[Sdpg] short and incomplete history of permaculture
Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network
lakinroe at silcom.com
Wed Nov 7 20:01:02 PST 2012
In 2007, ABC Organic Gardener magazine editor, Steve Payne, and Russ
Grayson were approached by New Internationalist magazine to write a
brief history of the permaculture design system, with particular focus
on its formative years.
An edited version of their article appeared in the magazine. This is the
article supplied to New Internationalist...
1972-1976 --- the formative years
THE STORY OF PERMACULTURE begins in the early 1970s in Tasmania, Australia.
There, it starts with two men -- a teacher and student. But let's go
back before they got together, back to their formative years, for it is
here that we find the influences that set those two on a course that
would intersect... a course that would create something new from the
social and political turmoil of that decade.
Origins -- Bill Mollison
Bill Mollison was born in 1928 in the small fishing village of Stanley,
on the Bass Strait coast of cool-temperate Tasmania.
Bill Mollison in 2008
He left school at 15 to help run his family's bakery. Among the jobs
that followed were mill worker, seaman, animal trapper and shark
fisherman. A rough brew for someone who would become an
environmentalist, they led him to nine years at the Wildlife Survey
Section of the CSIRO (Australia's government science research
organisation) and then time with the Inland Fisheries Commission of
Tasmania. What the two latter jobs provided were long stints in the wild
forests and coasts of Tasmania, closely monitoring the life of those
ecosystems. It was this time in nature that was formative to Mollison's
ideas on ecology and on how the provision of human needs, such as
agriculture, could make use of those structures and processes he observed.
In 1968 Mollison became a tutor at the University of Tasmania, in
Hobart, and, later, senior lecturer in Environmental Psychology. It was
in that role that he linked with a student at the Tasmanian College of
Advanced Education, David Holmgren, and the seeds of Permaculture were sown.
Origins -- David Holmgren
David Holmgren was born in 1955, growing up on the other side of the
Australian continent in Fremantle, Western Australia, with political
David Holmgren makes a point.
After matriculating from John Curtin Senior High School in 1972 he spent
a year hitchhiking around Australia before moving to Tasmania in 1974 to
study environmental design (but gravitating towards landscape design,
ecology and agriculture). It was during the brief but intense
association between Mollison and Holmgren, thrashing out ideas in
Mollison's lounge room on the lower slopes of Mt Wellington --- what
became known as 'the republic of Strickland Avenue' --- that the
backbone of the permaculture concept was formed.
Not all that long after devising the original concept of the
permaculture design system, David started the work of setting up his
rural smallholding -- Melliodora --- at Hepburn, a small town in Victoria.
No positive direction forward
Mollison wrote of those times: "To many of us who experienced the
ferment of the late 1960s, there seemed to be no positive direction
forward, although almost everybody could define those aspects of the
global society that they rejected. These included military adventurism,
the [nuclear] bomb, ruthless land exploitation, the arrogance of
polluters and a general insensitivity to human needs. An unethical world
could waste more on killing people than on earthcare or on helping people.
"From 1972 to 1974 I spent time, latterly with David Holmgren, in
developing an interdisciplinary earth science -- permaculture -- with a
potential for positivistic, integrated and global outreach."
build an army of permaculture field workers to go out and teach the
ideas of sustainable food production
Mollison has said more recently that, by the late 1970s and following
the Club of Rome's report Limits of Growth, there was increasing concern
from governments and bankers about the world running out of resources.
"But no one had any long-term ideas and it was obvious to me what had to
be done," he said. "That was to build an army of permaculture field
workers to go out and teach the ideas of sustainable food production."
Nature and the intellect
For his part, Holmgren was attracted to the natural and intellectual
environment of Tasmania. He was also lured by Tasmania's Environmental
Design School that was led by Hobart architect and educator, Barry
McNeil. This, Holmgren says, at that time was "the most radical
experiment in tertiary education in Australia", attracting design
students from around Australia and the world.
Tasmania... it is a place where modernity and nature collide, both
destructively and creatively
"In this intellectual hothouse I met Bill Mollison, whose life and ideas
epitomised a creative bridge between nature and civilisation and between
tradition and modernity," Holmgren wrote.
Holmgren says he is sometimes asked why permaculture emerged from
somewhere like Tasmania. His answer: "It is a place where modernity and
nature collide, both destructively and creatively."
That can be seen along the edge, the zone, where the city of Hobart
collides with the tall eucalypt forests that clothe the lower slopes of
Mt Wellington. The mountain, with its precipituous dolerite cliffs known
as the Organ Pipes. is occasionally snow capped in winter where it
catches the moist, cold winds known as the Roaring Forties. It dominates
the city, a presence both physical and in the minds of locals who
intinctively look up to the summit for some indication of the weather
or, perhaps, to remind themselves that they inhabit one of the most
geographically beautiful cities in Australia. On its lower slopes, below
the olive green of those euclaypt forests, is the property where the
permaculture concept was born. A few kilometres in one direction is the
city centre. In the other, well beyond the horizon, the great cool
temperate wilderness of South West Tasmania.
Wilderness the South West might be, it was not inviolable and the
politically powerful Hydro-Electric Commission was looking enviously --
at the time that permaculture was being hatched -- at its wild rivers
and thinking about damming them. The Hydro had already inundated Lake
Pedder below the grey, wind-whipped surface of a dam's empoundment, an
action that lay almost forgotten behind the emergence of green politics
This gave rise to a growing environmental consciousness that developed
in Tasmania at that time, but it was a consciousness seemingly unaware
of permaculture ideas, being oriented towards wilderness preservation
and nature conservation. When that consciousness became self-conscious
and formed the early Tasmanian environment movement, it moved into
oppositional politics, the threats to the environment perceived to be so
great. This was the start of a mass movement that would culminate in the
victory on the Franklin River.
Just how much the early environment movement fed the emerging
permaculture concept is unknown, but it surely prepared the field for it
in a conceptual and ideological way. On the lower slopes of Mt
wellington, Bill Mollison was surely aware of that movement's gathering
Holmgren acknowledges this, saying that "the physical and cultural
environment that gave rise to permaculture also produced the world's
first green political party." In 1972 the United Tasmania Group (UTG),
which evolved to become the Tasmanian Greens, was formed.
UTG was the first authentic green party in as much as it had
environmental politics at its core. But whether it should be regarded as
the first political party with an environmental policy remains open to
"I was living in Tasmania at the time", permaculture educator and writer
Russ Grayson says, "and figured among my friends and associates some who
would later gain prominence in environmental politics in the state.
"I remember conversations with a UTG member, Des Shields, originally a
Queenslander, who told me about the earlier work of the New Zealand
Values Party which, while not ostensively a green party, had an
ecological element to their platform. Des, I think, may have regarded
this party as the first green party in history."
Holmgren says the Australian organic agriculture movement also sprouted
in Tasmania, part of, "An upwelling of intellectual and creative action
at the edge of civilisation." In fact Mollison was a founding member of
the Tasmanian Organic Gardening and Farming Society, the same
organisation from which Peter Cundall, who decades later was to host ABC
television's Gardening Australia emerged.
The island state, it seems, may have been instrumental in giving birth
to more than one innovative social movement.
1976 -- 1981 -- spreading the word
Permaculture made its first appearance on the world stage in 1976 in an
article in Tasmania's Organic Farmer and Gardener newsletter published
by the Tasmanian Organic Gardening and Farming Society. It was titled A
Permaculture System for Southern Australian Conditions -- Part One and
was written by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.
Max Lindegger in 2008. Max was one of the team that established Crystal
Waters Permaculture Village in SE Queensland and was instrumental is
spreading permaculture in Australia in its early years.
On the mainland, Mollison was interviewed on national radio by Terry
Lane. What followed was an avalanche of interest and controversy.
A key permaculture pioneer in Australia, Max Lindegger, who went on to
design the world's first permaculture eco-village, Crystal Waters, said
it was an electrifying time. Max, living thousands of kilometres to the
north in Queensland, read that first article and realised that " ...it
was exactly the way I felt but had been unable to put into words" -- a
common sentiment of people then and even now. He invited Mollison to
come north for a speaking tour.
In 1976 Max formed what may have been the second permaculture group in
existence, Permaculture Nambour. Meetings were at his home, and,
interestingly, he still gets mail there for the organisation.
The permacultural concept has caught the imagination of hundreds of
people in Australia... it may well have a wider impact...
Permaculture was starting to attract attention, but it took another two
years for this rich ferment to produce the first book on permaculture --
Permaculture One -- a Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. It
was published in 1978 by Transworld, with joint authorship to Mollison
In the book's introduction the authors comment: "The permacultural
concept has caught the imagination of hundreds of people in Australia
where we have given verbal descriptions and short resumes of the system.
It may well have a wider impact, as the time seems ripe for such a
synthesis in a world of famine, poisons, erosion and fast-depleting energy."
The year 1978 is a significant one for the permaculture design system.
As well as Permaculture One, also appearing in that year was the first
permaculture magazine -- initially called, simply, Permaculture. Its
editor was Terry White, a resident of the Victorian town of Maryborough,
on Australia's mainland.
Of the Mollison-Lane radio interview, White says: "I found it
galvanising. Bill's interview kindled my imagination in a profound way."
So much so that White invited Bill to visit Maryborough for a public meeting
"At that time", says Terry, "there was a lot of concern about youth
unemployment. In an attempt to address this, Maryborough had started two
employment cooperatives, one making clothing and the other making
bicycle trailers. An alternate technology foundation was planning the
establishment of a technology demonstration centre and there was
considerable concern over dryland salinity, which was attributed to the
removal of trees and the subsequent rise in saline groundwater in the area.
Maryborough... a significant hub for the permaculture movement for its
first ten years
"It was this context of concern about youth unemployment and land
degradation that provided a responsive setting for the discussion of
permanent culture -- permaculture -- and an emphasis on positive,
practical whole-system solutions.
"Permaculture One was printed in Maryborough", said Terry White, "
...and Maryborough remained a significant hub for the permaculture
movement for its first ten years. The town hosted two permaculture
conferences and two of the first ten day permaculture consultancy
courses". The first permaculture course had been held in Tasmania in 1978.
More than Maryborough
According to David Holmgren, it wasn't just Maryborough that was ready
for the permaculture message.
"At the time there was an upheaval in new, positive environmental
solutions as a response to a sense of crisis, especially the energy
crisis", he says. Concern over the energy supply was the outgrowth of
the OPEC-led reduction in the supply that triggered the oil crisis of
1973, and which led to rationing in some Western countries.
The work of Terry White was critical to permaculture's early development.
White says that people were receptive to Mollison because, " ...he stood
for something rather than against things.
"Bill had positive, practical solutions to problems... to real problems.
He came across as a doer, not a talker. He proposed that instead of
waiting for government or for funding, we just go and do whatever it was
that was necessary. People found this approach empowering... it released
energy. Permaculture might have been seen as a bit fringe but it was
"While in Maryborough, Bill was invited to visit the tip and the sewage
settling ponds. His suggestions for the productive use of wastes from
these two sites were taken seriously by the council and a plan for the
productive use of sewage waste was published in the first edition of the
Permaculture quarterly journal of the national permaculture association.
"I was attracted to Bill's idea of seeing problems as solutions, of
reframing questions as positive solutions. There was also permaculture's
systems approach -- it's holistic way of looking at things.
"Permaculture, to me, is a community development model... a grassroots
Impetus from the Maryborough meeting led to another of the earliest
permaculture groups in Australia, and then the National Permaculture
"Before that", says permaculture early
adopter-now-Permaculture-educator, Robyn Francis, "Bill Mollison spent
1976 and 1977 overseas, collecting ideas that would find a place in the
still-developing permaculture idea".
Wit, provocation and charisma
Mollison is renowned for his wit, provocative style and charisma, and
all were in full force at the time. Lindegger remembers the first
permaculture design course, taught by Mollison over three weeks in 1979,
with 18 participants 'invited' from all parts of the country. The venue
was an old hotel in Stanley.
He says the impact on those involved was life-changing and many became a
driving force for the movement. Tens of thousands of people have since
taken design and introductory courses, going on to work on projects or
in their communities around the world.
In 1979, Mollison published Permaculture Two, focussing on design. In
1981, still in the early days of permaculture, he received international
recognition with a Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the
'alternative Nobel Prize'. In his acceptance speech, he said: "All my
life we've been at war with nature. I just pray that we lose that war.
There are no winners in that war..."
The 1980s -- binding a growing network
The publication of Permaculture magazine was pivotal to the history and
spread of the design system. Like its eventual successor, the
Permaculture International Journal (PIJ), it bound together a
geographically dispersed network of emerging permaculture practitioners.
Permaculture was the first publication to highlight the important role
of the media in the spread of the design system. That would be more than
amply demonstrated over 15 years later with the broadcast of the Global
Gardener television series.
When White handed Permaculture over to Robyn Francis in 1987, the
magazine moved to Sydney. At the Permaculture Epicentre in inner-urban
Enmore (now Alfalfa House Food Coop), in a building shared with a small
permaculture shop and Australia's first ethical investment company,
Damien Lynch's August Investments, a team of media volunteers typed, cut
and pasted articles and images into pages of what soon became the
International Permaculture Journal.
Robyn Francis, one of the design system's early adopters, has made a
career of permaculture education.
Soon, Permaculture Edge appeared, produced by a Permaculture Nambour in
south-east Queensland. After a few years of increasingly sporadic
publication, Permaculture Edge disappeared after its last edition went
on sale at the 1997 International Permaculture Convergence in Western
The Permaculture International Journal (PIJ), as it became known after
Robyn Francis assumed editorship and, later, handed that role to Steve
Payne -- now editor of ABC Organic Gardener magazine -- remained the
mouthpiece of the design system although, in the 1990s, Green
Connections, which also reported on permaculture, came on the scene.
That magazine ceased publication in December 2000, six months after PIJ.
Significantly, PIJ became the first permaculture publication to go
mainstream, quite some time before Green Connections. "That was when it
became available on the news stands", says Robyn Francis.
With the turn of the decade, news of the permaculture design system was
spreading and, according to White, by the mid-eighties the ten
permaculture groups in Australia had grown to around 80 worldwide. In
1987, with key input from Robyn Francis, Permaculture International Ltd
was incorporated to expand the distribution of Permaculture
International Journal and to support the growing global network.
Permaculture also continued to be advanced through books, in particular,
Mollison's 1988, 576-page cornucopia of ideas, Permaculture -- A
Designers' Manual, self-published by his own company, Tagari.
Soon, permaculture's early adopters were teaching the design system.
There was Max Lindegger, and Robin Francis, today based at the Djanbung
Gardens training centre in northern NSW, who taught her first
Permaculture Design Course in Sydney. She was instrumental in having an
elective subject in permaculture accepted in the TAFE horticulture
course at Ryde College.
"Janice Haworth said there was going to be a permaculture course with
Robyn Frances at Newtown and that I might like it," she says. "I was
suspicious at first but soon realised that it was the approach that
enchanted me... it was interactive and overlaid with interconnection of
The different Permaculture Design Courses were often quite erratic.
The Blue Mountains are less that two hours from Sydney by train but they
might as well be on the other side of the continent, they are so
different. Lifted above the lowlands to their east and west, the
mountains are an ancient sandstone plateau dissested by deep river
valleys and clad in the olive green of eucalypt forest. Rainforest
inhabits the darker, wetter gullies. Rather than the warm temperate
climate of the coastal plain, the altitude of the mountains creates a
microclimate more akin to the the cool temperate of the southern states.
The town of Katoomba is the largest of the small towns and villages
strung along the Great Western Highway where it crosses the Blue
Mountains. And here, in a modest brick veneer house that she is
refitting for energy and water efficiency and home food production,
lives a woman who has accomplished much permaculturally, Rosemary Morrow.
Rosemary became a Quaker in 1978, she says, the year that Permacultre
One was published. She describes her discovery of permaculture.
The different Permaculture Design Courses were often quite erratic
Rosemary recollects the early days of permaculture.
"Well, they were chaotic really. The information was all over the place
and some of it was relevent then, but today it's quite dated. Some of
the claims were extravagant and not realistic. It all sounded so simple.
"It took me ages to realise that design was the main subject and that
Network Science was the key to it all. My background in agricultural and
environmental science and horticulture helped me to make sense of it at
a deeper level. It was very attractive because it put all these in the
Permaculture became my vocation
Rosemary tried to make order from confusion and explains that
permaculture education has changed from its early days.
"The different Permaculture Design Courses were often quite erratic and
no one had a sense of the skills and knowledge they wanted participants
to have by the end of the course. It was taught by enthusiasts with no
teaching skills. Copying Bill Mollison meant a 72 hour talkfest which
few could emulate. That's pretty well changed now.
"I was also intrigued by a course which began with ethics... none of my
other studies had ever mentioned the word. There was a correspondence
between Quakerism and permaculture. They had in common things like care
for people, simplicity, community, ethical use of money and right
livelihood. I was at home.
"Permaculture became my vocation and the more I worked with the content,
the more interesting and the deeper it went... links started to happen
with special nodes around water, plants and soil. I saw design as
philosophy and practice and the true subject of the course.
After discovering permaculture, Rosemary went on to take its ideas to
Vietnam and Cambodia and to other places. Today, she teaches the design
system in the Blue Mountains, where she lives, and promotes the virtues
of localism. Rosemary has built a network of local permaculture
She has also become an author of permaculture books. First, in the
mid-1990s came the Earth Keeepers Guide to Permaculture, then a
teacher's manual based on the content of that book. Later, she wrote a
manual on saving seeds for use in developing countries. On a sunny late
Autumn day in 2006, a new, updated edition of the Earth Keepers Guide
was launched amid the sweet white blossoms of the heritge apple tree
collection in the Blue Mountains Community Garden.
"The 1980s were a period of growth for Permaculture", says Francis.
"The decade started with the Alternative Economic Summit in 1984 --
which introduced permaculture to economics -- and in 1987 August
Investments made a start.
"We had the the Earthbank Conference -- that was the outcome of Bill
talking with the Schumacher Society. There was the establishment of the
Maleny Community Credit Union, the first and second international
permaculture convergences, the first permaculture design courses in
Nepal, India and Zimbabwe and then the third international conference in
"There was the opening of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village,
Australia's first ecovillage, a project driven by Max Lindegger (now
with the Global Ecovillage Network) and his team.
"Declan and Margrit Kennedy, in Germany, taught the first urban
permaculture course, for the first time taking permaculture beyond the
rural. Canadian, Michael Linton, introduced LETS (Local Exchange and
Trading System) to Australia. In 1988, Bill taught the first
permaculture course to an Aboriginal community at Alice Springs and the
decade culminated with the publication of Bill's Permaculture -- A
Designers' Manual, the most substantial of permaculture texts and one
still in print."
It was late in the decade that the design system appeared on the tube in
front of a mass audience, thanks to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting
Corporation), an event that sparked wider interest in the permaculture
agenda. Two early programs featured Bill and permaculture, one entitled
In Grave Danger of Falling Food and another, a permaculture garden
makeover, shown on the Extra Dimensions program.
The Manual, along with a cut-down version, Introduction to Permaculture
(1991), still sells well today. Among Mollison's other books, which
collectively have sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide, are The
Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition (1993) and his
autobiography, Travels in Dreams (1996). Mollison was rumoured to have
been working on a number of other publications in recent years but none
have yet been published.
1990s -- years of consolidation... and expansion
The decade started well for permaculture as it continued to spread its
influence. It was growing overseas, too, in both developed and
underdeveloped countries. In Australia, the PIJ held the movement
together, providing it with the news and information that bound it into
a diffused but coherent movement.
Permaculture was still far from mainstream but it was gaining in
respectability and credibility. Change, however, was only ten years away.
"The 1990s brought further growth", Robyn Francis continues. "My own
project, Jalanbah Ecovillage, made a start in rural Nimbin, as did my
permaculture teaching base and permaculture demonstration centre,
The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network was operating by
mid-decade, promoting community-based urban agriculture as a venue for
permaculture and associated ideas. Notable also was another television
program, the four-part Global Gardener series shown on the ABC, which
swelled attendance at permaculture courses.
"In Sydney, the television broadcast of Global Gardener boosted
attendance at our permaculture introductory and Permaculture Design
Courses, something that other educators reported too," said Fiona
Campbell, who led a Sydney-based permaculture education team that
developed a 110-hour, part time urban Permaculture Design Course. "More
so that the earlier television programs about permaculture, Global
Gardener brought permaculture before a mainstream audience in a powerful
Fiona Campbell led a permaculture teaching team which developed an urban
Permaculture Design Course in Sydney in the 1990s and worked with the
Permaculture Sydney association.
By this time Mollison had established for himself a reputation as the
visionary communicator of permaculture. He stirrer his audiences and was
the outspoken public voice of the design system, a reputation he had
built over the previous decade. He travelled widely to deliver the
permaculture message to audiences both eager and curious.
While Mollison was increasing his public presence, Holmgren remained
largely out of the public eye, quietly and busily testing permaculture
principles on his own property at Hepburn Springs, a couple of hours
In 1995 Holmgren published a documentation of those years on the land in
the form of the large format book, Ten Years of Sustainable Living at
Melliodora. This set out in detail the creation of his productive small
farm and permaculture demonstration site that included a passive-solar
sustainable home, contour planting and tree crops.
Other case studies and writings followed, including case studies of
Holmgren's integrated house and landscape designs in south eastern
Australia. Most recently, the landmark 2002 publication, Permaculture --
Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability has appeared. Popularised
through a speaking tour that promoted the book, it quickly captured the
permaculture imagination. The book offered a reinterpretation of the
design principles of permaculture and Holmgren's are now more frequently
cited than the earlier set although they in no way disagree with it.
Permaculture -- Principles and Pathways and Holmgren's national tour to
promote it did more than remind the permaculture network that David was
still there, applying the design system on his own land, overshadowed by
Bill's public presence though he might be. It marked the emergence of
Holmgren as the most prominent authority on permaculture in the country,
a reputation increased later by his speaking tour with US peak oil
writer, Richard Heinberg.
The popularity of Permaculture -- Principles and Pathways rests on
Holmgren's reputation as a permaculture pioneer and its serious approach
to design concepts. This, despite the appearance of other permaculture
books in the period between the publication of Mollison's Designers
Manual and Holmgren's book. There was West Australian permaculture
educator, Ross Mars' introductory volume and Patrick Whitefield's books
in the UK. Significantly in Australia, Rosemary Morrow's Earth Users
Guide to Permaculture was published in themid-1990s, a book which,
thanks to being written in her down-to-earth style, achieved status as a
recommended text for a number of Permaculture Design Courses.
In recent years Holmgren has 'come out of his shell', speaking and
lecturing around the world on permaculture and peak oil and sharing the
platform with prominent environmental activists such as Richard
Heinberg. He continues to live with his family at Melliodora.
The Tweed Range falls as a rugged, precipituous escarpment clad in
subtripical rainforest to the less-precipituous but still steep hills
that abutt it. Over the generations farmers have opened the country,
clearing those hills to graze their cattle. It was this rolling country
that attracted Bill Mollison and led to his establishing the
Permaculture Institute on a 2ha block near the end of a narrow, dusty
road not all that far from the town of Tyalgum.
Here, Mollison and others living on the site rehabilitated the old
farmland with tree and vegetable crops as an example of rural
permaculture design. Within a few years the adjining farm went on the
market and Mollison bought this, setting up the Permaculture Research
An experiment with a Permaculture Commonworks was launched, a scheme
through which individuals were given access to land, for a fee, on which
they would set up income-producing enterprises. A market garden appeared
down on the flat land by the creek; a bamboo plantation was started to
supply shoots to the food market and to market bamboo stalks; a large,
free range chicken system was fenced; a hillside was terraced and
tropial fruit trees planted; and a large dam was seeded with edible
fish. The scheme seemed to thrive for awhile on the enthusiasm of those
setting up the enterprises. Within a few years, however, it had collapsed.
It was now the late-1990s and it was a time of change for Mollison.
Having lived for many years on the Institute property in the
sub-tropics, he returned home to Tasmania to write and occasionally teach.
The Permaculture Research Institute he handed over to Permaculture
designer, Geoff Lawton and his team. When the property was sold, Lawton
reestablished the Permaculture Research Institute near The Channon, in
northern NSW, not all that far from where Mollison had originally set it up.
Mollison now lives with his wife, Lisa, at sisters Creek near Deloraine
in northern Tasmania... his homeland and not all that far from his
humble beginnings in Stanley.
Permaculture -- established at last
Permaculture is now mainstream in Australia, at least in gardening and
environmental circles, with 'permaculturists' on national television and
writing for major publications.
Key breakaway movements, now also mainstream, were inspired by
permaculturists in Australia, from ethical investment to community
gardening and the national Seed Savers Network. Some, like community
gardening and city farms, were not originally established as
permaculture projects, however permaculturists soon found them fertile
ground in which to implement their ideas. Northey Street City Farm in
Brisbane, set up in 1994, has perhaps taken the link with permaculture
the furthest with permaculture educator, Dick Copeman, offering the
recently-national accredited certificate courses in permaculture as well
as the traditional Permaculture Design Course.
Holmgren believes permaculture's popularity to be at least partly due to
its comprehensive nature as " ...a design system for sustainable living
and landuse that's concerned both with the consumption and production
side and that's based on universal ethics and design principles which
can be applied in any context.
"It's a grassroots, international movement of practitioners, designers
and organisations -- networks", he concludes.
Numerous books have been written here by other permaculture teachers and
there has been a coming together of permaculture and organic gardening
groups into a strong and vibrant force for the future.
The road from the coastal plain is long, narrow and dusty. Towards its
end it rises through farmland and eucalypt forest and ends abruptly in
front of an old, weathered timber building at a place called
Pappinbarra. Here, in 1984, at its first international convergence,
permaculture was born as an international movement. Present were
permaculture's early adopters, the people who would take the design
system to the world.
The international story of permaculture is so diverse and idiosyncratic,
it is impossible to throw a net over it. Certainly, an army of field
workers has taken the design system far and wide (as Mollison set out to
do), even if many no longer wear the public cloak of permaculture,
preferring to use its principles within their occupations or community
work -- whether farmer, architect, planner, simple gardener or community
More recently, permaculture has started to infiltrate the new local
government area of sustainabilitty education, although this is taking
place only in limited areas such as among some NSW councils. Why the
development is significant is because the predecessor approach to local
government community education --- environmental education (the actual
meaning of the terms is somewhat fluid) --- has focused mainly on the
conservation of the natural environment, water and waste.
Even in the 1980s, without the aid of the internet, word of permaculture
The first International Permaculture Conference was held in Pappinbarra,
Australia in 1984, kick-starting its international outreach.
The second international conference took pace at The Evergreen State
College, Olympia, Washington (USA) in 1986 and featured not only
Mollison, but famed Japanese natural farming pioneer, Masanobu Fukuoka
(author of The One Straw Revolution), and Wes Jackson, founder in 1976
of the Land Institute (researching perennial agriculture in the USA).
Guy Baldwin, founding editor of The Permaculture Activist magazine
(launched in 1985 and still going), says the conference was pivotal in
bringing permaculture to a mainstream audience in the US although
courses and talks had already been held there and a key networking
organization, the Permaculture Institute of North America, had been formed.
There is still strong activity in permaculture circles in the US
although Baldwin believes that, to some extent, "the momentum started by
permaculture in the early 1980s was largely swallowed up by activism in
other 'alternative' movements such as organic farming, sustainable
agriculture and deep-ecology." Nevertheless, he remembers a great buzz
around the international conference which led to many courses and
further visits from Mollison.
Outside the US there have been conferences and courses in diverse
locations, including New Zealand, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Denmark. The New
Zealand conference included cosmologist, Paul Davies, and Ecologist
magazine founder, Teddy Goldsmith, as keynote speakers. The latest
international gathering was held in São Paulo Brazil in May (2007),
featuring alternative and innovative thinkers from around the world.
Many countries now have their own peak permaculture bodies and
publications, among them the Permaculture Activist and, in the UK,
Permaculture. Although PIJ is no longer published, the Permaculture
International organisation remains, maintaining a website and a global
directory as networking tools.
Rosemary Morrow describes how she sees the future of the design system
in an upcoming book of biographies of people with a history in permaculture.
"I view permaculture today as still a prototype. It is barely thirty
years old and continues to grow and stretch out into people's lives and
take forms of its own, especially if we think how David Holmgren has
stretched the parameters.
"I remember Mollison saying to me 'permaculture is about tangibles.'
Today I see the tangibles embedded in intangibles... the conversations,
the solitude, the insights, reflections and feedback and new findings in
every part of the Permaculture syllabus".
......Bio notes: Russ Grayson is a journalist who has taught
permaculture design, worked on international development projects and is
active in food security issues in Australia. Steve Payne is editor of
Organic Gardener magazine in Australia and was a former editor of the
Permaculture International Journal.
Santa Babara Permaculture Network Logo
*P.O. Box 92156, Santa Barbara, CA 93190
**/margie at sbpermaculture.org
<http://www.sbpermaculture.org/>_P lPlease consider the environment
before printing this email.
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