This presents a different image of the Australian landscape and land management and practices pre-European settlement than has been taught in schools here over the years. It shows that it was possible to design the land for diversity of life, provide shelter, limit risks relating to flood/drought/fire/famine, and continue in this way for potentially thousands of years.
Is this the sustainability dream? As Bill Gammage (author of The Biggest Estate on Earth) comments in this video, we wouldn’t be looking at a total adoption of this way of life for today’s inhabitants. We would need to learn about fire, and our population is too big for these practices to work, let alone issues around attitudes and expectations of way of life to make such a radical change from how society looks now. We would need a compromise where we don’t lose our biodiversity such as we are now, where we are not so threatened by the extremes climate change and the harsh natural cycles of Australia bring. Debate in the political sphere here seems almost stuck at the first step, just acknowledging that this is happening. What about the next step? We need circulation of this understanding and these ideas to churn knowledge into possibility for the future.
I’ll finish up these thoughts with two quotes; this one because I have always liked it:
“Not all those who wander are lost” J. R. R. Tolkien
And this quote from Bill Gammage, which gives us a mission and a glimpse of a new identity:
“If we are to survive, let alone feel at home, we must begin to understand our country. If we succeed, one day we might be Australian.”
As you can see, I have some reading ahead of me. Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual is the bible for the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and part of the course assessment is a multiple choice exam based on this book. If you are not aware, Bill Mollison coined the term “permaculture” and developed the concept with his student, David Holmgren, in the late 1970s in Tasmania. It gives me a sense of pride that Australia can have such an influence on the world stage in such an overwhelmingly positive manner.
Another Australian, Rosemary Morrow is a leading authority in permaculture and has implemented permaculture in diverse and challenging environments internationally for nearly 40 years. She is still teaching permaculture and contributing to the community, as you can see from her profiles on Retrofitting Your Home and Milkwood Permaculture, and her book Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is frequently mentioned in the lectures as a highly-respected resource.
From across the pond, American Toby Hemenway studied and worked across the US in biotechnology and then was inspired to change his career by permaculture, developing a permaculture site with his wife in southern Oregon. His book Gaia’s Garden is the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years, and his permaculture work is ongoing.
Now I started the blog with a long post, so here is a shorter one. You may be thinking, what made you become interested in permaculture? How did I find out about it?
Working at an engineering consulting company, there are occasionally topics held as lunch and learns where you bring your lunch and an expert talks through a PowerPoint presentation while you eat. A few years ago, I went to a lunch and learn on permaculture from an external expert (I think it was Dan Palmer of Very Edible Gardens fame but forgive me if I’m on the wrong track), and I was hooked.
Hydrangea Rotschwanz blooming in my garden in November 2012
Why do I like it? Here are my top 5 reasons:
It is efficient and it works – I say that because there are other approaches that work, but are more involved, use more resources, or are more labour-intensive. Permaculture is about examining the energy flows and designing with that in mind.
It is ethical – the key principles are care for the earth, care for people, and share the surplus. These permeate all aspects of permaculture and use these to solve local issues and global issues.
It makes sense – it acknowledges that you will be working in less than ideal conditions and gives you the tools and understanding to solve your problems. It encourages you to build in redundancy in the functions of its elements so one problem doesn’t wipe out your production.
It respects old practices and the wisdom of nature – what did people do before industrialisation and heavy machinery and aeroplanes and pesticides and fertilisers? They had economy of scale, they reused their waste, they followed the seasons. I’m not saying that’s all they did but those ideas make a big difference and continue to have merit as time goes on.
It is broad – it’s not a single area, it’s not just gardening, not just agriculture, not just energy resources, not just design, but all of those things and more. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into.
What do you think? What grabs you about permaculture?