Tasmania holds a very special place in the permaculture community. It was here that the concept was developed in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is also the home of the first Organic Festival, with such luminaries as Peter Cundall, David Stephen and Graeme Stevenson. 2015 happens to mark the 40th anniversary of the organic festival and also the 30th Anniversary of the first Permaculture Convergence.
Despite this rich history there has never been a Permaculture Convergence in Tasmania, so it was with great enthusiasm that North West Environment Centre (NWEC) in Penguin put their hand up to host the APC12 to bring permaculture home to its birthplace. Given the history, the organising committee decided that the theme of the convergence should be both to remember and honour the past achievements of permaculture as well as to continue the challenge to find ever more creative ways to transform the future for a sustainable world. With our planet now in such a dire state we were interested in a ‘big picture’ look at the place and role of permaculture. Our way of doing that was to place a strong focus on deepening our understanding and ability to work across the seven interconnected ‘petals’ (domains) of the permaculture flower.
To help people develop their presentations we suggested they respond these questions:
- Taking stock. Where is permaculture after 40 years and what are its continuing challenges?
- What are the critical future global and local challenges we are facing and how can permaculture provide solutions?
- Where is the cutting edge of permaculture thinking and action?
- What are areas where permaculture hasn’t worked and why?
- What can permaculture really achieve? Are we expecting too much of permaculture?
- What are some models of effective leadership in permaculture?
- Working at the edge with the mainstream – what are permaculture people doing and how can we do better?
- The permaculture flower represents permaculture as an integrated system - what is missing/not well developed?
- What would a permaculture design for a community look like?
- Permaculture and scale - what is the optimum?
- Where does permaculture fit in a consumer society?
- What is the history of permaculture design and how has it evolved over time?
The event attracted some 200 permies, of which more than 50 were presenters. We had participants of all ages and from every state and territory. There were Elders of the movement as well as first time participants. International folks too from Italy, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Taiwan - many of whom worked brilliantly as volunteers. (I hope I haven't left anyone out).
One of the highlights of the event was the welcoming dinner, with Bob Brown as the speaker. What a wonderful sight to see two giants of the environment movement - Bob and David Holmgren, appearing together. David presented Bob with a copy of Permaculture Pioneers, signed by all the ‘pioneers’ who attended the convergence. Sadly, Bill Mollison was not able to attend because of ill health, but he was acknowledged and honoured in a moving closing ceremony facilitated by Robin Clayfield.
Being the creative community it is, permies rose to the challenge of the theme in a myriad ways. We had some wonderful presentations across all the domains from direct lectures to participatory sessions and some spontaneous gatherings around a theme.
The history theme was beautifully taken up by Robyn Francis, who gave an amazing overview of the development of permaculture from the 1970s. What a story we have to tell! There was also an Honouring of the Elders — 18 of our Elders received a beautiful hand-made wooden plaque made from native huon pine and blackwood by a local artist. This highlight is set to continue at future APCs - we have many more Elders to honour. A the same time thee was a clear sense of a handing over – some of the older stalwarts of the movement are getting on a bit, so it is critical for the next generations to become the new leaders of the movement. To see that this is happening was one of the joys of the convergence.
Our keynote speakers — David Holmgren, Nicole Foss and Stuart Hill — challenged us to keep forging new ways of understanding our current situation, to to strengthen the role of permaculture into the future by becoming better at what we do on all fronts.
Economics was a strong focus with the realisation that it is both part of the problem and part of the solution. We even had two young accountants presenting – probably the first time at an APC! We also had a very entertaining presentation from a member of the Victoria Police who engaged us with the story of her ‘conversion’ to permaculture.
An outstanding highlight was the presentation by Tasmanian local Bruce French, who for years has tirelessly documented an incredible number of food crops from around the world in a set of amazing photographs. Bruce was given a standing ovation for his presentation.
There were so many other highlights it’s impossible to record them all, but a great achievement was the re-constituting of Permaculture Australia with a new, young and energetic leadership team. Also Permaculture Tasmania was resurrected and we Tassies hope to have an annual gathering in our beautiful state.
Overall, the participants spent an energetic 3 days gathering, talking, arguing, enjoying each others’ company and forging the strong bonds that only come from face to face interactions.
We look forward to continuing the ‘conversation’ at APC13 in WA in October 2016.