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Bioregions: Our Spirit Of Place


‘[A bioregion] is sometimes defined by a watershed, sometimes by remnant or existing tribal or language boundaries, at times by town boundaries, suburban streets, or districts, and at times by some combination of the above factors.’


Clockwise from top: The Yarra Valley Bioregion; Local produce for local people; Nethercote Market sells only local produce; Weed walk at bioregional permaculture convergence in Bega; quote by Bill Mollison, from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, (Tagari Publishing 1988). Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt


A bioregion is a geographic area with boundaries defined by natural features such as catchments, soil types, geographic features or vegetation types. Bioregions create a sense of place; where people can identify with their location; in which people can create some form of community self-reliance, producing and trading within those boundaries.

The idea of bioregions appeared in the 1970s, along with permaculture and, like permaculture, bioregions are a way of describing things that already exist but seeing them differently. Bioregions are more easily identified in rural areas, but even in cities, catchments such as the Yarra or the Hawkesbury have distinct bioregional characteristics, as do many suburbs.

‘Transition Towns’ has emerged over the last decade as a global movement full of practical actions to build resilience in a world threatened by peak oil and climate change. When combined with permaculture principles and the art of reading the landscape, Transition Towns have empowered communities to produce ‘energy descent action plans’, detailed permaculture designs for whole bioregions, not just for a farm or garden.

Bioregionalism defines a geographic region and then identifies individuals and groups prepared to work together consciously toward achieving a high degree of self reliance in basic human needs. As with any design, well-placed elements and functions are required.

In bioregional design, needs such as local food security, transport, housing, access to good education and energy generation become essential functions. To support these functions, elements could include suitable land tenure, organic farming, agroforestry, appropriate technology, holistic health services, skilled and passionate people and community venues where this can all take place.

A glance across the social landscape in Australia finds country towns and suburbs where populations are developing the social fabric that attracts kindred spirits. Since the 1970s these sea/tree change folk have expressed their disillusionment with the way society is heading by going against the flow toward the cities. This movement and permaculture have evolved hand in hand.

Sea/tree changers often find themselves in towns around 100 kilometres from a major city, with good rail and road links – such as Maleny (Queensland), Katoomba (New South Wales), or Castlemaine (Victoria) – or further afield in places like the Bega Valley (NSW) or Denmark (Western Australia). Urban concentrations of like-minded people exist in places such as Brunswick/Northcote in inner Melbourne (around CERES). In these places the foresight of early ‘green’ pioneers saw the creation of invisible structures that laid the foundations which communities benefit from today.

The common elements in these towns/regions, that support and complement each other, include: alternative schools; Local Employment and Trading Systems (LETS) or similar local currencies; farmers’ markets and food hubs; bulk wholefood shops; sourdough bakers; permaculture courses; salvage yards; earth builders; and community gardens.

Bioregional thinking is still needed to help these communities to grow and strengthen. Although we work to develop local food production and distribution systems where we live, we are far from being able to eat completely locally. Changing traditions of local agriculture is a long slow process, but hundreds – if not thousands – of people are now buying land and making a go of ethical farming.

In the Bega Valley bioregion, South East Producers (SCPA), is an umbrella organisation for individuals and groups working to increase local food security. It promotes and develops new agribusiness ventures. In Castlemaine, the Growing Abundance Project started as a community food project and has extended to social enterprises. Permaculture principles have played a subtle yet significant role in the evolution of these organisations.

As we build for the future, strong bioregions need supportive fellow travellers – and as permaculturists we can help by making the ‘people connections’ necessary to map the big picture. Convergences at bioregional, national and global levels help to build this. (See noticeboard page.)

Locating your ‘spirit of place’ in a bioregion is an act of self-regulation, a way to anchor your life and activities somewhere, to reflect the need to work with others.

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