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David Holmgren

Photo by Oliver Holmgren

David Holmgren is a thinker. David not only questions the status quo, but redesigns it and creates an alternative. In the 70s, faced with a world that he questioned, he came up with the permaculture concept, along with his mentor Bill Mollison.

Bill immediately took the concept and travelled the world, teaching it to thousands of people worldwide, making himself and permaculture a household name. David however felt that the permaculture design principles needed testing. He turned his focus to building his skills, and testing and implementing the principles they’d created.

The result is David’s home, Melliodora, an inspiring and beautiful working example of permaculture on 1 hectare of intensively farmed land. There you’ll find a passive solar mud-brick home and office, a team of willing workers and a well-integrated selection of trees, animals, vegetables, fungi and bees. Along with his partner Su Dennett [who was profiled in Pip issue 5] and their son Oliver, David has developed Melliodora into one of Australia’s best-known permaculture demonstration sites, hosting tours and workshops for hundreds of people every year. Although it’s affected by frost and at risk of bushfires, Melliodora is at the core of David’s determination to demonstrate that permaculture works, even in tough conditions.

Living in and working from this permaculture homestead, Holmgren’s Design Team runs a multi-layered business and grows all of their fruit and veg. After 30 years of business and home life spent at Melliodora, in a closed-loop of food, water, resources and people, every action uses the least possible amount of fossil fuel and makes maximum use of local resources. This is radical permaculture at its best, where the household is political.

David was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 1955. As the child of working-class political activists, he was greatly influenced by the social revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. While travelling around Australia in 1973, he fell in love with the Tasmanian landscape and joined the innovative Environmental Design School in Hobart. An intense working relationship with his mentor Bill Mollison over the following three years led to the permaculture concept being developed, which set the course of David’s later life.

Even before he was the co-author (along with Bill Mollison) of Permaculture One (Corgi Books 1978), David focused on developing his practical and design skills for his own selfreliant lifestyle. He is a proponent of practising what you preach. He did this by making himself useful to a series of mentors, landlords and partners at suburban and rural properties, finally buying an unloved parcel of land in a residential street in Hepburn (about 100 km north-west of Melbourne) that became Melliodora.

David proposes we re-design activism, as permaculture is the revolution in the garden and household that anyone can do, and in the long-run can’t be ignored. To an extent permaculture was David’s rebellion against his parents’ kind of ‘protest activism’. ‘We need to demonstrate that the “do it ourselves” strategies of permaculture are workable, enjoyable and empowering,’ says David. ‘But most of all, that they can spread, if not like wildfire, then like a compost culture that regenerates the understory of our brittle and flammable communities.’

David started teaching the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in the early 90s. This led to the creation of ‘The Permaculture Flower’ in 2003, which illustrates the seven domains of action where permaculture can help with creating a sustainable culture: building, tools and technology, education and culture, health and spiritual wellbeing, finances and economics, land tenure and community governance, and land and nature stewardship. These are described in detail in David’s book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (Holmgren Design Services/ Melliodora Publishing 2002).

David’s latest project is RetroSuburbia, which brings permaculture design to the suburbs. David’s aim with this concept which is the focus of his new book and website (see article on page 24), is to place an emphasis on personal and household levels of action. It’s a shift from how to work with nature to a focus on simple practical things, like basic food habits and where and how you live.

David has chosen to focus on creating the world we do want. RetroSuburbia is a refinement of that process where there is space for activism and a desire to change the world for the better, through the household approach.


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