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.
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.
Western Australia educator Dr Ross Mars has announced that students can now enrol in the online Certificate IV in Permaculture course (AHC42115) through Perth-based Skills Strategies International.
Skills Strategies International is the first Registered Training Organisation (RTO) in Australia to offer Certificate I, II, III, IV and Diploma in Permaculture as well as the 4-unit Permaculture Demonstrator Skills Set.
For those interested in becoming a teacher of accredited permaculture courses the Permaculture Demonstrator Skills Set is also available as an online course.
Certificate I and Certificate II in Permaculture courses are being delivered in several West Australian schools as Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs.
Setting up nursery irrigation
Permaculture qualifications can be obtained through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Email Ross to be sent details about this service.
Ross Mars’ Candlelight Farm near Perth, Western Australia has had a healthy uptake of students for Cert III and Diploma of Permaculture courses. The 12-month Diploma course has 4 enrolled students who meet with their lecturers for one weekend a month.
Recently the students and lecturers spent a weekend away from the classroom and took a 2-day field trip into the south west of Western Australia.
The purpose of the field trip was to examine the rural property in Boyup Brook that the students will be doing a design and report for plus to visit two community gardens in Albany to provide them with design ideas and assistance.
On day one, some of the students and lecturers travelled south from Perth in Ross’s ute while other students from the south west made their way to the first meeting point in Boyup Brook. This is teacher Lisa’s field trip report.
“We arrived around midday after a 3-hour trip and proceeded to stretch our legs with a walk around the large water reservoir on the property.
This was followed by an amazing lunch of chicken wings, cooked on the smoker, with an array of salads prepared by the owners of the rural property.
Following lunch, we walked the rest of the property to get a feel for the land, examining the existing vegetation and rocky outcrops and observed water movement across the property.
Students inspecting the property to observe its features
Seated in camping chairs we did some classroom work, interviewing the owners of the property to learn of their hopes and dreams for the development of the land.
Dinner that night was another amazing meal, a slow cooked casserole with meat and seasonal vegetables. The night finished with star gazing around a campfire whilst discussing all the permaculture possibilities for our hosts’ stunning hillside property.
On day two we traveled in convoy from Boyup Brook inland south to Albany to visit the first of the community gardens, the Rainbow Coast Community Garden, where we met with one of the garden founders and had a tour of the grounds.
Next, we went to the Good Life Community garden in Albany and toured the gardens with one of our group, who was a founder.
The Diploma students will have an opportunity to create designs for the undeveloped parts of this community garden. Their design will include an extended chook run and orchard zone.
We then visited a suburban permaculture garden and were amazed at the diversity of both plant and animal species in this modest-sized backyard. Lunch was harvested from the garden. This time fish plus an array of vegetables and edible flowers and we enjoyed another amazing feast.
Fresh from the garden
After lunch we parted company and began the 4.5-hour drive back to Perth.”
The students will be reflecting on their experiences and incorporating their field trip observations into their Diploma assignments. A fun (and delicious) way to learn!
Story by Lisa Passmore of INSPIRED BY NATURE landscape design
For more information please contact the PA Education team. email@example.com
There is great opportunity for teachers and high schools to adopt new Cert I and Cert II Permaculture courses into Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs for Years 10, 11 and 12. Permaculture is a framework to enable the design of resilient systems and to create sustainable, living, integrated systems based on ecological principles and earth caring practices. Permaculture training is now embedded into the AHC Training Package (Agriculture, Horticulture, Conservation and Land Management) and courses have been initially developed for delivery in WA. However, they are also able to be delivered anywhere in Australia through Registered Training Organisation (RTO) partnerships. Skills Strategies International, based in WA, is able to auspice with schools anywhere in Australia and these courses are also available for purchase by other RTOs.
Cert I is most suitable for Education Support students, or those with learning difficulties, and Cert II for students who have aspirations of working within the agricultural and horticultural sector, but specialising in sustainable living practices.
These hands-on, student-centred courses engage students in the school garden where they learn life skills of growing, propagating and caring for plants, caring for animals, growing soil and undertaking organic practices to minimise their impact in the environment. While they are growing their vegetables, herbs and other plants, they may also be carrying out natural area restoration, recording weather, maintaining structures in the garden, preparing products and working safely when using and maintaining garden tools and equipment.
Teachers, or other school staff, will need to undertake four Cert III units in the Permaculture Demonstrator Skills Set for them to offer the Cert I in Permaculture course or at least a Cert III in Permaculture to deliver Cert II, unless they have already undertaken a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). Permaculture Australia has information on its website that further discusses the requirements of schools and teachers.
Besides the Permaculture Demonstrator Skills Set, Skills Strategies International also offers face-to-face courses in Cert III and Diploma in Permaculture, as well as providing a mechanism to Recognise Prior Learning (RPL) for any of these courses. You may have the skills, abilities and knowledge to obtain a qualification without attending a class, as long as you can provide the evidence supporting your involvement as a permaculture practitioner. Online courses may be developed in the future.
To find out which other RTOs are able to deliver Accredited Permaculture Training at various levels please search training.gov.au.
For more information contact the Permaculture Australia Education team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Dr Ross Mars, Skills Strategies International.
Accredited Permaculture Training is up and running in Western Australia, through Skills Strategies International. The first CIII was delivered by Ross Mars last year, and this has expanded to another CIII and the first Diploma this year. During last year’s CIII course, students also undertook AHCPER321 (Training small groups) and were able to achieve the Permaculture Skills Set. This qualification was the first time it was successfully offered in Australia.
One student during that course is now delivering CII Permaculture at Bold Park School. Yet another first for WA!
Currently three people are helping deliver the CIII and Diploma this year, with the aim of being more involved in the future.
registered Training Organisations (RTOs) can begin to offer this training
schools can be offering recognised qualifications to their students and training their staff to teach it
students looking for accredited Certificates and Diplomas can press the RTOs to add this training
qualified permaculture people can do the same and offer to be employed to teach them at the same time.
Don’t forget that Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is one of the pathways into this training so, if you have background and experience, think about converting these to a nationally recognised qualification.
It is up to all of us to get the word out… nothing boosts supply like a demand!
If we approach the providers, if we ask for the training, if we agitate for permaculture qualifications being included as desirable knowledge in job ads, it will happen.
Seeing the expansion of permaculture education around Australia and internationally is very exciting!