It’s not often I comment on the constant flow of new books about green lifestyle, growing and wellbeing but three recently released titles had me thinking about the issue of communicating the good news to inspire and motivate people to adopt and adapt ideas for more resilient and low impact living.
As a publisher, it also had me thinking about the way books have changed over the decades. At Melliodora Publishing we focus more on dense content and a little less on style, although over the decades, my personal crusade against the drift to lighter content – in all areas of life! – has been moderated by colleagues proving to me that in a media driven world, presentation is as important as content. These books illustrate one of the directions in publishing that allow books to remain competitive for attention in a very crowded media space.
All three books arrived at Melliodora, partly through the normal promotion channels to reviewers, and partly due to personal and collegiate connection. All three have a colourful style with beautiful images, artful graphics and carefully balanced text and lots of white space, suitable for dipping in and out for ideas, practical guidance and inspiration. All three feature the authors, family and friends in ways that make you feel like you are part of their good life.
The first, Futuresteading; Live Like Tomorrow Matters by Jade Miles from Black Barn Farm in north east Victoria, arrived with the author and her partner Charlie on a visit to Melliodora after a local tree grafting workshop and book promotion event was cancelled (due to Covid of course). Instead Charlie did an impromptu grafting workshop for us Melliodorans, and Jade gave us an inscribed copy of her book. The book is in two parts, ‘The Why’ and ‘The How’. ‘The Why’ uses Jade’s Seven Simple Principles: ‘Meet Mother Nature’, ‘Celebrate simple’, ‘Make your place’, ‘Seek ritual’, ‘Create your clans’, ‘Salute the seasons’ and ‘Love local’ along with ‘Make it a family affair’ and ‘Beating your seasonal drum’, to frame how what we do at home, in the garden and in the community relates to the big picture Earth Care ethic.
The majority of the book is devoted to ‘The How’, using the cool continental climate seasonal cycle at Black Barn Farm to introduce the diverse elements of farm based collectively resilient living. Crop rotation, pollination and seed saving charts provide good guidance for those in similar climates. These ideas are interspersed with family portraits, lots of recipes showing how to work with seasonal abundance, as well as hard won lessons and personal tips. Those considering the move to the country will be especially inspired by Futuresteading, although much of it can be applied in the suburbs or city.
The second book, The Good Life: How To Grow A Better World by permaculture educator Hannah Moloney arrived from the publisher but was not unexpected as I had been in correspondence with Hannah as she was fine tuning the text.
Even more than Futuresteading, the author’s family and home are central to the story. Hannah’s engaging smile, husband Anton, daughter Frida and their suburban retrofit in the heights overlooking Hobart populate the pages. If Miles emphasises the seasonal cycle, design is Maloney’s overarching theme; natural enough for a permaculture design consultant and teacher married to a sustainability engineer and entrepreneur. So many gorgeous photos of the spectacular view, the riotous colours of gardens, retrofitting and new construction; a brilliant example of making the best of a precipitously steep site and unique microclimate. While the influence of permaculture in Miles’s book is clear but understated, Moloney’s is a joyful celebration of permaculture as a framework for creating the world we want by living and designing it each day. The book will inspire lots of people with even the most limited of suburban and small town sites to make the best of what they have. Going beyond this unique example, Hannah’s design tips and Q&As with others about their own housing and gardening solutions help readers think creatively about what they might do.
Hannah Moloney is one of the younger presenters on the ABC’s Gardening Australia, the media institution that has done more to contribute to the popular understanding of permaculture in Australia than any other.
While Hannah might be one of the rising stars of Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis is, of course, its superstar and arguably one of the most recognisable celebrities in the country. On more than one occasion I have underestimated the time it would take for me and Costa to walk down the street to a shared venue because everyone wants a selfie with Costa. His new book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the Soil, the Soul and the Suburbs, the third in this trio, is targeted at middle Australia and with the author’s giant profile and the publicity machine of ABC books is destined to be a huge seller.
Like the other two, Costa’s life is a theme running through the book that covers big sustainability issues, getting soil right, bees, biodiversity, chooks, kids, design of small spaces, ‘right plant right place’, and picks up Kirsten Bradley’s (Milkwood Permaculture) term, ‘Easy Peasy Permaculture’. Like the rest of the book, Costa’s angle on permaculture acknowledges heritage and connections, and is one of the best introductions to the subject we could hope for.
In his focus on the suburbs, it is perhaps natural that Costa might give more than a nod to RetroSuburbia. I suppose over the decades I have become so used to public figures closer to “the mainstream” being cautious about associating themselves too much to permaculture radicalism – so thanks Costa, for publicly standing with us on the radical fringe, not just on stage, but in print. Like Hannah and Jade, Costa epitomises the positive can-do approach to building a better world connecting nature and community. There are fewer glossy images, less white space and more of a scrapbook look. The illustrations and fonts of Brenna Quinlan, illustrator of RetroSuburbia populate the pages and communicate the art of working with nature. Seeing Brenna’s hand on this book feels really special in bringing the best of permaculture thinking to ordinary Australians.
While all three books gave me a warm glow about how positive environmentalism is catching on, there was also the critic in me thinking about so many pages of high-quality production (all printed and bound in China) to communicate relatively few words especially Futuresteading and Good Life (published by Affirm Press). Ironically Costa’s World has a more downmarket feel, and maybe an appeal to Australian battlers, dare I say, the working class. In contrast Jade’s Futuresteading felt more of a coffee table book appealing to middle class urbanites contemplating a tree change. Hannah’s Good Life felt pitched between the other two at a more youthful green progressive left audience.
In saying this I don’t want to sound cynical, because books these days are no longer the dense references and repositories of information that can be widely accessed through the internet. Books have not been defeated by the digital age, but they have morphed; the feel and look of the page, the experience of the browse and the emotions they give rise to may be more important than the information they contain. Beyond these observations on the approach of authors and publishers, is the harsh reality that all three books will reach their mainstream audience mostly via corporate retailers from Target to Amazon. They will be available to the public at prices below what independent bookshops and online ethical businesses such as our own can get them for. After the first rush of sales, they will most likely be discounted away, then pulped with the publishers moving on to the next shiny thing.
As an author and publisher, I feel the role of books in working towards a better world is still strong. And further, from a permaculture resilience perspective, I always consider future scenarios where the books on the shelf will be the at-hand information and inspiration in a post-digital world of energy descent. Long live books – and these three all provide useful information and inspiration through tougher times ahead.
These three books arrived here at a time when our lives (in comfortable middle class Australia) are rocked by global forces on a scale that I have not seen in my lifetime. I have been focused on my ‘Pandemic Brooding’ essay, a major stepping stone from my Future Scenarios. This work aims to help permaculture practitioners, designers, educators and activists understand the big picture forces that set the context for our actions, thoughts and emotions, which we naturally attribute to more immediate and intimate influences. My RetroSuburbia vision, strategy, books and events show our commitment to spreading positive empowerment over the last two decades, and like these three authors, reference the large looming context of climate and related crises. There is no doubt that these books are crafted to help readers ground their feelings, thoughts and actions through closer and more pragmatic connection to nature in ways that reflect understanding about larger issues facing society including those around social diversity, inclusion and justice. It is ironic that my own efforts to acknowledge these three books by other authors have been overrun by events.
Our taking the positive permaculture and RetroSuburbia message to a new audience, as participants in the anti-lockdown/mandates/authoritarianism marches in Melbourne, has precipitated a social media-fuelled storm in permaculture and kindred networks. For these and other authors and educators, association with Holmgren, RetroSuburbia and even Permaculture could shift from being a bonus to a burden.
While I understand the “don’t mention the war” strategy, it would be dishonest in reviewing these books not to mention this context which may lead these and other colleagues to willingly, or unwillingly, distance themselves from myself as co-originator of permaculture, even though all three books can be seen as examples of the extent to which permaculture influence, thinking and action has permeated Australian society.
Dja Dja Wurrung Country