Preempting a fairly long email I will cut to the chase, because that’s the juicy part, and the part I want you to read the most. No point having it at the bottom when a lot of you are too busy to read and take in it all. So here it is:
I arrived a week ago here in Cairns for the 10th biennial Australasian Permaculture Convergence, held at Candlenut Steiner School, Kuranda. Permaculture (Pc) is a design system that can be related to pretty much any facet of life in a way that helps us live a more sustainable life, wherever and however we are currently living it. That is to use the earth’s resources and our own energy as sustainably as possible. The three core ethics behind permaculture are Care for Earth, Care for People and Fair Share. Beyond these ethics are twelve principles that encompass the design system, but for the duration of APC10, we were mainly grounded in the ethics.
If you put 350 people in a beautiful place who all share the same core ethics innate to life, you get love. There was an air of love all over the place, apparent as soon as I stepped off the bus. The chefs, the speakers, the kids, the adults, the hippies, the farmers, the elders, the people beamed in on Skype, all emanated love. Love for each other, the planet and for the amazing work that Pc is doing for humanity. I hope that sets the scene.
Four long days of ‘converging’ (I believe a convergence has an emphasis on ‘open’ discussion around a topic than say a conference) were at times intense, but mostly rich with conversation, debate, connections and inspiration. I experienced about 10 times more than I was expecting. I came wanting to be immersed in Pc once again (I did my Pc Design Course in Jan), meet some like-minded folk, see what happened. I left in awe of the movement, and in awe of the breadth of all the possibilities ahead. I feel like I now have my mission in life. Permaculture all the way.
I have gained numerous contacts in Tasmania, not least Bill Mollison, co-founder of the permaculture movement, who I had lunch with on several occasions and is up for me wwoofing with him in January (having people stay at your house is a part of Fair Share, or distributing the surplus). Mollison walked into the main hall on Saturday afternoon and received an immediate and most deserving standing ovation. At 82, he’s not young but sure can make a room full of people chuckle at his humble anecdotes. A truly remarkable man. David Holmgren (the other co-founder) joined us for the Gala Dinner via Skype. Setting the example for the rest of us that you don’t always need to spend oil to attend an event. I for one managed to attend workshops at the European Juggling Convention in Finland this year without leaving my bedroom.
Holmgren presented “Applying Design Principles for Activism” using a photo slideshow and one-liners. Here’s the first principle, and Holmgren’s one liners, to give you an idea:
Observe and interact.
Network for inspiration and information but don’t get mesmerized by greener or distant pastures
Read the social landscape to understand the constantly changing context for our actions
Talk to others doing similar and related stuff, no matter what the label or the looks
Find out who’s done this before, where it worked and where it didn’t
Failure is a gift, so long as we learn
We have a lineage and a history, make it a story to tell
After hearing all twelve of these, I was swimming with respect and awe. David Holmgren IS permaculture! The photo attached sums it up beautifully - I did laugh when he put his face in the middle of all the principles!
Of course the co-originators are great to spend time with, but so many of the other speakers were just as incredible. The pick of the bunch for me is definitely Cecilia. Until recently she lived in North Melbourne (she had to move out of her house this year due to the landlord selling it, so all her stuff is currently in storage) but spends most of her time working as a Pc designer in Japan. Her design is all about balconies and share houses. She was so inspiring because she found her passion in Pc and is doing just that. She says she’s “slave to her heart,” only ever doing what feels right, and for her it’s balconies and share houses. I could write ten essays on the talks she did. She was written down for one, but by popular demand she ran three. I’ll give you an example:
It’s cold in the house, you want to put the heating on, you feel that you shouldn’t use the heater but flicking a switch is much easier than finding a jumper to put on... “Whenever you are not doing what you first decided you were going to do, then you have a design problem, which can be fixed using Pc.” Cecilia fixed this problem by putting a warm jumper next to the heating switch. When you go to put on the heating, you see the jumper and it’s right there waiting for you. Of course the solutions can be different for each person, depending on the house, or the person, but the way she absolutely uses Pc to solve everyday life riddles is just fascinating. She uses Pc to make sure all the dishes are washed and put away, uses fish to ensure plants are looked after, organises the inside of the house with zones 1-5 (typically zoning is for outdoor food production). She’s so awesome.
For me, through the myriad of interactions, I have come across the rather intriguing phrase “Social Permaculture”. I know that when Cecilia says she has companion planted people in her house like you would plants in the garden, that that is a form of Social Permaculture. But I think it goes deeper than that, and I am now on a quest to explore what it means, and whether there is a crossover point somewhere where it meets Social Circus, something I have ben teaching in Melbourne for the last 3 years through Westside Circus. It doesn’t take much word-smithing to get to the notion of “Social PermaCircus”. This is the latest coined phrase and I am real keen to see if I can make it happen. That’s what happens when you go to a Pc Convergence! New concepts, ideas and inspirations.
There’s so much more I want to tell you... (in short) on day 5 we went on a day bus tour of the Tablelands visiting various Pc properties... A 2-acre family home set up on old dairy pastures (after 20 years is now an abundance of food production for the family and neighbours), a 20-acre polyculture farm, a humble but very productive 0.5-acre suburban plot, and then absolute epitome of awesome - The Botanical Ark - Alan has dedicated his life to preserving plant species from around the world and has several thousand species. The photo of the fruit on the table... all that fruit was picked that morning within 100m of the house. We ate a selection for lunch. It’s hard to comprehend but if you know how to use nature to your advantage, anything is possible.
On day 6 one of the APC participants wanted more so he organised a local aborigine elder, Willie, to take us out to a sacred and historical site. His knowledge of the land, fauna and flora is extensive. To think that aborigines were themselves classed as fauna until early 1900’s is unfathomable. They are more connected to nature, more understanding of the earth, more considerate to each other than us from the western world. Then we decided to invade, manipulate and slaughter...
Willie took us out to a place where his ancestors were based. They were forcibly removed in 1918. His tribe specialised in making axes, which were traded at the borders for plants, food, and other tools. He showed us a place on the river where the stone axes were carved using the rocks. The site is unprotected, unsigned and is rich in history. We also went to a sacred women’s birthing site, and a mens initiation ‘waiting room’. Along the way Willie pointed out 2000yr-old trees, bush tucker, trees that make good didgeridoos, uses for termite mounds, and medicinal plants and trees, including a bloodwood, literally bleeding sap. The sap is good for stomach ache (diluted in water), an anesthetic and can be applied directly as a toothache remedy.
Right now I’m sat at 107 Digger Street, Cairns. It’s an intentional community of 4 houses on a suburban block. I’ve only arrived today from the backpackers and feel so much more at home. For the $22 to pitch a tent in the garden, I will get everything included, that is internet, 3 meals a day, power and water. We will cook together and on sunday is “Sunday Sessions” which I believe means DJs and dancing. Every Sunday is a Sunday Session!
Until next time, be well.
PS Trouble uploading photos, sorry this email might be a bit big for your inbox. Maybe I need to start blogging. Hmmm....