The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, May 1980. Autumn Edition

Editor’s note:

This was a column in the News & Notes section of Permaculture.

THERE IS SOMETHING about a mob of cattle kicking up a cloud of dust in a landscape of dying trees. The whole scene is like a prelude to the fall from grace of Western man. The trees are dying because the cattle bruise their roots. The dust is flying because grass is destroyed. The cattle are objects, ‘cash on the hoof’, sometimes almost ceremonial possessions of men.
No man can need more than one or two cattle but many have thousands of head of cattle, sheep, goats, camels, buffalo and like grazers. They oppress the land, create deserts, kill forests, create salt pans and denude thousands of acres. Just to be owners of cattle, and to obtain power, men destroy the landscape.
Small men try to build up their herds. Big men grow fat in areas the size of a European country. The land suffers and in the final analysis no price is too high to pay to rid the earth of the herdsman and his flocks.

The pathology of bad land management

A return to the communal flock, the domestic cow and goat, the forests and a conserved landscape is now not only urgent, but essential, for the flocks expand at the expense forest and the forest decreases at the expense of all air-breathing life. Flocks of the wandering herds are the cancer in the lungs of the earth. Woodchip companics are the TB germs and pollution the silicosis.
No wonder trees die, the elm stops breathing, the chestnut falls prey to blight and the oak shivers in the wind. Omens are all about us and we do not want to see nor to listen to sensible voices.
Shut off in his oil-heated house, breathing the air made by forests in the Third World, Western man is like an ostrich in the classical poses: head in the sand and exposed in his vital parts to all the winds that blow. Those winds blow harder, drier, dustier, colder and more often.

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Bill Mollison. An illustration accompanying the original article.

Speculative ecologies

Speculative ecology 1

Chatting to Walter Jehne of Brisbane, he reports an exotic patch of rainforest in a dry area with a brush turkey nest at centre. Some of these nests date back 5000 years or more of continual use. For the Aborigine, they are well mapped and visited seasonally for eggs.
Walter speculates that such an event (a large compost heap) may trigger long-term soil changes that give rain forest species a chance to take hold. Bob Radnell of Gap Creek in Queensland finds the peripheral nest material superb for potting.
Our further speculation might be that such compost piles could trigger nucleii for desert reclamation. There is not much to a compost heap, after all, and self-composting plants can continue the process.

Speculative ecology 2

Don Frankcombe of Tasmania noticed a foliage change in vegetation, from aerial maps. He traced a line of trees with ‘pinhole’ (Lictus beetle) in rainforest and found it to be the tracks of 7-9 men (steelshod boots) who had erected a radio aerial on a mountain range. Bruised root balls allowed parasites to enter the trees, causing a die-back about a chain wide (see Editors notes at end).
The crew had been in some seven years before. We might speculate that bushwalkers and foresters kill the forest simply by walking through it, hence the need to enter fragile systems barefooted! Cross-country bikes and bulldozers may cause the same damage.
(Both the preceding notes suggest that even small events have long-term effects on vegetation; forest history is a much neglected study).

Speculative ecology 3

Ecology may have been at the basis of myth. Most myths have the following fixed essential components:

  • the act of a man or woman
  • a biological transformation (usually organic/inorganic change)
  • invocation of an elemental force (fire, wind, flood)
  • an ecological change.

For example: Two boys climb a tree to take an egg. One throws it down and it turns into a stone. This angers the bird who invokes the wind. A cyclone rips through the forests and destroys the village. Atonement may need to follow.
The whole moral is that the acts of men have profound effects on the elemental and natural forces, that unnecessary acts may have very long-term effects, and that one should therefore proceed cautiously, and according to need in one’s dealings with nature.

Speculative ecology 4

Dead and dying eucalypts are obvious in both tropical and temperate rainforest.
A sort of large fireweed, the eucalypt provides shade and seedbed for rainforest species which invade beneath it. Once established, the rainforest holds a lot of water in the topsail and we may speculate that the eucalypts drown, or suffer physiological drought.
Only fire (mainly from man) can reverse this natural evolution to rainforest in areas of good rainfall.

Speculative ecology 5

The spectacular Cairns-Kuranda railway runs through what was once tropical rainforest.
Billy fires on the railway fine have burnt-out the rainforest above the line. Thus, the railway mysteriously marks off a belt of rainforest below from denuded slopes of monsoon grasses above. One might speculate that the eventual landslides and floods from above will eventually wash out the line or that continued fires will wipe out the tourist attractions. Either way. the railway became a major factor in the ecology of the Cairns-Kuranda ecology.
…Bill Mollison


We would like to link-up the unemployed groups — some to collect seed, some to plant under contract, some to develop long range forests (or their own future, from unemployed to retired in seven easy years).
Please use these columns for link up.

Here’s a start:

Permaculture Canberra (Marc Julienne, Howard Sedgeman and crew), C/- 48 Kambalda Cres, Fisher, A.C.T.
Order now for a variety of tree seed, stone pine, oaks, honey locust. Prices on application. A very valuable group.
BUG (Brunswick Unemployed Group) C/- Neville Stern, 21 Smith St, Thornbury, Victoria.
Developing the city farm concept. Attached glasshouses for heat and food, training programmes in permaculture. Lots of contacts and energy.
Don’t forget, unemployed groups can order and distribute P.1 and P.11 locally; list your group in these pages.
We could set up an Australia-wide and global link for forestry and futures. We are lucky to have plenty of land and energy. No-one can stop us.

Some Suggestions:

  • Collect local selected seed and advertise it in PO (free). Cost collecting time tor prices.
  • Get land (1-20 acres) from local council for display planting, use this for selling seed, seedlings, your labour in planting.
  • Find sympathetic local ‘alternative’ land owners to lease land or to form a co-op to plant long-term yielding forests.
  • Concentrate on special animal species as stud species for others (poultry, small livestock). Link with local state and Institute Horticulture teams for advice and species. Plant bee forests for honey, poultry fodder forests and select useful hedgerow and alcohol-fuel species for farmers. (There is no end to the need for alcohol fuels).
  • Develop small appropriate technology; use ethnic groups for their skills in processing and try the city crop idea — you plant out trees and collect fruit etc. from householders for marketing. Thus, you do not need your own land to run an orchard.
  • Olive, chestnut, cotton, tea, coffee, ginger, tomatoes, peppers, yam,passionfruit etc can all be grown this way. The householder sells at a wholesale price, you collect, process, distribute and market the crop.

Best wishes, Start now.
…Bill Mollison.

Editors notes


1 chain = 20.11 metres
1 acre = 0.404686 hectare.

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