My permaculture journey started way back before my consciousness of what permaculture is - began.
At my Nana’s knee in fact. My grandmother was a classic Depression gardener. Everything left over, spare and not needed went into her garden.
As a child, I delighted at the treasure trove of goodies to be found whilst digging in the sandy soil of her seaside garden. Oyster shells, tea leaves, rusty iron bars, paper and newspapers, old toys, bits of brick and lawn clippings ... a veritable ocean of lawn clippings!
She would go on evening walks around her suburb snipping a cutting here and there which had made its way over the fence of some unsuspecting neighbour. That time-honoured tradition of what’s hanging over the fence is fair game, still exists today I am sure, but for Nanna it was a fait accompli.
Hers was a large urban block of some 1200 square metres, with garden all around the perimeter and a large soft rolling couch lawn in the middle. A mature date palm edged with a circle of liver-coloured bricks sat just near the Hills hoist, waving its fronds in the sea breeze. A man would come every year and collect seed from that tree and I’m sure half the date palms in Australia are related to that one, such was the abundance of seed it produced.
Certain habits were a ritual, such as tipping the tea leaves from the pot each day over the Christmas bush that sat at the back stairs or procuring manure for the lemon tree down the back with the cover crop of strawberries underneath.
Her habits must have been catching because I can recall family tales of her daughter (my aunt) growing garlic under the roses in the front yard of her home in a very conservative Australian country town. Yes, it was companion planting. It wasn’t quite the scandal, but almost!
Years later I can recall papering my entire front yard with newspapers to suppress weeds and old grass, much to the neighbour’s surprise - before laying a new lawn.
It worked a treat. I had the best lawn in the street bar none!
A few years later I heard a story on the radio about two Australians who had invented a new way of growing food called permaculture. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren inspired me to plant a large vegetable garden and fruit trees.
The ground was hard packed clay and the climate was cold and frosty, so results were mixed. And I had my losses, birds devoured the grapes as soon as they ripened, and the dog got into the rockmelon patch and chewed through every piece of ripe fruit. But the chillies grew amazingly well, as did the cherry tomatoes. I was hooked.
Next, I moved to a windy, salty beach side suburb where everything seemed to struggle. I persevered. And bit by bit success came. I composted, I wrapped young trees in hessian against the wind, I watered constantly from the bore under my backyard – the citrus, passionfruit and a mango did well. Even the bananas fruited under my watchful eye aided by a liberal dose of coffee grounds donated by a local barista. A good crop of tamarillos one year encouraged me to order a few sub-tropicals from Daley’s to try.
They hated the salty winds and one by one they turned up their toes. The vegetables were woeful. Nothing liked the black acid soils. It was very discouraging.
The neighbours were discouraging too. They loved their lawn monocultures, devoid of any trees or shrubs.
Each February when the heat hit, the whole suburb would brown off, except my little patch of green, with its fruit trees, gingers and tiger grasses framing a lawn longer than what was fashionable, with chooks pecking around at the edges.
One day I asked myself… “Am I the weirdo here?” It was then I knew it was time to move. I simply didn’t fit anymore. I wanted to be somewhere where people gave a damn about their environment, where when the topic of soil came up, their eyes didn’t glaze over and where everybody knew what a swale was and what it was for.
At the time I was working as a journalist for a metropolitan newspaper. It was long hours, inside at a computer. I lived for the weekends when I could go to the garden. I am not religious, but that garden was my church. It fed my body and my spirit.
So, when redundancies were offered, I thought long and hard about my life, and then put up my hand.
I decided I was going to study permaculture. But before I left, I left my readers a legacy, a feature story on a local permaculture couple, Mark Brown and Kate Beveridge of Purple Pear Farm.
A visit to study their setup and systems convinced me I was doing the right thing. An intensive deep dive into Geoff Lawton’s amazing videos following that, had me enthralled.
I enrolled in the Diploma of Permaculture with the National Environment Centre at Albury TAFE under head teacher, Sue Brunskill.
From the very first, a new world unfolded. What was to follow was three immersive semesters of project-based study with supportive and knowledgeable teachers. Along the way, I moved again, this time to the Northern Rivers area of NSW where I supplemented my Diploma studies with additional training at the Permaculture College of Australia with permaculture pioneer, Robyn Francis.
Again, I was amazed by how much support and knowledge Robyn gave me, offering me the use of her extensive library at any time with which to complete my diploma studies.
While I was doing my diploma, I completed several courses with Robyn including Advanced Design Skills and Teacher Training.
I met incredible people through my studies and learned so much that I could apply in my own life.
Today a few years on, I am doing permaculture on an old gravel quarry and I work as a country real estate agent in a village where permaculture is as normal as breathing. I even list and sell properties in a dedicated permaculture community.
My gravel quarry is coming along nicely and while it has a long way to go, I would say if permaculture can work on a gravel quarry, or green a desert – it truly can work anywhere!
I have been able to pair my work and my study together beautifully, because now I can read a landscape easily, understand and design water systems effortlessly, assess issues by the weeds that grow there and along the way, sprinkle my clients with a healthy little dose of permaculture!
It’s my way of giving a bit back to the discipline which has given to me so much already.
Story by Yvonne Campbell