Tag Archives | permaculture

RetroSuburbia workshops

Two-day workshop:
Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd May, 10–4.30pm

Trainers add-on day:
Monday 3rd May, 10–4.30pm

NERP will soon be hosting a RetroSuburbia workshop run by Beck Lowe, who co-produced the RetroSuburia book with David Holmgren.

The workshop will take place in Hurstbridge, and we’ll have limited spots available due to covid restrictions. There are options for a two-day workshop exploring themes in the book and how you can live more sustainably, or a three-day workshop that involves an add-on day for people who’d like to become registered RetroSuburban trainers. Please note that no prior experience is needed for the two-day workshop, but those enrolling in the add-on day should be familiar with the RetroSuburbia book and its content.

For a flier with more information, please visit:

You can book a spot, or get more information, by shooting us an email at [email protected] or calling Jules Jay on 0400 750 750.

It’s an amazing opportunity, and we hope to see some of you there.


‘Retrosuburbia’ – a Two day Workshop with Beck Lowe and David Holmgren

Now, more than ever, food security, our collective sustainability and a real sense of community are so important for us to navigate this changing world.

Permaculture is a movement that has been preparing for theses times for many decades with an ever-growing body of knowledge and experience in helping people become self-reliant and resilient in community.

Are you looking to create a more sustainable and resilient household?

Wondering how to retrofit your current home or circumstances?

Wanting to grow more food, reduce your energy use and enjoy a more satisfying, fulfilling life?

David Holmgren and Su Dennet Photo: Retrosuburbia

Explore these and other themes for self-reliance from David Holmgren’s book ‘RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future’ in this two-day workshop.

Permaculture flower c/o Permacultureprinciples.com 

The key messages of RetroSuburbia are:
– A focus on the individual and household to make positive changes; it doesn’t require large-scale top-down changes.
– We can work with what we already have and where we already live, and it is thus an affordable, accessible pathway to increase the sustainability and resilience of the community.
– Not only are there environmental benefits of adopting Retrosuburbia ideas, but many of these ideas should also increase people’s quality of life.

During the weekend, we will undertake activities and exercises to help you assess your current situation and plan for the future, as well as have plenty of time for questions and discussions. No knowledge is assumed; we will outline the main topics in the book at the start of the workshop, and explore some of these in more depth.

An abundance of food from the urban permaculture garden, North Stradbroke Island.

The workshop includes:

~ two days in-depth facilitation including guest appearance by author David Holmgren

~ morning teas and lunch both days

~ dinner and music Saturday night giving time to connect with other participants

~ a tour of Pacific Earth School’s subtropical, retrofitted island home and garden

Dinner plus Music with Manoa Sat.

**PRE-READING : RetroSuburbia can be accessed on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis at retrosuburbia.com so you can do some pre-reading if you wish.

Your Facilitators

Guest Facilitator- David Holmgren is best known as the co-originator with Bill Mollison of the permaculture concept following the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. Since then he has developed three properties, consulted and supervised in urban and rural projects and presented lectures, workshops and courses at a wide variety of events and venues in Australia and around the world. His writings over those three decades span a diversity of subjects and issues but always illuminating another aspect of permaculture thinking.

Main Facilitator – Beck Lowe worked closely with David Holmgren on RetroSuburbia as chief editor, researcher and project manager. Since publication, she has also taken on the role of education coordinator. She is an enthusiastic and experienced permaculture educator and has been involved in permaculture training at all levels for more than 15 years. She has practical permaculture experience in private and community spaces in inner city, urban and rural areas. In 2020, she and Holmgren wrote and published Our Street, a retrosuburban picture book with Brenna Quinlan’s illustrations.


Trainers, educators and community facilitators who would like to incorporate more retrosuburban themes into their practice are invited to attend an extra ‘Trainers and Facilitators’ day at the end of the workshop. This is part of our This is part of our RetroSuburbia Rollout strategy – we’d love to have you involved!

Participation in this add-on day allows attendees to become registered retrosuburban trainers. Registered Trainers have access to our training resources, and can apply to have any courses or workshops they run listed on retrosuburbia.com.

This add-on day will explore further resources and tools for supporting people to create fulfilling, abundant and sustainable lives through retrofitting their homes, gardens and behaviour patterns. It is also a chance to share your ideas and experiences with other participants working in similar fields, and explore retrosuburban themes in more detail. It is expected that participants on this day will have already read and be familiar with the material in RetroSuburbia.

Event Location

The workshop will be held at the Pacific Earth School’s Urban-Permaculture home in Dunwich/Goompi on North Stradbroke Island. If you are visiting the island for the first time, here is some info for travel and accomodation:

WITHOUT BRINGING A CAR : Catch the Gold Cat Flyer from Cleveland to Dunwich, only 25 mins.

Affordable accommodation at Minjerribah Hostel is available just down the road from the workshop – please call Marie Claire on 07 3409 9445 to book a room and let her know if you’re willing to share a room with another workshop participant.

BRINGING A CAR: book your car on the barge at Stradbroke Ferries , a 45 min ride across beautiful Moreton Bay. Then you can stay anywhere on the island in the accomodation of your choice to suit your budget. Just 15-20mins from the workshop there are beautiful surf beaches and many choices of accomodation – go here to explore. Stay an extra day or two and enjoy the wildlife and beaches.

If you need any help please phone Billa on wor .

Venue:   Pacific Earth School – North Stradbroke Island


Get your tickets here


Food Forest PDC with David Holmgren April/May 2021

The Food Forest’s next PDC is scheduled for April/ May 2021.

David Holmgren will be participating via Zoom for this PDC rather than making his annual trip across from Victoria during these uncertain COVID times.

The full details for the 2021 PDC will be listed on The Food Forest website.

Please register your interest here.

See below for some general info about our PDC.

Why study permaculture?

Join Graham & Annemarie Brookman, David Holmgren and guest presenters at The Food Forest for internationally-recognised permaculture training that will help you design sustainable, abundant homes, businesses, professions and communities.

Whilst population growth and consumption levels are pushing our Planet towards a catastrophic environmental tipping point, permaculture design offers a way that we, as individuals and communities, can take control of our future and live sustainably.

It is a design system which draws upon the great truths of traditional knowledge, modern scientific understandings and the ethics of a peaceful and democratic society. Developed in Australia in the late 70’s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, it is now taught in over 100 countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have graduated from Design Courses and are using this tool to build resilience and diversity into their lives, their local communities & in the workplace.

Permaculture can be employed by anyone, whatever profession or skill, on any scale, from balconies and backyards to farms, factories, businesses, schools and cities anywhere on the planet and in any climate. It offers a sustainable landscape, dignified human-scale living and self-reliant children who have the confidence to design a sustainable future for themselves.

It is based on three ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of Community and Acceptance of personal responsibility for consumption and population. Many practical design principles, technologies and strategies have evolved to make permaculture one of the most accessible and dynamic solutions to the issues we face in the 21st Century.
David Suzuki dubs permaculture ‘Australia’s greatest intellectual export’.

Permaculture Design Certificate

10 days spread out over three teaching blocks. The next PDC is scheduled for April/ May 2021 and will be programmed to comply with our COVID-19 safe plan.

This 10 day intensive design course, taught at The Food Forest will present you with an opportunity to consider your life in a new light and give you increased confidence and many skills needed to design a sustainable and meaningful place for your future.

You will work with a group of motivated fellow students with diverse skills and backgrounds and learn through lectures, practical activities, small group work, case studies, DVDs, field trips and games. In addition to our experienced teaching team, you will have access to a wide range of printed and digital resources.

The extended format of the course is designed to cause minimum disruption to other parts of your life. It will allow you to absorb and practise skills from one learning block before moving on to the next. However, the residential aspect is important, as it helps you become fully immersed in learning about sustainable living.

Sessions are scheduled on most evenings, but we finish at 5pm on the last day of each block. The first teaching block is 5 days, the 2nd, 3 days and the last, 2 days. Whilst this format may seem less than ideal if you are from a distant location, many participants use it as an opportunity to visit friends, permaculture projects or WWOOF between teaching blocks. In The Food Forest PDC you will work on a major design project of your choice. Many of the excellent designs have been implemented around the world.

Whilst many people study permaculture as a design system for their personal and/or professional lives, successful completion of the course will qualify you for a Permaculture Design Certificate which makes you eligible to practice or teach permaculture commercially. The course may also be recognised as relevant prior learning towards the completion of requirements for the nationally accredited VET Certificate IV in Permaculture.


The course at The Food Forest will cover such topics as:

  • Permaculture ethics, principles & design of sustainable systems
  • Reading landscape, land capability assessment, site mapping
  • Personal, family and community strategies
  • Passive solar design for houses and structures
  • Sustainable energy sources, ‘waste’ and recycling
  • Appropriate human settlements, architecture and planning
  • Linking of design elements for maximum efficiency
  • Soil management/ Soil health: improvements and maintenance
  • Urban and rural farming and gardening
  • Orchard and food forest design and practice
  • Alternative economic models & legal structures
  • Catchments, water management (urban & rural) and aquaculture
  • Revegetation, agroforestry, bush food and wildlife
  • Value-adding and direct marketing of food
  • Application of Permaculture Design in all professions & trades
  • Design for extreme events

Whilst many examples will be drawn from warm temperate environments (as experienced in South Australia), care will be taken to make the teaching relevant to other climatic areas.

We stress that the PDC is a design course and there is insufficient time to cover the fine detail of managing elements such as how to care for chickens or grow mushrooms. We, and others, do offer workshops on obtaining, such skills.

Principal Tutors

David Holmgren, co-originator of the concept of permaculture, will be presenting during the first part of the course, providing a unique opportunity to update your values and techniques or start your permaculture career at the cutting edge.  In 2003 David published “Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability”, a book which was the first significant development on the permaculture concept since Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture Designers’ Manual” (1988). David continues to refine permaculture in his writings and research. His new book, ‘RetroSuburbia’ was launched in 2018 and is a key reference for practical urban design. To find out more about David and permaculture, see www.holmgren.com.au.


Annemarie Brookman is co-owner of The Food Forest and runs its organic market garden and busy office. She organises The Food Forest’s stall at the Adelaide Farmers Market and coordinates volunteers and staff at the property. She has observed societies, crafts and cuisines in many countries. Her passion for local, wholesome, delicious and visually beautiful food and her skills as a designer are expressed in a direct and practical manner. She is expert in the integration of poultry and vegetable production and is a keen observer & photographer of insect ecosystems. Time management, small scale marketing, engaging children in gardening, mentoring to empower people to get involved with the future of their food and sustainable home-building are included in her talents. She is qualified in permaculture design & training, art and craft.


Graham Brookman has experienced land use all over the world and his search for ecologically sustainable farming systems led him to the permaculture model devised by Mollison and Holmgren. Graham has put the model to the test and teaches his findings in an energetic, interactive and practical style. Discovering how to build with straw bales has given Graham free rein with the construction of an amazing series of beautiful and environmentally responsible structures. He has taught hundreds of others how simple it is to use straw bales in building anything from a garden bench to a house. He is a qualified horticulturalist, teacher and permaculture designer and was founding chairman of the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market and the Gawler Environment Centre. Though first a farmer and horticulturalist, he has been involved in town planning and has made numerous educational films.


Guest Tutors and Field Visits

A wide range of guest tutors, selected for skills and qualifications in their particular field and their commitment to sustainable living and permaculture will also teach in the course. Extensive notes are provided. Tours will visit a wide variety of outstanding examples of permaculture and the people who are making it work, in & near Adelaide.


The Food Forest is a remarkable 20 hectare, certified organic permaculture farm and learning centre that is the result of the passion and vision of owners Graham & Annemarie Brookman. From its buzzing biodiversity come over 150 varieties of organically grown fruit and nuts, wheat and vegetables, honey and carob beans, as well as free range eggs, nursery plants and timber. Most of The Food Forest’s produce is sold at the Adelaide Farmers Market. We’ll be harvesting and eating some of the products during the PDC!

Broadband and Wi-Fi access are available in the teaching area and accommodation studio.

Teaching and research

The farm conducts research into organic growing and climate change adaptation and hosts collections of tree crop varieties representing a unique genetic resource, willingly shared with others wishing to establish sustainable plantings. Valuable information about the hydrogeology of the Adelaide Plain has come from the farm’s scheme to draw floodwater from the Gawler River and recharge the aquifer underlying the locality, to offset declining water levels and quality. The Food Forest has drawn upon inventive technologies for water harvesting and underground water storage in India, to capture and transform stormwater into a valuable input.

The Food Forest also has an extensive short courses program which complements the PDC. The property operates as one big teaching area and course participants will be involved in a hands-on permaculture project such as revegetation or garden construction.


The heritage-listed, pioneer homestead and much of the history of the farm have been retained. When the Brookmans bought the property in 1986, it was not much more than a bare barley paddock; only a few towering River Red Gums remained along the Gawler River from the time when the Kaurna Aboriginal people camped in their shade and gathered food from the land. The riparian understorey had become a mass of boxthorn, prickly pear and sour sob and the soil was degraded from years of continuous cropping. The indigenous riparian ecosystem has now largely been restored, and the revegetation systems developed have been adopted by other groups.

A movie made about the river repair is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_r62zvWKhk

Sustainable building technology

An old stone barn has been transformed into a Learning Centre for the presentation of courses and workshops. Nearby is the government-approved ‘loo with a view’, a Clivus Multrum composting toilet & reedbed system which transforms human by-products into reeds for mulching, rich compost for fertiliser and saves many thousands of litres of water every year.

Environmentally responsible building technologies are also demonstrated in ‘The Studio’, Cellar-door, an Eco-gazebo, the tiny ‘Cosy Cottage’ and a Coolroom, all of which are constructed with straw bales.

The Cob Oven shows the ancient craft of building with special mud mixtures.

The extension to the heritage-listed homestead is an exemplar of passive solar design using a fusion of straw bale, stone and well-insulated corrugated iron.

Rainwater is collected for use in the house; grey and black water is treated by a reedbed system and used in orchard irrigation. Solar panels heat the water and photovoltaic cells provide the house with almost 7kW of green electricity; surplus power is fed into the grid. 2020 will see 26kW system go on to the roof of a major shed to supply electricity for food storage and processing.

Awards & ABC TV

  • 2016 Permaculture Elders Award for Contribution to Permaculture
  • 2013 Winner, Barossa Regional Food Awards
  • Finalist Premier’s Natural Resources Management Award: Service to NRM
  • 2012 Honourable mention in The (En)Rich list: Post Growth Institute
  • 2011 Adelaide Showground Farmers Market: Chef’s Inspiration Award
  • 2009 Australia Day Corporate Citizen Award, Town of Gawler
  • 2007 Winner SA Premier’s Food Awards: Environmental Sustainability
  • 2006 Finalist National Banksia Environmental Awards, Education category
  • 2005 Winner Nature Foundation SA, Good Business Environment Award for Environmental Responsibility & Leadership
  • 2004 Winner Premier’s Food Awards Leadership in Sustainable Industry
  • Finalist Year of the Built Environment, Exemplars Program
  • 2003 Winner Organic Federation of Australia National Award Best Organic Producer. Runner up for the Best Organic Education Project.
  • 2005, 2001 State finalist National Landcare Awards
  • ABC Gardening Australia:  Episode 10: A farming special on June 2, 2012. See the 7 minute, permaculture focussed segment on: www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/food-glorious-food/9433756

YouTube – Food Forest TV Channel

The Food Forest has made 30 micro movies with experienced cinematographer/video editor Sam Collins, to create ‘how to’ videos, ranging from practical straw bale building techniques to controlling codling moth in your apple trees and restoring your watercourse.

See the films at www.youtube.com/user/TheFoodForest


Meals are included in the registration and include vegetarian, vegan and omnivorous options. Delicious, healthy, local and in season is important to us! A lot of the food served at the course will be harvested from The Food Forest, including as many varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs. We have also preserved produce from the different seasons. We don’t produce everything; milk, cheese, bread, grains, pulses, meat will be sourced locally, in many cases direct from the producers. We do our best to cater for different needs but as we are cooking for a substantial number of people, please note that for very specialised dietary requirements you may need to bring some of your own supplies.

Come Prepared

We strongly recommend reading some of the following texts. Many of these texts are available though David Holmgren’s online store or visit your local library:


  • David Holmgren’s new Book (2018) ‘RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future
  • Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren. His website: www.holmgren.com.au, has an abstract of his book as a free download. Look for ‘Essence of Permaculture’. Easy to read and not too long.
  • Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison & Reny Slay – Tagari (www.tagari.com)
  • The Holistic Life by Ian Lillington, Axiom Australia, (publ 2007)
  • Permaculture Designers Manual, Bill Mollison – Tagari (This is the standard reference book for designers but it is not a ‘light’ read) (www.tagari.com)
  • The Permaculture Handbook, Peter Bane, 2012, New Society Publishers, Canada
  • Permaculture Design, A step-by-step guide, Aranya, Permanent Publications, 2012
  • People & Permaculture, Looby Macnamara, Permanent Publications, 2012 (loobymacnamara.com/home/)
  • Permaculture Pioneers, stories from the new frontier, edited by Kerry Dawborn & Caroline Smith, publ: www.holmgren.com.au
  • Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway, 2009 2nd ed, Chelsea Green
  • The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience, Toby Hemenway, 2015, Chelsea Green
  • Edible Cities: Urban Permaculture for Gardens, Balconies, Rooftops & BeyondJudith AngerImmo Fiebrig, Permanent Publications, 2013
  • Tropical Permaculture Guidebook – McKenzie and Lemos (www.permacultureguidebook.org)
  • PIP magazine: Australia’s permaculture magazine. Full of great articles – wonderful to subscribe to!



There are many other Permaculture book titles, DVDs and there is a lot to google about Permaculture. Have fun!

For Details

Annemarie Brookman at The Food Forest:

Postal: PO Box 859, Gawler SA 5118, Australia

P: +61 (0)8 8522 6450

E: [email protected]

Location: 80 Clifford Rd, Hillier, SA 5116. 20 min walk from Tambelin Railway station on the Gawler line.


Ballarat Permaculture Guild Permaculture Design Course

Would you like to do a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in 2021?

Permaculture Principles game

Ballarat Permaculture Guild will run a PDC in 2021, using the weekend format of 8 weekends from January to July (Note: 2 weekends in May)

Dates are:

  • January 30,31
  • February 20,21
  • March 20,21
  • April 10, 11
  • May 1,2 then 29, 30
  • June 19,20
  • July 3,4

This course is especially relevant for those who want a higher quality educational experience than a two week intensive allows.  The extended format allows you to integrate your learnings and apply them at home. Timing of the course means that many of our site visits take place at the best ‘weather’ times of the year – and when gardens and farms are in peak production.

PDC students at Melliodora

If you have a busy week, can’t take a weekday off, can’t afford to spend two weeks holiday on a course or just want to have a great weekend to look forward to every few weeks, this is the course for you!  No previous permaculture experience necessary.

The weekend format gives increased opportunity for social connection, including pot luck dinners and/or films on some Friday & Saturday nights, where family and other BPG members will be invited to join us.

What we cover:

  • History of permaculture
  • Permaculture Ethics & Design Principles
  • Ecology, embodied energies, climate and weather
  • Land & Natural Environment
  • Education and Culture
  • Built environment
  • Finance & Economics
  • Tools and technology
  • Health & Well being
  • Design processes
  • Animals in permaculture
  • Developing a permaculture design
  • Presenters include:

Beck LoweSteve BurnsDavid Holmgren, Ben Habib, Sonia van Dorssen, Paul Ryle, David Davidson, and a range of other local experts & specialists.  We visit many local permaculture sites, including Melliodora, home of permaculture co-founder David Holmgren.

Something Special

In 2021, we will be filming a lot of the course; especially the theory components.  This is so we can deliver a lot of the content digitally in future. Once the core information can be accessed by students in their own time, we can use our precious time together for relationship building, group work, designing together and gaining practical skills.  We are NOT planning a move to a fully online course; instead, we envisage great synergy between self-directed accessing of theory and very valuable time together … which will also include us interacting digitally with some of our keynote speakers.  (Plus we are prepared for a future pandemic!)

Course venue:

Will be in Invermay (NE edge of Ballarat) on a local permaculture property.  Training facilities include a dedicated upstairs training room & library (if stairs are a challenge, please contact us).

Property is adjacent to state forest and includes vegetable garden, berry tunnel, chicken run, fruit trees & young forest garden.  Ample parking & only 10 minutes from central Ballarat. Pick up from Ballarat railway station possible.

Course fees:

As a not-for-profit, community group we are able to offer our PDC at a very affordable price compared with commercial offerings

Full fee $1195   Concession $595  Dual booking (couple or friends booking and paying together) $1095  BPG financial member (more than 1 year) $750

Camping on site is available at the rate of $10 per person per night.  Hot showers and refrigeration of your goodies is covered, but no catering included.

Please read Conditions of Enrolment carefully before registering for course.

Conditions of Enrolment:

Deposit of $100 is due with enrolment (see bank details below)

Deadline for enrolment is January 4th, 2021

Full payment is due by January 18th, 2021

In the event that the course is cancelled before commencement by us or due to renewed COVID restrictions, all monies will be refunded in full.  If cancellation occurs after commencement, reimbursement will be on a pro-rate basis (e.g. if 3 weekends have been completed, you will be reimbursed 5/8ths of your course fee).

If you withdraw from the course before it starts, you must notify the Coordinator a full 7 days in advance for refund of fees, less $100 deposit.

If you withdraw from course after it has begun there will be NO refund, as we will have committed to operational costs which still have to be met.

Concession rate ($595) is available to pension/health care card holders (proof required, we will contact you after you have applied).

Note: Payment in instalments may be possible in exceptional circumstances, but must be discussed with Coordinator before course begins.

Payment details:

All payments must be made to the following account, either by direct debit or over the counter at the bank. Credit Card facilities are NOT available and cash will not be taken.

Bendigo Bank: BSB: 633-000   Account: 135425353

***It is important that you include your Last Name as the payment note


For further enquiries – [email protected]


Permaculture Tour at Melliodora – January 10, 2021

There is no better way to learn how the household economy works than to take part in the whole day guided tour at Melliodora. Situated in the Victorian central highlands, Melliodora is one of the best examples of working cool-temperate climate permaculture in the country. At Melliodora you can see how permaculture can produce an abundance of food and other yields from a beautiful living environment.

The one hectare property has been transformed from the blackberry covered wasteland in 1985 into a model of small scale intensive permaculture. David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett will show you how their passive solar house, mixed food gardens, orchards, dams and livestock, as well as creek revegetation, have been developed and maintained. The Melliodora garden farming model is most relevant to large town blocks and small rural allotments, but you don’t have to have a large block to gain a huge amount from the tour. All people will discover ways that they can apply the underlying principles and strategies to their own situation.

The Whole Day Tour includes morning + afternoon teas, while the Garden Only Tour includes afternoon tea. Participants are encouraged to BYO lunch to enjoy under the 100 year-old pear tree or to visit one of the local cafés in Hepburn or Daylesford during the lunch break from 1pm.


Mark Johnson turns 50

Recently we were made aware of Mark Johnson’s creation of a permaculture allotment as a natural haven for people in London struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. Mark’s best selling autobiography Wasted charts the transformation he has made in his own life and provides an inspiration for times of challenge and change.

David and Su dedicating an oak tree planted on public land for Mark Johnson’s 50th birthday

We are dedicating a grove of oak trees recently planted on public land to commemorate Mark’s 50th birthday this December. That these trees were planted in our antipodean winter is perhaps appropriate. Planting trees on the public land (Spring Ck Community Forest) is part of our 30 year action informed by permaculture ethics and design principles. We find oaks (including English oak) to be remarkably drought hardy in a drying climate with increased bushfire risk. Working on the public land (our green gym) is also part of keeping us fit and healthy as we age.

We wish Mark health and vigour for his work to create a better world, and thank him enormously for dedicating his energies to such worthwhile endeavours. 


Facing Fire

This coming Sunday November 22 at 9am (AEDT) , David Holmgren is giving a presentation followed by a Q & A on ‘Fire Resilient Design and Land and Climate Care’.

Here is the Zoom link to attend.

Please join 5 minutes early to ensure it starts on time.

Please RSVP by 5pm Saturday 21 November.

For further reading, here is David’s recent paper: Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate care.

Facing Fire connects fire-ecology regions in the USA and Australia, across the Pacific, and around the world.

In 2019 David was interviewed for the 21 minute film Facing Fire, which you can watch in its entirety here:


Facing Fire

This coming Sunday November 22 at 9am (AEDT) , David Holmgren is giving a presentation followed by a Q & A on ‘Fire Resilient Design and Land and Climate Care’.

Here is the Zoom link to attend.

Please join 5 minutes early to ensure it starts on time.

Please RSVP by 5pm Saturday 21 November.

For further reading, here is David’s recent paper: Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate care.

EDIT: Here is David’s presentation from the day.

Facing Fire connects fire-ecology regions in the USA and Australia, across the Pacific, and around the world.

In 2019 David was interviewed for the 21 minute film Facing Fire, which you can watch in its entirety here:

For further research/preparation, you might be interested in Joan Webster OAM’s bestselling book, Essential Bushfire Safety Tips – 3rd Edition


Just enough: Let’s never stop thinking about the future

Let’s never stop thinking about the future: The connections between permaculture, Japanese design and homesteading in a frugal future.

The world has changed immeasurably over the last thirty years, with ‘more, bigger, better’ being the common mantra. But in the midst of this constantly evolving world, there is a growing community of people who are looking at our history, searching for answers to issues that are faced everywhere, such as energy, water, materials, food and population crisis.

In “Just Enough, ” author Azby Brown turned to the history of Japan, where he finds several lessons on living in a sustainable society that translate beyond place and time. This book presents a compelling argument around how to forge a society that is conservation-minded, waste-free, well-housed, well-fed and economically robust, including what Edo Period life has to offer us in the global battle to reverse environmental degradation.

In contrast, RetroSuburbia, by David Holmgren shows how the Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilience in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level with examples from ‘Aussie Street’ story and real life case studies to support and enhance the main content.

Su Dennett and Virginia Solomon have been living and promoting a sustainable households at their respective Melliodora and Eco resilience households and wider community activities including the Hepburn Relocalisation NetworkPermaculture Australia, Holmgren Design & permaculture education to name a few. Virginia has also travelled multiple times to Japan, including meeting Azby and connecting all of the interview members here today on behalf of Permaculture Australia.

Without further ado, here is the interview:

You can read more here.

A huge thank you to Permaculture Australia for enabling this rich conversation to happen.

If you’re interested in more crossovers between Japanese culture and permaculture, you might be interested to read David’s journal from 2004, when he and Su spent 4 weeks travelling around Japan:

Permaculture in Japan: foreign idea or indigenous design.


That Mulberry Tree

Amongst all the beautiful images of the 2021 Permaculture Principles calendar, is Talia Davis’ stunning aerial shot of a mudbrick house and lush green tree amongst the devastation of bushfires on the south coast of NSW.

As with all the calendar images, there is a brief story that provides context: “Despite drought conditions this 40 year old mulberry tree had been deeply watered in the months before the fire went through in December 2019, and was on the fire side of the house. This tree in combination with cleared space, well-sealed and strong construction, appear to be what saved the house. Brett and Wendy are now installing water harvesting structures, aiming to increase soil water absorption and reduce the flammability of the forest around the house

The image and story are used to illustrate the permaculture design principle Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback. It does so in a variety of ways:

  • Firstly, the timely allocation of limited water to mature trees instead of annual gardens in drought shows prioritising what is important for the long term, as well as being conscious of the elevated risk of catastrophic bushfire.
  • Secondly, careful design and placement passively contributes to many functions (including in this case, bushfire protection). The mulberry tree is a passive (but growing) and largely self-regulating fire defense element. This can be contrasted with an active element such as a large firefighting pump, which depends on fuel, maintenance and an operator to be useful, and instead of growing, it depreciates over time, accelerated by lack of timely maintenance and testing.
  • Thirdly, the experience of the drought and bushfire has led to further action to more effective harvest water in the landscape through passive water harvesting structures to increase soil moisture, and through active management to reduce the flammability of the forest around the house.

Behind this dramatic illustration, is the complex subject of bushfire resilient house and landscape design. A story by ABC journalist Kate Aubrey provides more detail on the observations of the owners and comments by forest tree expert from ANU that touch on some of the complexities of bushfire resilient design, including the role of vegetation as an asset and/or a hazard.

The idea that plants and especially trees might be an asset rather than just a hazard in bushfires was highlighted by our research during the mid-1970s for Permaculture One (at the house and property that Bill Mollison defended from the 1967 bushfires that devastated the mountain fringing suburbs of Hobart).

Over the decades since, I have looked closely at the role of species selection and vegetation management in contributing to bushfire protection. I agree with the owners about the likely role of the Mulberry in helping to protect the house. The ABC report of the quoted tree expert gave the impression that the species of tree was less important than the form and condition. Rather than disagreeing with the valid points conveyed by this reporting, I thought it might be useful to those inspired by this story to add some of my own observations.

It is true that any tree upwind of a house can act as an ember trap that can significantly reduce the likelihood of ember infiltration, which is the primary way houses are destroyed in bushfires, especially when they get into the roof space.

Secondly, a tree can catch large flying debris from a firestorm that might otherwise break windows and allow entering embers to destroy the building.

Thirdly, a tree can absorb radiant heat, so reducing the overheating of the house (and protect active house defenders from potentially lethal radiation levels).

In addition, an actively transpiring tree with abundant moisture can transpire so much water when heated by the radiation from the fire front that it steams water vapour which further attenuates radiate heat.

On the other hand, if the tree catches alight or breaks in the windstorm then these potential benefits turn into greater threats.

What determines whether sheltering trees or shrubs are a benefit or a hazard is affected by many factors including a fair dose of chance. Fine foliage, retained dry leaves and dead twigs, flaky, ribbon and fibrous bark are all downsides while large leaves that primarily shed in winter and smooth bark, such as a mulberry are an asset. Retention of low branches such as by most conifers is a disadvantage compared with the “self-pruning” nature of most eucalypts, although this is something that can be easily changed (by pruning!).

Volatile oils, resins and waxes in species such as eucalypts, many other Australian natives, and conifers are widely recognised as a downside but few understand the linkage between these flammable compounds and soil infertility that these species are adapted to. I have yet to find a comprehensive published explanation, but this is my understanding based on decades of observation, reading between the lines of lots different sources and some resultant hypothesising.

In geologically young regions with minerally rich and deep, free-draining soils underlaid by permanent sweet groundwater (much of the temperate and continental northern hemisphere), predominantly winter deciduous trees have access to essential minerals, especially calcium, boron, copper, manganese and possibly silica that contribute to strong cell walls allowing plants to retain water.

In geologically old regions where leached and compacted poorly drained soils with saline or absent water tables predominate (much of Australia), the vegetation has evolved to create organic compounds that to some degree are metabolic substitutes for minerals in the critical function of water retention.

Unfortunately these substitutes are as flammable as petrochemicals, so when vegetation does dry out due to drought and fire, they contribute to the intensity of combustion.

On the other hand, if plants evolved to mineral rich soils, and have access to balanced nutrition, they will have higher level of minerals that act as fire retardants within foliage. The ash remaining from burning any biomass is the total mineral content. Low ash content is one of the characteristics that make for good firewood, but the high ash content in our garden vegetation is a crude sign of fertility, the ability to hold moisture and low flammability. Consequently, fertile and balanced garden soils that retain water and are growing well-managed and productive food plants and trees are an asset rather than a liability in bushfire.

Beyond the transformation possible at the garden farming scale to create a fire safe zone around our homes, we have to be more circumspect about ways to make our broadacre farmlands and forests firesafe. In Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate Care I canvased diverse strategies including thinning, grazing, accelerated decomposition with or without the benefit of earthwork to rehydrating soils as well as appropriate patterns of ecological/cultural burning.

This focus on just a few of the factors in bushfire resilient landscape design inspired by this photo would be incomplete without at least mentioning the tricky issue of staying and defending vs early and safe evacuation. Research over many decades has shown that the presence of one “able-bodied” person is between two and four times more important than any other design factor or site feature in determining whether a house burns down (see Joan Webster 2000, pp 77-78).

In the absence of a stay and defend plan against the worst of fires, it is important to ensure as many the other factors are working in our favour. Passive and self-regulating elements of our property designs are critical in this situation.

While researching The Flywire House case study in 1983, one of our conclusions was that bushfire resilient house and landscape design works at two levels:

  • Property design and management covering all bases collectively increasing the chance that passive design will lead to survival of houses and other critical assets.
  • Having these bases covered increases the confidence that the house and property is a haven that can be actively defended to survive the worst of firestorms. Whether we are psychologically and physically prepared for such an experience is one of those tough questions that no one else can answer for us. However, thoughtful design, fine tuning, careful maintenance, good kit, and fire plan testing in the worst of weather, all contribute to empowering that most potential element in bushfire resilient design: the human element.

Finally, for many of us facing the relief of a La Nina benign summer in some of the world’s most bushfire prone regions, this is the opportunity to seriously consider our choices and move to less challenging locales or double down with long term resilience strategies to make our place the best safe haven we can for challenging futures, from whatever quarter.

Here’s to a safe and prosperous way down in 2021.

David Holmgren
November 2020