[Scpg] short and incomplete history of permaculture

Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Wed Nov 7 19:59:50 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 
activist parents.

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 
in Australia.

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 
and Holmgren.

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.

Enter Rosemary
"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.

Rosemary Morrow
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 
same frame.

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.

Growth continues
"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 
New Zealand.

"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, 
Djanbung Gardens".

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.

Holmgren re-emerges
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 
from Melbourne.

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.

Going home
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.

Going international
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 
spread rapidly.

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.

Permaculture's future
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
(805) 962-2571
*P.O. Box 92156, Santa Barbara, CA 93190
**/margie at sbpermaculture.org
/*_ www.sbpermaculture.org

<http://www.sbpermaculture.org/>_P lPlease consider the environment 
before printing this email.

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