What is Permaculture?

About 15 years ago I was participating in after-hours management studies at Deakin Uni.  During a coffee break I found myself talking about veggie gardening as a hobby with one of the other students.  He mentioned that I may be interested in ‘Permaculture’.  While the word was vaguely familiar I had no idea what it meant and was actually a bit put off by the word ‘cult’ in it!

So what’s it all about?  Permaculture was originally the marrying of two words: permanent and agriculture.  The concept evolved out of an intense working relationship between a young Perth student called David Holmgren and his teacher and mentor Bill Mollison, from Tasmania.  They were brought together during a radical environmental design course – radical because it was nearly 40 years ago – in Tasmania.  At the time there was plenty going on to suggest things couldn’t continue at the exponentially frantic pace; an international oil crisis and the hugely controversial Club of Rome report called Limits to Growth.

This course provided fertile ground for the then twenty-something Holmgren who penned the Permaculture concept, which along with Bill’s encouragement and experience became Permaculture One.  Agricultural in the true sense of the word, the first book provided ideas and blueprints that would ensure a culture could sustain itself without fossil fuels and chemical inputs.

Essentially, the pair came up with an idea that we would now call ‘design for sustainability’ – almost 20 years before that term took on its current meaning.

After the first book, David moved to Hepburn Springs (where he still resides) and set about creating a real-life example of Permaculture in action while continuing the intellectual development of Permaculture.  Bill with his big personality and unmatched life experience took Permaculture to the world, publishing several more books and becoming the ‘face of Permaculture’ until recent years.

Far better known overseas than in Australia, Permaculture ideas and concepts continue to filter into the mainstream; think worm farming, no-dig gardens, water tanks, chicken tractors/domes, food forests, passive solar house design, eco villages, no till cropping, herb spirals, bikes and of course organic veggie growing.  Check out these ‘chook domes’ from Africa!

Of course Permaculture didn’t invent these things, it simply provides a framework to link them all together and to help make the most efficient and ethical decisions in the first place.

During the time I’ve been involved in Permaculture education I’ve often had people tell me that “it’s all just common sense!”.  It’s truer than they think.  The origins of Permaculture thinking were largely influenced by pre-industrial long survived cultures.  You see, common sense used to be more common!

But perhaps the most appealing thing I find about Permaculture is that it encourages us to look at positive solutions for what may otherwise be depressing situations.  A very hands-on example, I have a minor leak with a garden tap.  No biggie but given the age of the tap I can see any backyard plumbing is going to cascade (pun intended) into bigger problems.  The alternative of a three figure plumbing bill also doesn’t appeal.   Approaching it with my Permaculture hat on turns the problem into the solution.  Hence I’ve planted mint under the tap which is growing wonderfully thanks to the occasional drip irrigation.  Sure I’ll have the tap fixed when there’s enough work justify getting a plumber to visit but in the meantime I’ve averted problems of unused water pooling, turned waste water into food and beautified a soggy looking part of my yard.

So whether it’s building a classic herb spiral or choosing a bike instead of car, I invite you to explore the evolving world of Permaculture, safe in the knowledge that it’s nothing to do with a cult! Oh, and apologies to anyone called Moonshadow out there…