Author Archive | David Holmgren

Reverence for the bunya bunya

One of the critiques of permaculture is that, in attempting to be a theory of everything, it has failed to contribute real progress on any of the manifold fronts it addresses. Had Mollison and I spent our lives planting, managing and selecting oaks and bunya bunyas, we might have made a greater contribution to a benign energy descent future. On the other hand, we have inspired many others, a few of whom have contributed significantly to the still very slow expansion of knowledge of, breeding, and use of tree crops. Peter Brew was one of those few, a keen observer, independent thinker and energetic practitioner whose potential to contribute to a better energy descent future for humanity through tree crops, was cut short by personal misfortune exacerbated by an affluent but ignorant society unable to recognise, let alone reward, his genius. When Oliver and I harvest the first nuts from the Spring Creek Community Forest grove, I will start a new nursery bed to contribute to the hybrid vigour of the future bunya bunya groves of southern Australia to honour Peter’s contribution to an abundant future.

You can download the article Reverence for the bunya bunya (full text).

 

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Bushfire from a permaculture perspective

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 7.34.41 PMBushfire rages in NSW and a state of emergency is declared.

Are these fires unprecedented? Possibly so this early in the season.

Do these fires reflect human induced climate change so far? Almost certainly.

Were the weather conditions particularly bad? Not so far, compared with Black Saturday in Vic.

Would a massively expanded burning program have prevented house loss?  Maybe, but with costs and side effects; including more accidental fire damage to property

Does the number of houses burnt reflect ferocity of the fires? Not particularly.

What does it reflect? The terrible landscape position of most housing on ridge tops above steep slopes and the extremely high flammability of Blue Mountains vegetation growing in a high rainfall, but very infertile, region.

Is there anything that can be done by the householder from a permaculture perspective?

Lots. Most importantly, unattended houses were between 3 and 8 time more likely to burn than attended (Blanchi & Leonard Bushfire CRC) In other words,  residents who stay and defend, have a high chance of saving a house (and a very high chance of survival even if the house burns because almost all houses burn after the fire front has passed).

The picture above (from ABC website) is one of the many houses burnt during the recent fire showing the relatively unscarred native vegetation around the remains after a very hot house (rather than bush) fire.  Bushfires do not in general demolish houses. Instead they create an ember storm that accumulates around the house and most importantly enters the roof space leading to ignition and intense fire in undefended houses (mostly after the fire front has passed).


Here are some of the resources on our website for building up bushfire resilience for both your house and community at large.
From our online shop, the following publications have ample information on the subject.

The Flywire House:A case study in design against bushfire (1983)

Melliodora: A case study in cool climate permaculture

The Complete Bushfire Safety Book by Joan Webster

The Essential Bushfire Safety Tips by Joan Webster

The following resources may also be of your interest.

Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes (report 2009)

Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes (presentation in the Blue Mountains 2011)

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Vale Errol Mutch

Errol

Errol Mutch explaining the worm composting system at Edendale Farm August 2003.

I never knew Errol very well but from my first meeting in the early 1990s when he was  the manager at Edendale City Farm in Eltham. I was impressed by the man, and what he and Cheryl had done to transform Edendale from an derelict animal pound to a great example of progressive environmental education. From that first time I was shown around the farm (as a consultant to the shire council) to hearing him sprouk to groups of school children or the public at field days, I recognised Errol as having that rare combination of  decades of farming experience with a passion for biodynamics and permaculture that I was more used to seeing in young environmentalists from urban backgrounds.

The development of Edendale as a public environmental education facility was of course shaped by all the usual factors of funding priorities, politics, bureaucracy and fashions but it also showed the care and attention of Errol and Cheryl’s stewardship that we usually associate with a well loved and cared-for private property. The animal systems in particular were exemplary in not only their good management but also in the significant contribution to maintenance of working strains of heritage rare breeds.

It was a tragedy of the times that this work was never recognised for its significant contribution to biodiversity conservation as defined by the UN Convention on Biodiversity. More than lack of recognition the progressive common sense environmentalism that Errol has demonstrated was undermined and dismantled by bureaucrats reflecting the “nativist” version of biodiversity that was so strong at Nillumbik shire council at the time.

To quote from a letter of support that I wrote in November 2004,

…..the best examples of the pragmatic and productive approach to sustainable land use, such as Edendale are subject to constant erosion by a nativist orthodoxy which dominates all levels of policy making and environmental education (not only at Nillumbik)  It seems ironic that the “state of the art” cost effective land and water management at Edendale with multiple environmental and social value outcomes is to be downgraded while much more expensive indigenous revegetation programs with questionable and unproven water quality and other environmental benefits are retained and reinforced.  The proposed removal of pigs from Edendale and downgrading of the poultry breeding systems without reference to independent evaluation by those with expertise in city farms is analogous to planting oak or pine trees in the shire’s best wildflower reserve without consulting experts in remnant indigenous biodiversity management. 
 
Edendale is one of the last places in Australia where a functional strain of  the Australorp poultry breed is being maintained. This is an Australian contribution to domesticated animal biodiversity and incidentally most of the original breeding and maintenance of the Australorp was in Nillumbik (at Research). Under the UN Convention on Biodiversity this flock constitute “threatened in-situ domesticated biodiversity”. Therefore Australian governments have a legally binding responsibility to conserve this flock.  While these responsibilities are not well known (your environmental staff may not be aware of this) it is an opportunity for Nillumbik to apply for funding to support the excellent biodiversity conservation work at Edendale.

I remember Errol as one of those rare “salt of the earth” natural environmentalists, who charted his own path in working with nature though the difficult decades when such ideas were rare and ignored, to then find a collegiate network of like minded people through the biodynamic, organic and permaculture networks, and finally to become a wise elder inspiring children and adults to find their own path in working with nature.

 

(Errol passed away peacefully Oct. 9, 2013 Aged 71 years.)

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Permaculture Pocket Knives

Back in February 2012, at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne, I was challenged by a colleague about wearing a pocket knife, which he pointed out was illegal (without a genuine reason). This was news to me and intensified my feelings of alienation as a country person visiting the centre of a large city. What was the world coming to? But it also stimulated thought about what my genuine reasons for carrying a pocket knife in public might be and how that question was intimately connected to permaculture.  In April 2012 I penned an essay, Permaculture Pocket Knives, to explore the issue but it sat unpublished until now.  I offer it here  as providing an insight into permaculture as a social sub-culture that stands in contrast to many of the dysfunctional normalities that characterise modern living in an affluent society. (Permaculture pocketknives)

Forge

Weapons manufacture at Melliodora???
Oliver Holmgren testing a knife blade for straightness he had forged from an antique truck spring. Photo 2005, Oliver aged 19

 

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Monet’s Garden at Melliodora

An invitation to be a “pop up speaker” at the NGV’s Monet’s Garden Exhibition gave me an opportunity to address this vexed role of aesthetics in  permaculture, in a very special context.  I was speaking in the largest exhibition space surrounded by Monet’s magnificent water lillies. This post splices my speaking notes with a selection of photos from Melliodora that illustrate the points of the talk. I began my talk by saying “I feel like the devils advocate invited into the Vatican of aesthetics”

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Household economy counts (full text)

AppleMarkAndy Scerri’s critique of Patrick Jones’ articulation of self-reliance, localism, and gift economies (Arena #115) is a familiar argument that has been used over the last thirty years to dismiss permaculture and related environmental activism by more traditional political activists.

The harsh reality is that neither pathway has significantly impeded the headlong rush of industrial modernity towards the ‘limits to growth’ cliff so accurately modelled 40 years ago by Meadows et al. I am more than ready to acknowledge that ‘our’ collective efforts at positive environmentalism during and since the 1970s have so far failed to catalyse the necessary changes in society, but Andy Scerri’s assertion that composting your private garden counts for nothing, reflects an ignorance of several structural and systemic factors driving and constraining social change.

First, if the changes or innovations required do not confer some advantage to the innovators and early adopters then there is little incentive for others to follow their lead.

Second, unless the necessary changes or innovations can be independently adopted by individuals, households and local communities without the resources, support and approval from central authority, then it can always be blocked by established interests that stand to lose by its widespread adoption.

Third, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for higher order organisations and governments to mandate a reality that doesn’t already exist as working models. Progressive and integrated adoption and refinement of the myriad of strategies and techniques associated with permaculture, enacted at the household and local level, addresses all three systemic issues.

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Spring Creek community forest tours

Spring Creek Community Forest is the name we give to an informal project by local residents managing a section of public land (part of the Hepburn Regional Park) along Spring Creek between the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve and Breakneck Gorge. For over 25 years we have been active in initiating working bees constructing walking paths, managing naturalised vegetation (so called ‘weeds’), planting trees and building gabions and leaky weirs to slow and manage flood waters along tributary gullies and the main creek. Observation, scientific research and  documenting ecological changes over the last 25 years, particularly in relation to willow ecology makes Spring Creek an important reference site in the debate over management of willows along streams in southern Australia.

A tour down Spring Creek with David Holmgren

A tour down Spring Creek with David Holmgren

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Why I haven’t been flying (much)

David Holmgren is not showing his flying skill, only reading the  landscape (at the 2013 Food Forest PDC)

David Holmgren is not showing his flying skill, only reading the landscape (at the 2013 Food Forest PDC)

Over three decades I have received many requests to travel across Australia and across the world to speak at a conference,  teach a course or participate in some worthy event related to permaculture. My reluctance to travel long distances for short stays has meant I have had to turned down many of these invitations. In more recent years the reactions of invitees has moved from incredulity to understanding, and even admiration, as a small but growing list of public figures  are choosing not to travel by air to highlight the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading →

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