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Sauveterre Permaculture


Clockwise from above left: The glasshouse with multiple functions; Claude and Helene out the front of their house; The mandala vegie garden. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt


After leaving their homeland in France, Claude and Helene Marmoux travelled to Australia where they settled in Sydney. After buying a house there, and running their own business for many years, they left to travel the country where they discovered permaculture through Robyn Francis. ‘Studying the PDC with Robyn Francis in the nineties was exactly what we were looking for, and gave us a new direction in life’, Claude remembers. They knew that a new life, where they provided for themselves, was the best step they could take towards saving the earth: ‘As humans living on a planet with finite resources, our first step is to reduce our impact, which begins with building smaller houses’.

Their search for a new home in the country led them to their current property, sitting atop a ridge in Brogo on the Far South Coast of NSW. Sauveterre Permaculture is their home and design project. Sauveterre – or ‘Save Earth’ – has been their ongoing inspiration in building this small working farm. The overall result is a small parcel of land being managed well to provide for the needs of the couple.

The project, now in its maturity after twenty-three years of development, is a valuable demonstration of the principles of permaculture, and a cornucopia of design features and innovations.


When they moved onto their block in 1993 Claude and Helene had little experience in building, least of all with mudbrick. While living in their shed they helped their neighbours build houses through the local LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) program. By the time they started their own building they had both the know-how and a group of people ready to help them: ’We needed 2400 mudbricks for the house, and with a few people and a hydraulic press we could make 200–300 bricks in a day’, Claude recalls.

The house was built to include many great features to reduce the need for energy. Smart use of thermal «ow can be seen in the design of the north facing glasshouse, the cool cupboard and the centrally-located combustion stove. The house faces north, and its eaves are calculated to block out the hot summer sun and allow winter sun onto a slate tiled floor to absorb heat. A grape-covered pergola along the north-facing windows also provides shade in summer. A series of clever design features also save water and reduce waste.


The north-facing glasshouse shares a mudbrick wall with the living room, sitting on the north-east corner of the house, and acts as a passive heater in winter. Sun energy trapped by the glass frontage can be directed into the house through vents. Low vents bring cool air in from the living room floor, pushing hot air up and through high vents at the top of the wall, into the house.

In summer, when the heat isn’t needed, the vents are closed, and the windows on each end of the glasshouse can be opened, along with the louvres on the front. The glasshouse has been set up as a garden space and nursery, making it multifunctional.


Cool air is gathered into a pipe from a shaded fernery to the south of the house, and then travels underneath the concrete slab to the cool cupboard in the kitchen. The cool air is drawn up past the food kept in wire baskets within, and exits through a fan in the roof. Produce in the cupboard is ventilated, and the pantry is kept a few degrees cooler than the ambient temperature at all times, so only a small refrigerator is needed.


The heat from a centrally – located combustion stove in the living room is ducted through pipes that run through the roof cavity to the bedrooms, pushing the heat to the other end of the house.


The original Clivus Multrum toilet – that they installed twenty years ago – is built into a cavity under the house. The system works so well, in its warm position to the north, that it’s emptied just once a year. The decomposed manure is used around their fruit trees.


The water from the kitchen, laundry and bathroom is directed first into a grease trap, and then flows into three large tubs of reeds. ‘The role of the reeds is to keep the water oxygenated, so that the aerobic bacteria can do their work of cleaning the water.’ The reed beds have been made in concrete, with baffles to direct the water through them more slowly. After about twelve days in the reed system the water flows down to the duck pond where it also acts as a fox moat around the duck house. The pond is then drained to irrigate and fertilise the hazelnuts, or the water can be pumped up to a holding tank and then drip-fed through the food forest.

By Claude Marmoux


In 2012 Claude and Helene decided to turn part of the orchard into a food forest area: ‘We decided to reduce the annual work of slashing and netting the fruit trees to protect the fruit from the birds, and to maximise the production in a protected area’. The area was fertilised with rock dust, blood and bone and covered with cardboard and old lucerne hay. In the following autumn they planted green manure crops, which were then turned back into the soil.

The food forest now has a shady canopy of dwarf fruit trees, including tamarillos and a variety of guava. Berries and currants grow under and around the trees, as well as perennials such as rhubarb and artichoke. The ground is kept covered using woodchips, carpet under the paths, and ground covers such as warrigal greens and nasturtium.

‘I get to come out here and forage for my food’, says Claude with a smile. This stacking of plants creates a cooler, shadier and wetter environment, which extends the effect of rain and reduces the need for irrigation.


The mandala vegetable garden was established early on, while they were working on the house. It is a waxwood (naturally treated) pine structure, made of five elevated beds plus an outside circular one ringing the space. Their crop rotation is literal: they use a structured rotation guide that they’ve tweaked over the years, and the plan moves around the triangular beds.

The winter garden was built off the enclosed chicken yard. As the name suggests, a lot of the produce from this garden is preserved for the cooler months: potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans and pumpkin. More fruit trees are espaliered along the edges; these are ingeniously caged and beautifully pruned.

The chickens have access to the five small garden rooms, and are used to clean up after the crop cycle. They also enjoy the shade of a large kiwifruit structure, with five female plants and a pollinating male plant.


Beyond the inner zones of the house paddock and orchards, the property is open pasture and natural bush.

When fireweed started to come up in the pasture they introduced sheep to control it. Inspired by Allan Savory (Holistic Management) and a workshop with Bruce Davison from Candelo, they decided to fence o§ the forest and divide the rest into small paddocks which allows for rotational grazing. Despite the small pasture area they created fourteen paddocks, over an area of two hectares, with an average size of 1300 m2, plus an extra one for olive trees. The sheep flock is rotated to keep the pastures healthy and productive.


The bush is also an important part of the property, and has been helped along with the planting of about 1000 indigenous trees. ‘Our aim was to regenerate by planting more trees to sequester carbon, reduce our footprint and at the same time to support the wildlife.’

Firewood is harvested from the fallen limbs, timber has been milled for building, and smaller trees are thinned out and used in building projects.


The wooded slope is in their fire sector, so they maintain a firebreak and have planted a zone of local pittosporums to retard fire.

The house has been adapted over the years to provide protection in case of bushfire: Claude has cut pressed-cement sheets to the size of each window, which can be quickly installed when needed; and the roof has water sprinklers installed, which can douse the house and immediate garden.


These days, Claude is putting more time into sharing his experiences of Sauveterre. Claude and Helene open their home and garden, in partnership with other local permaculture gardens, to educate and inspire. They give tours and talks for students – for example from the University of the Third Age (U3A) and PDCs – as well as the general public, and raise money for Permafund.

Claude has also developed a website where he documents the property with photos and step-by-step instructions, such as how he built his netted food forest. He takes great pride in seeing that people from all over the world are visiting the site, taking from it what they will. ‘One of the main goals in permaculture is to reduce your personal carbon footprint on the planet – gardening is just a part of it.’


Claude and Helene are looking forward to retirement in a couple of years in a small town nearby where they are retrofitting a small dwelling – with a vegetable patch of course. They will certainly miss the life that they’ve built at Brogo, but they see succession as the best way to keep Sauveterre Permaculture maintained and thriving for a long time to come.

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