Sam Knottenbelt, Digby Hall, Sophia van Ruth, Glenn Versteegen and many more - too many to name here. I also met Paul and Chérie’s children, and in particular struck up a connection with Rhiannon, aka Nonnie. This was formed when we went on an international voyage together representing UEA when she was 16 and I was 25, and have remained in contact, largely via digital means since she moved away.
At the CUE, I learned how to use a computer, the internet - how to build a basic web site. About climate change, climate responsive design, roof gardens, LETS, community land trusts, ecological architecture, community development processes, ethical finance. The physical aspects of ecological city making, but also the social aspects, the community building and all the intangible structures that create a city.
In addition to this community-based learning, I owe a debt of gratitude to Chérie - and to Paul - for the many opportunities afforded to me, and for which Chérie in particular encouraged me to pursue. I will share a few:
In Paul’s place (as he wanted to concentrate on realising the Halifax Ecocity Project), I attended Cities and Sustainable Development in Manchester in 1994, a follow up to the Rio Earth Summit. It was there I encountered William Rees, who developed the ecological footprint concept. Rees went on to share a paper with me ten years later that formed a core idea in the novel I wrote, and in my first years working in government, I won a scholarship to go and study with his former student, Mathis Wackernagel, in Oakland, California. Mathis would go on to form the Global Footprint Network, and through my role in government, he was brought to South Australia twice, the first ecological footprint accounts for South Australia were developed, and the term ‘footprint’ entered the collective psyche.
That same year, I attended the Queen’s Trust Youth Forum which was held in Brisbane, a week long immersive event where participants learn to work with others not-like-them on how they would address a range of issues salient to Australia. It was Chérie who alerted me to this award and encouraged me to apply.
In 1996, myself, Nonnie and Sam represented Australia at the UN City Summit: Habitat II in Istanbul. I presented to the International Institute of Architects - something Paul otherwise would have done - and Nonnie showcased anti-nuclear messages and activism from Australia and the Pacific at this event. Richard Register, who founded the original Urban Ecology in Berkeley in 1975, was there, along with many of Paul and Chérie’s contacts in the green cities movement. This incredible opportunity and learning experience was funded through UEA.
In Adelaide, we ran events like the Green Ball, Urban Ecology Quiz Night and other fundraising efforts, and I attended the first-ever WOMAD, by helping run the Urban Ecology Australia stall.
But on a day to day basis, the reward was enjoying the people I was working with who all had a shared purpose, and who were progressing something important.
There were shared lunches, dinners at Hawker’s Corner and Fasta Pasta on Pulteney Street after a late night at the CUE. There was wrangling of interns from all over the world, and of Adelaide City Council elected members and staff, and various politicians, local, national and international.
There were many, many moments of hilarity. No one could forget the chilli sauce incident - I had put the bottle on the table for lunch with the lid already loosened. Paul didn’t realise, and picked it up to shake it. You can imagine. There is a photograph of Paul I took with chilli sauce on the inside of his glasses! Another classic, as Chérie used to call them, was when she was sitting next to me as I was trying to type something on the CUE’s Mac Classic (ironically) - and for some reason I was feeling badgered or she was frustrated with what I was or wasn’t doing, and I accidentally typed my name as ‘Shat on’, which sent us both into fits of laughter! Thank you for the Freudian slip, QWERTY keyboards.
Cherie turned 50 in May 1996, and her family and friends organised a surprise birthday party for her at a restaurant in North Adelaide. The usual band of volunteers waved goodbye as they left the CUE that evening, only to secretly reconvene at the birthday gathering, along with Cherie’s family. Sam almost blew the surprise, as he was spotted by Cherie zooming in on his bike - well away from his usual territory - and much to her consternation, Cherie still didn’t put two and two together!
My time with Urban Ecology Australia began to wane at the end of the 90s - I had finished my undergraduate degree in 1995, and Austudy ended. I went onto the dole. I was still working 10am - 6pm five days a week, and did this during 1996 and 1997, until the system told me I had to go and get a job. I got a part time job doing admin and decided to pursue a Grad Dip in Urban Planning in the evenings in 1998 and 1999. I wasn’t an architect or a designer, so I chose planning as a way to follow through with all I had learned in some kind of profession in a career pathway I couldn’t yet see. It was the most Urban Ecology thing I could do. I breezed through it, and wrote most of the assignments (aside from planning law) off the top of my head - of course I could, I had just spent five years in an built environment action-learning organisation.
In the meantime, the baton was taken up, and some of the original people, along with many new, energised and realised the development of Christie Walk - a microcosm of what Halifax was intended to be. Paul and Chérie lived in the three storey straw bale house in Christie Walk.
For some years, I didn’t see much of Paul and Chérie, though we caught up occasionally - they had moved out of Christie Walk, to various residences on the other side of the city. I started in a government role, moving through several environment agencies. Then they moved to Semaphore, renting a large, beautiful house in South Terrace, a stone’s throw from the beach. Semaphore is also very close to me, which enabled me to visit more often. We would also frequent Stuart Gifford’s Sarah’s Sister’s Sustainable Cafe on Semaphore Road, with one such gathering a ‘map jam’ for mapping sharing in this part of Adelaide. Stuart also hosted a memorable winter solstice dinner which we all enjoyed. Incoming guests from anywhere ended up at Stuart’s with Paul and Chérie, and I was often there with them.
Paul and Chérie brought Snowy-dog into their family around this time, a madcap, white fluff-ball who has since had his own poetry series published, with a bit of help from Paul, who walks him on the beach daily. When visiting, I noticed Paul cooked the dog’s dinner before he cooked his and Chérie’s!
I would go to their place at Semaphore to watch Utopia - an Australian series in the style of Yes Minister, which skewers bureaucracy and office politics - me cracking up laughing (disclaimer: I am a public servant), Chérie stuffing her face into a pillow to cover her exclamations, and Paul making strangled noises at at every toe-curling point in each episode.
In their sitting room, The Beatles would be playing. Or The Beach Boys. Late afternoon light would bounce off of Paul’s drawing desk, and the eye would be drawn to any one of a number of interesting curiosities, from Chérie’s colourful quilting supplies to items collected on overseas travels. I still have the purple cushion Chérie quilted for me. In winter, a warm glow and the crackle of wood in the fireplace.
At this time, Paul had been writing a course for a Chinese university on ecocities. We were kicking around the idea of putting a popular version of this online as a course, and the idea for the Ecocity Design Institute was born. We got everything underway over many Saturday afternoons and some evenings - the logo, web site, social media channels, the launch email list, the content outline. It never progressed, largely because Paul and Chérie moved to the Mornington Peninsula south east of Melbourne in 2015, following their youngest daughter Rhiannon and her three children who relocated there from Adelaide. I couldn’t easily get to Paul to prod him about what was next! The domain name and web site is still there, Paul…
In May 2016, Chérie turned 70, and I flew from Adelaide to surprise her. She didn’t anticipate my attending her 70th, and when she saw me at the door exclaimed: ‘You rotten girl!’ She meant it with complete affection, of course! Nonnie had organised a marvellous Indian themed lunch and food, and Chérie had a lovely celebration.
I next saw Chérie when I incorporated a visit as part of attending the Ecocity World Forum in Melbourne in 2017, one where the founder of the original Ecocity Conference series, Richard Register, also attended. It was an interesting visit!
I saw Chérie when I similarly surprised Paul for his 70th birthday in September 2022. This was at the tail end of covid, and no travel had been possible for a couple of years, or would have possibly endangered their health. Luckily I was able to go, and I will be forever thankful that I did. I remember how her face lit up when I entered her room, she was delighted to see me. We celebrated Paul’s 70th with Nonnie, her children Jet, Sienna and Bella, with gifts, and with a feast of Indian food kindly supplied by Dafydd, though he was on the other side of the world at the time.
That was the last time I saw Cherie in person.
I rang her for her birthday in May of 2023, and was shocked to learn she had been in hospital after a medical episode. She had recovered well, seemingly with no consequences and was at home quickly. But it made me worry. Then I got the dreadful news of her diagnosis just after Christmas.
I’ve known Chérie for over 30 years, and although there is much I know about her and her life - how proud she is of her Welsh background (she taught me that the Welsh word for Wales is Cymru), and how pleased she was when sent a greeting to acknowledge St David’s Day; her involvement with Trees for Life and encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian native species; her open heart to, and her interest and knowledge of, a wide variety of other cultures; her ability to create quilts that she could have sold for five figure sums; the kind of face she would be likely to pull and the tone in which she would exclaim ‘Paul!’ when he said or did something daft - there is also a lot I still don’t know.
But what I do know is that I absorbed and learned so much, not just directly, but by osmosis, just through keeping company with Chérie. I believe being around Chérie for those years in my 20s has profoundly influenced what I have done in my work and how ever since - through the knowledge imparted to me, through seeing the power of collaboration, in developing political nous and communication skills which I needed in my day job, and which has served me well as time went on, as I sharpened my own version of what I had worked immersed in during my CUE days.
Knowing Chérie as I do, it seems so wrong that such a force of nature will leave this life in this way. Surely not the formidable Chérie, who took on political thugs (sometimes physically), who perturbed the apparatus of apartheid in South Africa, who as a young woman dug victims by hand out of the Aberfan coal mining tragedy in Wales, who even as a child, accompanied her father on what she later realised were the Berlin airlifts in the aftermath of the Second World War.
I am heartbroken for Dafydd, Seren and Rhiannon on the loss of their mother, and for all their families - especially Chérie’s beloved grandchildren. I don’t think I had a visit with Paul and Chérie after grandkids arrived which didn’t include an update on all of them, their personality and talents and stories.
I am beyond devastated for Paul - I know how much Chérie means to him, and they have spent the better part of five decades together, sharing children and grandchildren, the adventure of life, and deploying their combined, magnificent talents to something far, far bigger than themselves.
As I was writing this, a quote popped up on social media from author Terry Pratchett:
‘…no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock he wound up winds down - until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.’
The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.
When we consider the ripples Chérie Hoyle will leave, not only through her children and grandchildren and any descendants yet to come, but through the contributions she made in her life in so many areas, and people like me who she influenced, Chérie Hoyle will never die - if she does, it will only be when all human consciousness is extinguished and we are all stardust once more.
Chérie, your life wasn't always easy, but you drew all your coloured patches of brilliance together and created a truly extraordinary quilt you can be proud of.
I was writing these words with a tea candle burning. Literally the moment I finished it, the candle went out.
Chérie often said there is no such thing as coincidence.
It was not coincidence our paths crossed.
Mynd yn Dda, Chérie. Go well.
17 May 1946 - 12 January 2024
Chérie at the door of the Centre for Urban Ecology, 83 Halifax Street Adelaide, circa 1993