Story and photos by Russ Grayson, October 2016
We came expecting West Australian warmth. We found winter. And rain, for some of the time anyway. Perth in October can be a cold place.
That might have been the weather but it was not the warmth of the welcome extended to interstate permaculture practitioners by their Western Australian colleagues. Their organisation of APC13 — the biennial Australasian Permaculture Convergences held in Australia and New Zealand — made the event run smoothly. The event and accommodation was based at the Swan Valley Adventure Centre, the same venue where the 1996 International Permaculture Convergence was held.
Setting the mood for the convergence was the Saturday public open day that launched the event. Thousands attended to view a sweeping range of exhibits and talks and to hear and dance to — and that dancing included that of permaculture co-inventor, David Holmgren — Western Australia's and permaculture's own Formidable Vegetable Sound System as they blasted the culture back into perma-culture (http://formidablevegetable.com.au/ ).
People came from overseas — Xavier from Chang Mai in Thailand, Graham Bell (http://grahambell.org/permaculture-2/ ) and partner from Scotland, Finn from Auckland and Courtney and Robina McCurdy from Golden Bay at the top of Aotearoa-New Zealand's South Island.
Just a little bit different
APC13 was a little different to past convergences. Rather than an established permaculture personality making the first of the keynote addresses, Perth futurist, Annie Macbeth ( http://www.annimac.com.au/), described how permaculture can adapt to the lifeways of different generations, their priorities and their use of technology. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective on permaculture and society.
Also making keynotes was permaculture co-inventor, David Holmgren (https://holmgren.com.au/), who spoke about retrofitting the suburbs. David says that future energy and water efficiency in our cities is likely to come through the refitting of existing structures rather than new buildings. He also talked about extended, multi-generational households.
In his keynote address, Josh Byrne, a Perth local, discussed how he approached the development of his suburban home by doing what he could within existing planning and construction systems. Josh has built a grid-connected, energy and water efficient home in the suburbs that is fitted with a photovoltaic array that stores energy in a battery bank and sells excess to the grid. Remaining grid-connected, he said, makes more clean energy available. One of the urban tours following the convergence visited Josh's home.
Maybe it was because this is the southern hemisphere and Rob Hopkins ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Hopkins?wprov=sfsi1) was in the northern, some suggested, when Rob's keynote video link showed him upside down on the screen. Rob instigated the Transition Towns movement. After the initial amusement at an upside-down Rob and a rejigging of the image, he responded to questions such as what had been the role of the Transition Towns movement, with its localism, in Britain's Brexit vote to quit the European Union.
On the first day of APC13, Ross Mars, permaculture educator, author and one of the organising team, presented a photo show of the late Bill Mollison. There, we remembered Bill and his work in co-creating and popularising this thing we call permaculture. The presence of people form distant countries as well as those from Australia was testament to the legacy Bill leaves.
An artful illustration by Mt Kembla artist, musician and permaculture educator, April Sampson-Kelly, was displayed, together with some eucalypt foliage, on a corner memorial table to remind us of this practical visionary who had brought something fresh and new to the world.
Education — the continuing conversation
A strong educational theme ran through the days of the convergence.
Permaculture Australia's Virginia Solomon announced a new arrangement that promises to take Accredited Permaculture Training forward. A media release announcing the arrangement was hastily prepared in the days before the convergence. Keri Chiverall from Centtral Queensland University which now offers permaculture education, was also present. The University postumously awarded Bill Millison and honarary degree and, more recently, awared an honorary degree to David Holmgren.
The long-running conversation about permaculture education continued with a session about what educators include and what could be left out of permaculture introductory and design courses. Designed as an exploratory exercise, no decision about courses was made. Education is always a tricky topic and it was good to see it handled in a collegiate manner.
Workshops were numerous, interesting and often intriguing.
Graham Bell, attending all the way from Scotland, led a discussion about permaculture in cool temperate climates and another about community or, as he terms it, 'family'.
Workshops indicated the diversity of focus that is permaculture design:
- a permaculture approach to organising your life and home using permaculture principles was led by Cecilia Macauley from Sydney
- Erin Young and Gina Price introduced a better approach to making group decisions through sociocracy
- there was a session on permaculture design using the placemaking approach
- another looked at blogging your permaculture story
- the workshop on community food systems found local food groups to be well-connected although lacking is connection on a national scale
- Beck Lowe, a rural permaculture practitioner from Central Victoria, led a session on animals in a permaculture system.
There was so much more.
The permaculture international
Discussions about International Permaculture Day (IPD) and the Next Big Step (NBS) brought an international flavour to the convergence. Both are managed by an international crew.
IPD, started in Australia around seven years ago by Sydney permaculture educator Penny Pyett (Permaculture Sydney Institute) and Permaculture Sydney North, encourages people to organise events for the Day in their local areas and to notify them on the revived IPD website. More: permacultureday.org.
The Next Big Step in permaculture is an idea stemming from the international permaculture convergences in Cuba and the UK. IPD came from the realisation, as one of its UK instigators said, that " …permaculture is a global movement but doesn't act like one". Planned to be an international organisation, IPD is in its formative phase.
On the road with APC13
Tours, some spanning several days, followed APC13. Some headed out to regional centres while two explored the Perth urban area. The first of these visited innovative urban housing solutions including Josh Byrne's development, a couple resource-efficient, medium density townhouse developments and the Ecoburbia development in Fremantle where Ecoburbia's Sharni and Tim have subdivided a large house into comfortable, energy efficient 'smallhouse' type apartments complete with a large, shared vege garden, a chook run and even a couple urban goats. The building also functions as a community hub.
It was refreshing to find permaculture people involved in new ideas in urban developments that could house higher densities in human-scale design. Higher population densities are frequently cited as one of the solutions to sustainable cities because they have the potential to reduce the urban sprawl of detached, single-family dwellings that eat into city-fringe farmland and create car-dependent suburbs in which the residents waste a great amount of time and fuel in commuting.
The second tour took us into the urban fringe of the Perth hills, an upland area of bushland and villages where we visited small-scale rural properties including that of Ross and Jenny Mars with its strawbale buildings, bamboos and nursery. After a sumptuous lunch in the shade cast by trees at a family property with a very large food garden, we went on to a diverse, intensively-managed farmlet producing vegetables, fruit and chooks.
The urban tours demonstrated innovative urban development that can house more people per hectare in energy and water efficient dwellings that include the opportunity to produce some of the food the inhabitants eat. They also demonstrated how Perth people are developing productive and comfortable urgan fringe lifestyles out where city blends into country.
On to APC14 — but where?
One the final day of APC13, a new batch of permaculture elders who had made 25 or more years contribution to permaculture or who had made some other significant contribution was welcomed. As the convergence couldn't make Graham Bell an honorary Australian citizen, the organisers opted to make him an honorary permaculture elder.
APC13 also reestablished the permaculture community service awards for people who have made a significant contribution.
Then it was time to vote on the location of the next APC, in 2018. There were three contenders — Brisbane, represented by veteran permaculture educator from Northey Street City Farm, Dick Copeman; the south-east region of NSW; and Auckland, over in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Rather than voting with the conventional show of hands, Earthcare Education's Robyn Clayfield, from Crystal Waters Permaculture Village in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, instigated a sociogram in which people voted by standing along a line. The first vote eliminated Brisbane. Those who had supported that city as venue for APC14 then reallocated their vote. Would it be the south-east or would we be crossing the Tasman again as we had done for APC11?
No trans-Tasman trip this time, though. APC14 will be held in the south east where it will be based around Canberra and extend to the NSW south coast. There's lots of hard work ahead for the south coast crew.
One big thanks
It is the unplanned, the change encounters, the conversations over dinner that compete with the formal proceedings to make permaculture convergences memorable. And so it was with APC13. There, in the big dining room at the Adventure Centre, over and after breakfast, lunch and dinner, numerous conversations around the tables brought people together, put faces to social media friends and reunited acquaintances.
So… this is for the imaginative, hard-working and most likely thoroughly-exhausted crew who organised APC13 — one huge THANK YOU! (with exclamation mark and applause). That's not only from the appreciative person writing this piece, but — can I be so presumptuous? — from all of this diverse, widely distributed tribe we call permaculture.