As I have been working alone in the garden over these last few days I have been thinking about Vries Gravestein as an elder of the Australian permaculture movement at the same time that the nation is reflecting on the passing of another big man, Gough Whitlam. While comparisons between the two might be trite, in my garden solitude the emotions about the passing of influential elders did blend.
Most of the permaculture practitioners, activists and teachers I met in the first decade of the permaculture movement were my own (baby boomer) peers with our shared experience of affluence and social stability (in the shadow of nuclear and environmental threats). Vries was one of the first who was from Bill Mollison’s generation raised in the deprivations of the Depression and WWII. Along with that valuable experience to inform and influence younger students, Vries’ solid background in agricultural education and organics maintained the agriculture side of permaculture that sometimes can get lost in the broad church of permaculture.
His passionate belief that permaculture could contribute to transformation of not only our human settlements but also Australia’s dryland cropping and pastoral landscapes was evident in his vision and organisation of APC4 in Albury back in 1990. One element in that vision was managing to get John Kerin, the then federal minister for agriculture in the Keating labour government, to open the event.
It was through co-teaching a PDC in the Bega Valley with Hugh Gravestein in 1991 that I started to get a sense of permaculture becoming embedded in the life of Australian families rather than just the mad passion of cranky individualist ecological pioneers. One of the tragedies of recent decades is that the passion of parents can lead to wholesale rejection in the next generation. The Gravestein family shows how creating a sustainable culture is a multi-generation process.
Beyond the family I have met and worked with so many of Vries’ students, most notably John Champagne who has played such a critical role in embedding permaculture in this bio-regional community and in maintaining the bonds of the national permaculture family.
With the passing of elders we often find ourselves needing to, not only reflect but to record for posterity, something of their life and times. At this time, it is particularly gratifying for me to be able to simply re-read Vries’s story as one of the many permaculture pioneers recorded by another of his students, Dr Caroline Smith in Permaculture Pioneers; stories from the new frontier. I think I can represent the permaculture community in acknowledging Vries Gravestein’s enduring legacy through his many students who continue to develop and spread the permaculture message.
Co-originator of the Permaculture concept
(This message was read out by John Champagne at the funeral of Vries Gravestein held in Pambula NSW on October Friday 24th. Reproduced here with the permission.)