Working for thriving economies, communities and landscapes.

The Castlemaine Institute acknowledges that we live and work on the unceded lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung and we acknowledge the vital role the local Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung People) continue to play as custodians of the region. The Castlemaine Institute commits 1% of total revenue to Pay The Rent. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

About the Castlemaine Institute

● Castlemaine Institute is a research and learning hub focused on creating thriving communities, economies and landscapes.● We are nested within the foothills of Mount Alexander (Lianuk) on Djaara country in Victoria's Central Goldfields region.● Our action research is, wherever possible, co-created with the community, to foster new and existing relationships, and to acknowledge and foreground the rich and diverse expertise in our region.● We exist to support the development of individuals, collectives, landscapes and systems that are evolving to meet the needs and opportunities of our times.● We do this by applying multidisciplinary depth to complex problems, drawing on and developing local wisdom through our work.● For us, how we work is as important as what we work on. We prioritise relationship building and the wellbeing of colleagues, collaborators and the broader community.The Castlemaine Institute is a not-for-profit charitable research and learning organisation established and operated in Australia.

What we do

Our work is currently centred around five key themes :Economy: How do we harness our collective intelligence and work efforts? What is the future of work and industry for our region? Who owns assets in our community and for what purpose?
Environment: What are our landscapes becoming? What do we want them to become? How do we co-design and co-create climate resilient neighbourhoods, towns and regions?
Health: What makes a good health system and how do we resource it?
Democracy: How do we broaden and increase participation in regional policy and decision making?
Housing: What is the purpose of housing, and how do we align our financial and policy systems to work towards this purpose?


Conversations around the creation of the Castlemaine Institute gained momentum in 2018, with the organisation forming officially in late 2019. Those involved have been driven to harness the immense talent and opportunity that exists in our region to find a new way of living regeneratively, drawing on our local culture and history, incredible wealth of expertise, established industries, strong institutions, and with respect to the custodianship of the land by traditional owners the Dja Dja Wurrung. We are all eager to be part of creating the solutions to regional prosperity that shift our town and our region beyond the current paradigm of economic stagnation, climate change and biodiversity loss, growing inequality, and democratic disengagement.
Upon embarking on this journey and moving to register the organisation, the founders discovered that the name and concept already existed, established in 2016 by renowned local architect Geoff Crosby. This first incarnation of Castlemaine Institute was piloted with a few innovative environmental and planning projects in 2016 before the idea was put on hiatus. We would like to thank Geoff for generously handing over the name Castlemaine Institute so we could continue to work towards a similar vision. We look forward to opportunities for collaboration into the future.

The Team

Our team applies transdisciplinary depth to complex problems, drawing on and developing local wisdom through our work. We are actively growing our network of co-workers and associates as we embark on a journey of regenerative development for our region and beyond.

Warwick Smith
Co-founder & Chair
Economics | Industry | Environment
Warwick is an economist, writer and policy analyst. His current professional interests include employment, inclusive and sustainable economic development, democracy, and climate change. He also has a background in evolutionary and conservation biology.A regular speaker at conferences and in the media, he also publishes opinion pieces in outlets such as The Guardian, the ABC, The Age and The Conversation.Warwick is also Program Director at the Centre for Policy Development, where he leads a team working on wellbeing economy and an Honorary Fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.BSc (Hons), BA (philosophy and economics).Connect with Warwick on LinkedIn or BlueSky Warwick's Blog.

Lexi Randall-L'Estrange
Co-founder & Company Secretary
Health | Water | Climate Change
Lexi is Non-Executive Director, founder and business owner with experience across public, private, non-profit, and social enterprises sectors in Australia and Internationally. Lexi formally served as Non-Executive Director of Engineers without Borders Australia, and worked in environmental and water consulting with a focus on climate change adaptation.Lexi is currently Non-Executive Director of Coliban Water and Dhelkaya Health. She is co-owner and Director of Research Path Pty Ltd, a software company providing data management and software platforms to leading Australian clinical trials and registries.BEnviroEng (Hons), MBA, GAICDConnect with Lexi on LinkedIn or Twitter @LexiRL

Jodi Newcombe
Economics | Climate | Creative Industries
Jodi is an environmental economist, creative producer and community organiser. Her areas of interest are cultural responses to climate change, new economic systems that work for people and environment, and co-design approaches for planning and innovation. Jodi has enjoyed a 20 year career consulting to government, NGOs and business across Europe and Australia on natural resource management, decision-making and policy design.Jodi is Circular Economy Officer at Hepburn Shire Council and is founding director of Carbon Arts, a business trialling creative sector-led approaches to climate change with Australian and international artists since 2011. She and helped steward the emergence of the Wararack Initiatives, the Shire's community-led platform for climate action.BChemEng (Hons), MScEnvEconConnect with Jodi on LinkedIn or Twitter @carbon_arts

Cassia Read (PhD)
Co-founder & Director
Ecology | Education | Design
Cassia is an ecologist, educator and garden designer. Her work centres on creating win-win landscapes that support both the wellbeing of people and conservation of biodiversity in a changing climate. She is an innovative researcher with interests spanning landscape ecology, planting design, climate adaptation, urban greening, wildlife gardening and community engagement. She has worked for university, government, not-for-profit and private sectors and has conducted fieldwork in ecosystems across southern Australia.Cassia works as a planting and ecological landscape designer in her business Emerging Landscapes, lectures in ecology at La Trobe, Bendigo and is co-founder of Climate Flags.BSci (Hons), PhD (Ecology) and GC-GARDESConnect with Cassia on Instagram @cassiaread

Alison Whitten
Alison is a planner and strategist with a background in urban planning, international development and management consulting. Her professional experience cuts across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in Australia, the U.S., Sub-Saharan Africa and China. She currently works in resilience-building in local government, with a focus on establishing collaborative partnerships and empowering communities to address long-term, systemic challenges.Alison has a long-time interest in innovative housing models that bring together social, health and environmental benefits. She also has research and practical experience in agriculture and sustainable food systems, including working on farms in the U.S. and Eswatini.BSc Systems Engineering, MUP.Connect with Alison on LinkedIn

Mahesh KandasamyMahesh has a background in economics, corporate banking, finance, social enterprise and co-operative development. She had a longstanding career at the ANZ Bank where she gained expertise in investigative research and Small to Medium Enterprise and corporate business analysis, before moving to the not-for-profit / community sector to work in the social enterprise, microfinance and community housing areas. She has expertise in governance, program/project management, change management, community engagement and social research.
Bachelor of Economics, Graduate Certificate in Social Impact, Master in Organisation Dynamics, and a Master in Sustainability and Social Change.
Mahesh is currently working on wellbeing economy projects at the Castlemaine Institute.BSc(ECON), Grad Cert (Social Impact), MLM(OD), MLM (Sus& Social Change)

Ada Nano
Ecology | Education | Cross-cultural Research
Ada (Theresa) Nano is an ecologist with 30 years’ experience working on biodiversity survey and research programs across eastern and central Australia. Her main expertise
lies in fauna ecology, with a particular focus on small mammals and birds, but she also possesses well-honed skills in flora inventory and threatened plant research and monitoring. Ada’s expertise encompasses cross-cultural ecological research with Aboriginal experts, ‘two-way’ environmental education in Aboriginal schools and citizen science.
Ada works with Warlpiri people to develop an educational model to support the skills and knowledge associated with expert tracking.BSc

Katharine McKinnonKatharine is a human geographer whose work engages with community economies, gender, development and care. She has worked with a broad range of communities in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, engaging in qualitative and participatory social research for community learning and development.
Current academic research considers questions of: how to achieve gender equity in ways that suit the lives and livelihoods of people in their different places and communities; how to reshape enterprises and organisations around priorities of care and inclusivity; and how to put an ethics of care for people and environment at the heart of economies and livelihoods.
Katharine is Professor and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Communities at University of Canberra.PhD, BA(Hons)
Connect with Katharine on LinkedIn

Contact Us

We welcome contact from potential collaborators, interested members of the public or media.[email protected]

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Our Work

Since the Institute's inception in late 2019, our team has delivered a range of diverse projects, working with local government, state government, the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance, traditional owner corporations, and many more. We are in the process of developing new projects all the time. Below is a selection of completed and ongoing projects.


Wilderhoods is an urban greening initiative that empowers neighbours to work together to create thriving neighbourhoods for people and wildlife in a changing climate. Wilderhoods mobilises residents to simultaneously improve climate resilience, biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing in their neighbourhoods by creating networks of urban habitat across existing public and private greenspaces.The Wilderhoods project was initiated in 2021 by Cassia Read and Ada Nano and has since received funding from the Adapt Loddon Mallee program (2022) and WWF Innovate to Regenerate Challenge (2023) to develop our Wilderhoods Process for neighbourhood engagement in habitat creation and to test our co-design approach in two pilot workshop series, run in the West End and the South Side neighbourhoods of Castlemaine. Both the West End and South Side Wilderhooders continue to meet regularly to create habitat in their neighbourhoods.Click here to download the full report by Cassia Read and Ada Nano.

The "Cool It" project

In 2019 the Institute was commissioned by the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance to assist councils across of the Loddon Mallee region to select and plant trees that are most resilient to a changing climate. Authors assessed over 400 street trees for their likely tolerance to future climate across three different zones: Central Highlands, Mallee and Loddon Campaspe. We undertook extensive climate modelling of a selection of these species, including 50 species currently used, and 50 new experimental species. The report and associated Species Selection Matrix contains recommendations of which tree species will be most climate resilient in each region.Click here to download the full report by Cassia Read and Meredith Cosgrove

MAS Plant Selection Tool for thriving neighbourhoods

We are currently developing this online tool, to enable all gardeners in Mount Alexander Shire to confidently select climate ready plants that will thrive in their gardens, through a user-friendly database of 100 plant species. This will support residents in keeping our towns green and resilient as the climate changes.This work is funded by a Small Community Grant from Mount Alexander Shire Council and is supported by Friends of the Box Ironbark Forest (FOBIF).

The Warrarrack Economy

This paper was prepared by invitation from the Mount Alexander Shire’s Community Climate Transition Planning project. It paints a bold and thriving future scenario for the Shire weaving various "Warrarrack" initiatives into a successful circular economy by 2040.Castlemaine Institute is one of a number of leading local organisations that are partnering with Council to co-design the community's climate response.To download The Warrarrack Economy by Warwick Smith click here.

Retrofitting for Resilience

The Retrofitting for Resilience project emerged out of a need to better understand how households can be encouraged and supported to upgrade or retrofit their homes to build their resilience and adapt to a changing climate. The Castlemaine Institute, Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance and Adapt Loddon Mallee (Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action) collaborated to explore this question through community-based research in Mount Alexander Shire. The final report brings together the findings from the research and recommends a series of actions to facilitate ‘resilience retrofits’, with a focus on households that are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events.Click here to download the full report.

A wellbeing economy for Mount Alexander

The Institute is currently collaborating with Mount Alexander Shire Council to prepare their Economic Development Strategy. At the same time we are working on a project funded by WWF to produce a community vision for a wellbeing economy for the Shire. These two complimentary projects are being run together, with broad community engagement and participation occurring across the shire.

Climate change and health: Local pathways for action and evaluation

With Bendigo Health and the Central Victorian Primary Health Care Partnership, the Institute produced this resource to assist organisations in Central Victoria to identify and reduce the impact of climate change on the health and wellbeing of our community, particularly for our most vulnerable population.

The Price of Capitalism

This paper, by economist Warwick Smith, is one of three commissioned by Getup to explore the big themes of capitalism, democracy and the future of work. Here Smith examines what capitalism is and asks if it is the cause of our existential problems, a consequence of them, or the answer to them. Can the problems in our society be addressed by tweaking capitalism, substantially reforming it, or do we need to abandon it altogether for another system of economic organisation?To download click here.

Castlemaine Currency

The Castlemaine Currency project explores an innovative response to the notions of a localised circular economy. As a collaborative, artistic investigation with renowned local artists and the Institute the project aims to produce a tangible, tactile and tradable currency incorporating local clay, which is then used to trial actual exchanges as well as spark conversation.