Story and photo by Russ Grayson, November 2016
We came expecting West Australian warmth. We found winter. 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 permaculture co-inventor, David Holmgren — Western Australia and permaculture's own Formidable Vegetable Sound System as they blasted the culture back into perma-culture.
People came from overseas — Xavier from Chang Mai in Thailand, Graham Bell 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.
Keynotes a Little 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, 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, who spoke about retrofitting the suburbs. David says that future building in our cities is likely to be the refitting of existing structures for energy and water efficiency 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. One of the urban tours following the convergence visited Josh's home.
Maybe it was because this is the southern hemisphere and Rob Hopkins 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, one of the organising team, produced and 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. That we were all gathered there in a distant part of the country, getting on for 40 years since he unleashed the design system on the world, was testament to the legacy he leaves.
Mt Kembla artist, musician and permaculture educator, April Sampson-Kelly, produced an artful illustration of Bill and, together with some eucalypt foliage, it was placed on a corner memorial table to remind us of one of the practical visionaries who had brought something fresh and new to the world.
A Continuing Conversation — Education
A strong educational theme ran through the days of the convergence.
Permaculture Australia's Virginia Solomon announced the new arrangements that promise to take Accredited Permaculture Training forward. A media release, hastily prepared in the days before the convergence, was distributed [read the media release here]. Central Queensland University, which offers permaculture education, was also present in the form of Keri Chiveralls.
The long-running conversation about permaculture education continued with a session early in the convergence about what people include and what could be left out of permaculture introductory and design courses. Even though no decision about courses was made, this is always a tricky topic and it was good to see it handled in a collegiate manner.
Click to download the presentation (.ppt file, 340Kb)
Sessions 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.
Other sessions focused on: a permaculture approach to organising your life and home using permaculture principles, 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; blogging your permaculture story; community food systems which 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.
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 (Sydney Permaculture Institute) and Permaculture Sydney North, is seeking people to stimulate events for the Day in their local areas and to notify them on the revived IPD website (permacultureday.org).
The Next Big Step for permaculture brought the idea stemming from the international convergences in Cuba and the UK to APC13. IPD is in its formative phase, involving people from the UK, Australia and the USA. It seeks global permaculture solutions to the global scale of the big issues that confront us. IPD came from the realisation, as one of its UK instigators said, that " …permaculture is a global movement but doesn't act like one".
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 Sharni and Tim have subdivided a large house as a comfortable, 'smallhouse' type development complete with energy efficiency, large vege garden, a chook run and even a couple urban goats. It also functions as a type of community hub.
It was refreshing to find permaculture people involved in new ideas in urban development that could house higher densities in human-scale design.
The second tour took us into the urban fringe of the Perth hills, an upland area of bush and villages where we visited small-scale rural properties including that of Ross and Jenny Mars with its strawbale buildings, bamboo and nursery. After a sumptuous lunch in the shade cast by trees at a family property, we went on to a diverse, intensively-managed property producing vegetables and chooks.
The urban tours demonstrated the potential for innovative urban development in housing and food production that catered for needs ranging from city lifestyles with city-based work to the rural life on the fringe where city meets 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 of 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 the south-east region of NSW, the NSW south coast to Canberra; 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 vote by standing along a line. The first vote eliminated Brisbane and 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, between the NSW south coast and Canberra, with that city likely to be the venue for events. 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, were numerous conversations around the tables. Here, we caught up with people unseen since our last convergence, with people we hear about but seldom see, with people new to us. We learned of their lives, their work, their aspirations. And, here, faces were put to those Facebook friends we have only online contact with.
So… this is for the imaginative, hard-working and most likely thoroughly-exhausted crew who organised APC13 — one large THANK YOU! (with exclamation mark) not only from this appreciative person writing this piece, but — can I be so presumptuous? — from all of this diverse, widely distributed tribe we call permaculture.