WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND IN PERMACULTURE?
I did my PDC with Bill in 1983 in Stanley, Tasmania, when I was thirty. Everyone loved the course. I was studying Environmental Science at Murdoch Uni at the time, and had the opportunity to explore permaculture in one of my units. I kept studying until it got in the way of permaculture.
HAS CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECTED YOUR PROPERTY IN NANNUP?
2010 was our first seriously dry year. We went away for a few months and returned to find our soak was merely a puddle. We had to stop irrigating several acres, and ended up watering only our annual veggies, by hand. The established plants and trees had to suck it and see! I was amazed at what survived. We raced out and bought a rainwater tank, and pulled everything in around our house rather than spreading out too far. We realised we hadn’t been growing as many waterwise plants as we thought, and that our management practices had to change. We now use wicking beds, trays and pots extensively.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCE STRATEGIES?
We aim to be as waterwise as possible, and store water using earthworks, dams and tanks.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PLANTS AND WHY?
Capulin cherry Prunus salicifolia because it: has great tasting fruit; is good timber for tool handles, and guitars and furniture; is resistant to fungal and insect attack; and is a beautiful tree.
Quito palm Parajubaea cocoides because it is unknown in the wild. It was known as a street tree in old Incan cities, and it looks like a coconut but exists 2500 metres up a mountain.
2015 IS INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF SOILS – CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR BEST TIP ON SOIL BUILDING?
Shifting to terra preta soil (‘black earth’) is very important. This rich dark soil has high levels of charcoal and organic matter, and has been documented to have locked up carbon for over 3500 years in the Amazon basin. Biochar is its equivalent today, and this provides habitat for all the organisms that our soils need so badly. We collect and use the char from protective burns on our block.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR TOP TIP FOR PERMACULTURE BEGINNERS?
Consolidate your energies: don’t spread yourself too thin and in too many different directions. I’ve been thinking that I should write a long list of tips that Bill Mollison gave me that I haven’t followed, including ‘Don’t mess around for months building a house, knock it up in a week and get on with life’.
What would you do differently now from when you were twentyone and buying your block?
I would have bought cleared land and thrown in plenty of pioneer plants. I would do earthworks first – including water harvesting and swales – once the house site was determined, and start planting. During the first PDC I taught in Nannup years ago one of my students bought two hectares of cleared farmland in a shared property. He asked me what he should do, and I told him to throw in pioneers; within twelve months he was living in a forest of his own making.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE FOR PERMACULTURE? HOW CAN WE MAKE A MARK IN THE WORLD?
Keep teaching. Permaculture is out there already, and people will find it when they need to. Setting up alternative financial arrangements – such as LETS or Timebanking – is essential.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’ve promised Jody from Fair Harvest Permaculture that I will finish my palm and ferns book by the end of the year.
I’m doing a bit of work recording music for Charlie McGee, and I’m still recording my own music with friends which we post on YouTube.
I’m working with Byron Joel, filming him documenting different tree species. And I’m considering heading to Africa in October to document permie projects for a Canadian friend. I’ll be able to drop in on past projects of mine there.
I am looking forward to Perth hosting the Australasian Permaculture Convergence (APC13) in 2016; it’s been twenty years since we had a permaculture conference. Our property will be one of the sites for the south-west tour.