PA member and former PA Board member Dr Cally Brennan is a permaculture designer and educator based in Canberra, and founded Canberra Permaculture Design. Prior to working in permaculture, Cally held roles in academia and in the public sector, working in energy and climate policy.She is also the designer of one of the PA limited edition T shirts with the slogan ‘Permaculture. Do you dig it.’
Cally spoke to PA volunteer Julia about why permaculture came at the right time in her life, and how her past experiences have shaped her understanding of it.
How did permaculture come along, and how was it shaped by your background working in academia and climate policy?
I have always had an interest in sustainability and I have always loved gardening. My grandfather was involved in the Dig for Victory campaign in the UK, we had some lovely holidays visiting his garden. This first sparked my interest in gardening. I have worked in academia, mostly from realising that it was fun to educate people, and like many people in the world, you disconnect your degree from what you want to do in life. So, I tried a range of things until I settled on permaculture. I studied ethnomusicology, a mixture of music and anthropology that explores how people use music to express their cultural identity. I was also lucky enough to do some fieldwork in Malaysia and Singapore. Predictably, there were not many jobs in this area! So, it was on speck that I decided to join the public service.
I came to Canberra in 2006 as a graduate and then found myself in an analytical role in economic research. It didn’t quite fit with my moral side however, as I was coming to conclusions that I fundamentally disagreed with. I ended up working in energy efficiency and climate policy. Working directly on the ground in dealing with climate change policy was a lot! I found that there was a lot of politics involved in climate policy, on both sides. The urgency of the issue was such that I didn’t want to spend the next few years writing and working on things that were basically there to pretend things were on track when they were not. I felt I could make a bigger impact doing other things with my life. So that’s where permaculture came in. I had learned about permaculture when we had first moved to Australia in about 1994. I first remember visiting a garden in Freemantle, WA which had a lot of tyres in its designs. So my conception of permaculture around then was lots of straw mulch and old tyres! It wasn’t until I joined Permablitz ACT in 2009, that I learnt what permaculture was really about. I met a horticulturalist in the group who knew a lot about plants. He had the ability to make you feel like you could try anything, and that it was good to try new things and to not feel constrained by tradition. My conception of permaculture changed to something that was exciting and different and new. I did a PDC with John champagne and Phil Gould back in 2011 and that was the usual brain-popping experience when I realised it was just about common sense. What struck me was how good it would feel to be doing something on an individual level that was regenerative and helpful. I could do both important civic participation through protesting and doing a small thing in regenerative permaculture. Permaculture was an area where I could learn about how nature worked.
I later set up Canberra Permaculture design, because I could design, draw well, and use my interest in sustainability. I built a client base and some confidence. I’m now rushed off my feet with people who want to find out more about permaculture, which is great! For a while, it was a good balance to be working on the big picture stuff (but no direct connection with people) to actually legislate on building standards or energy plans, and then the small picture stuff of doing something with my own life and my own garden.
Wow! So you’ve done so many different things, how do they overlap? Where do you see parallels between permaculture and energy policy?
Having worked in energy policy, it’s amazing to know how much permaculture is about energy, and energy efficiency is fundamental to permaculture design. Permaculture is about capturing energy in your house and your garden. It’s nice to see this linked: the more I learned about energy from work, the more I deeply understood the workings of permaculture.
That’s really fascinating, and it’s great to see how all the varied experiences in your life have combined together to help you understand all of these different processes, and your background seems to have influenced significantly your perception and understanding of permaculture! I was particularly struck when you were speaking about your days in Permablitz ACT, where the horticulturalist in the group had this “can do” attitude about trying new things and seeing what worked. Has that philosophy influenced the way you approach permaculture design in your garden, home and life, and new clients who may not be familiar with permaculture?
The experimental side of my permaculture practice is reserved for what we do in our garden! I make the mistakes on behalf of other people so I can share what I have learned. The most effective design incorporates water into its heart. Canberra is a semi-arid climate normally (though this year it’s quite moist), and last year was terribly dry. I’m now very aware of passive water harvesting. I experiment with these designs in our garden, and then I suggest ideas on water harvesting. I generally build my designs about passive water harvesting: everything is about water here. There’s a lot of opportunities though to capture water: it’s very often wasted in residential properties.
What are some of your most effective passive water harvesting techniques you’ve found on your own properties?
French drains and swales are two of the most effective designs and are at the right scale for a residential property. In ours, we’ve used drainage channels through our driveway, so we’ve diverted water from our driveway and directed into a small swale around a raised bed. It has worked really well I love it!!
Anything you’re listening to that’s inspiring you at the moment?
What are your New Year’s permaculture resolutions? Anything on the horizon?
Balance is what I need to work on. I need to work out how to balance my business and the important service that I provide with everything else in my life. We’re still establishing this garden, and haven’t run workshops this year. We had a massive hailstorm that hit us in late January of this year that smashed everything up, and along with the poor air quality and smoke in January and COVID later on, we couldn’t run any in person workshops outside. We’re at the moment now doing a lot of infrastructure work: putting in a chicken coop and a greenhouse. I’m trying to find a balance between doing designs for other people and getting onto the things that I have to do now: putting in the greenhouse, getting the beans in and all of those big and small tasks that come up all the time. I need to make sure I have more time for us: my family and myself as well. It’s easy to run yourself ragged because people want help and you can help them!!
Dr Cally Brennan is a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national member-based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia like Cally advocating for permaculture solutions.
This article aligns with the permaculture ethics (Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share) and permaculture principles including Produce No Waste, Catch & Store Energy, Integrate rather than segregate and Use Edges and Value the Marginal. Find out more about the permaculture principles and ethics here.
Cally is wearing one of the Permaculture Australia T shirts, featuring her design ‘Permaculture: Do you Dig it’. These limited edition T shirts can be purchased here.
In our monthly video interview series, PA Members Morag Gamble, John Champagne and Lachie McKenzie share their experiences working with community permaculture projects across the globe. Key lessons learnt include:
community led projects and solutions are key to success
youth led activities are effective to bring positive change, and
the importance of promoting and re-learning Indigenous knowledge and traditional skills.
The panel members
Lachlan McKenzie (Dip. Permaculture) is the Co-Director of Permatil Global. He has been immersed in permaculture since completing his Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in 1994. His permaculture adventures took him to Timor-Leste in 2001 working for 5 years with Timorese NGO Permatil and consulting for International NGOs providing trainings (including PDCs), writing curriculums, creating educational materials and demonstration sites. This culminated in co-writing and producing the Permaculture Guidebook from Timor-Leste in three languages. An accompanying bi-lingual Permaculture Facilitator’s Handbook and permaculture educational DVD were created working with IDEP Foundation in Bali and post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia. He volunteered with the Permaculture Association Britain for two years, working with permaculture projects in the UK, France and Portugal. He is a core member of the International Permaculture Education Network (IPEN) project, current Chairperson for Permaculture South Australia and loves to keep his hands dirty in the garden.
Morag Gamble is an award-winning international permaculture teacher, speaker, designer and practitioner. She is the founder of the Permaculture Education Institute and Director of the registered charity, the Ethos Foundation. Morag is based at a UN World Habitat Award winning permaculture village in Australia and has taught permaculture in more than 20 countries over the past 25 years. She leads the Permaculture Educators Program – the first comprehensive combined online Permaculture Design Certificate and Permaculture Teacher Certificate. Morag is co-founder of the iconic Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast University Community Garden and the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network and many other local food initiatives around the world. She leads permaculture camps for schools, nature kids programs for young children, and mentors many young people in permaculture.
John Champagne (Dip Permaculture) has more than 25 years permaculture experience in teaching and projects in Australia and internationally, including Indonesia and India. John is recognized as an elder within the Permaculture Movement in Australia and continues to be active in permaculture. He was on the Board of Permaculture Australia for three years and is the Convener of PA’s Permafund, a registered charity that receives and distributes funds to permaculture projects worldwide. In 2018 John was one of the drivers and organisers of the Australasian Permaculture Convergence (APC14) held in Canberra. He is based at Brogo Permaculture Gardens in NSW.
Video interview: What does effective permaculture aid look like?
PA’s PERMAFUND provides small grants to community permaculture projects across the globe. They have funded 51 projects in 15 countries with a focus on food security, regenerative agriculture practices, seed sovereignty, women’s empowerment, and permaculture education to name a few. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia.
PERMATIL GLOBALis making permaculture tools and knowledge accessible to everyone across the globe, working with people to strengthen food sovereignty, facilitate environmental regeneration, mitigate climate change and build resilient and sustainable communities everywhere.
ETHOS FOUNDATION, in partnership with the PERMACULTURE EDUCATION INSTITUTE, is supporting local permaculture initiatives in East Africa. They are committed to supporting community led programs that are guided by the ethics – earth care • people care • fair share.
PA member, educator and permaculture design consultant Janene Price chatted to PA volunteer Julia about the lessons she’s learnt from lockdown, how we can effectively inspire people to take up the cause of permaculture and its popularity under the new normal (plus some design tips for public gardens who get pesky visitors!).
PA member Janene Price is a permaculture educator and consultant, whose business,Love to Grow, in Byron Bay helps people implement effective permaculture garden design. As well as private gardens, she works with public gardens, most notably at Harvest Newrybar, where she also runs permaculture and gardening workshops for the public.
PA’s Permafund provides small grants of less than $2000 AUD to community permaculture projects across the globe. Since 2012, we have funded 51 projects in 15 countries that support food security, seed sovereignty, regenerative farming practices and water harvesting.
After reviewing a record number of applications, we are thrilled to announce thirteen successful grant recipients for 2020/2021. A huge thank you to our generous donors and to the Permafund volunteer team (pictured left) for their amazing work coordinating the grant program.
We have four more projects we’d like to fund on the waitlist. If you have thought about donating to Permafund or would like to organize a fundraising activity to assist please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
2020/2021 Permafund grant projects
Aranya India aims to promote permaculture farming practices to create ecological, sustainable and regenerative livelihoods. Permafund funding will support the design and development of permaculture farms for small and marginal farmers, with a focus on female farmers in rural India.
Emas hitam Indonesia is a grassroots permaculture non-government organization (NGO) that aims to promote, support and develop regenerative solutions to poverty and development across Indonesia. This project supports training and seeds for food security in Bali, an area hard hit from the fallout of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
FambidzanaiZimbabwe supports food and income security projects through sustainable land use management, training and the facilitation of market opportunities for organic produce. The Permafund project will set up a biogas model plant in Harare for learning and replication in rural and peri-urban communities.
Foundation for Research and Sustainable Development (FRSD), India is an NGO devoted to the preservation of the natural diversity of plant and animal species and their habitats, through the prevention of environmental degradation and destruction. Permafund funding will support the training and set up of permaculture kitchen herbal gardens for rural and Indigenous women in rural areas, including the purchase of plants, biofertilisers, training and the translation and printing of booklets into Tamil language.
IRDSIndia is an NGO that envisages a society where the less privaledged are socially, economically and politically empowered. The funded project will support tribal farmers in rural Tamil Nadu with training on permaculture and low input farming, Indigenous seeds and a seed bank, and materials for natural pest control.
Laikipia Permaculture Centre (LPC) in Kenya is a partnership of 11 Maasai women groups with 770 individual members who have been pushed by climate change, severe environmental degradation and change of land available for grazing to find alternative livelihoods in drylands. The grant will be used in land rehabilitation through the planting of trees, developing food forests in established groups and permaculture training.
Poret Zimbabwe core activities are in permaculture practices both at our Centre and in the villages in which they work, including natural resource management, water catchment, indigenous seed saving and organic farming. The Permafund grant will support the purchase of seed tubers to ‘bring the Madhumbe tuber back’, including training and training and construction of swales to assist with growing the tubers.
OTEPIC Kenya is a community based organization sharing knowledge and innovative approaches on permaculture, renewable energy and peace initiatives, with a focus on women and youth groups. The grant will assist with training and setting up of bee hives for 100 community members, as well as promoting the value of bees as pollinators in mixed rural agriculture settings.
SCDIKenya aims to empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger with sustainable livelihood, environmental conservation, food security and water & sanitation projects. The Permafund project will support 200 small holder farmers with green manure seeds and training to improve soil fertility, farm planning and crop rotation.
Sustainable Kenya aims to build the resilience of sustainable community food through transformation of healthy soils and promotion of native plants for pollination. Permafund funding will support a regenerative agriculture project for marginalized communities that have been affected by Covid-19 with seeds, tools, native plants and permaculture training.
Turtle Survival Alliance India has a focus on conservation efforts with local communities to safeguard threatened freshwater species in four (of the five) turtle priority areas in India. The project will offer training in vermicomposting and food growing to reduce the reliance on aquatic wildlife for food.
White Mountain Tanzania is part of the White Mountain, Maasai community-led initiative which aims to regenerate the land and livelihoods around Mount Kilimanjaro. This funding will support the training and set up of community food gardens based on permaculture techniques in ten 10 villages of Amboseli which have been impacted with reduce tourism due to COVID.
WORD Trust India improves the lives of communities through health, safe water, sanitation and sustainable development projects. This funding will support training on preparation of vermi-composting, construction on compost pits and supply of seeds and saplings for growing for rural marginal women farmers in Tamil Nadu.
Let’s never stop thinking about the future: The connections between permaculture, Japanese design and homesteading in a frugal future.
The world has changed immeasurably over the last thirty years, with ‘more, bigger, better’ being the common mantra. But in the midst of this constantly evolving world, there is a growing community of people who are looking at our history, searching for answers to issues that are faced everywhere, such as energy, water, materials, food and population crisis.
In “Just Enough, ” author Azby Brown turned to the history of Japan, where he finds several lessons on living in a sustainable society that translate beyond place and time. This book presents a compelling argument around how to forge a society that is conservation-minded, waste-free, well-housed, well-fed and economically robust, including what Edo Period life has to offer us in the global battle to reverse environmental degradation.
In contrast, Retrosuburbia, by David Holmgren shows how the Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilience in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level with examples from ‘Aussie Street’ story and real life case studies to support and enhance the main content.
Su Dennett and Virginia Solomon have been living and promoting a sustainable households at their respective Melliodora and Eco resilience households and wider community activities including the Hepburn Relocalisation Network, Permaculture Australia,Holmgren Design & permaculture education to name a few. Virginia has also travelled multiple times to Japan, including meeting Azby and connecting all of the interview members here today on behalf of Permaculture Australia.
Video 1: Introduction and welcome from Virginia Solomon, Permaculture Australia
Video 2: Full video interview Azby Brown, Su Dennett, David Holmgren & Virginia Solomon
For more information:
Azby Brown is a native of New Orleans, and has lived in Japan since 1985. He is a leading authority on Japanese architecture, design, and environmentalism, and the author of many influential books and articles, including The Very Small Home (2005), Just Enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan (2010), and The Genius of Japanese Carpentry (2014). He majored in fine art and architecture at Yale University, graduating in 1980. In 1985 he was named a National Foreign Scholar by the Japanese Ministry of Education, which supported his graduate studies in architecture at the University of Tokyo. His creative work has been widely exhibited at galleries and museums internationally and he is a sought after speaker on Japanese culture.
Su Dennett is David Holmgren’s partner in life and livelihood. After many years managing the business, Su is now focusing more of her prodigious energy and passion in the kitchen and community than in the office. The vegie box scheme she initiated with local organic farmer Rod May, and her own innovative approach to bulk food purchase and distribution supports regional producers. While she remains active in the Holmgren Design (HD) office and business management she now spends as much time in community events and organising mainly through Hepburn Relocalisation Network (HRN), a transition initiative that she started in 2006 with Maureen Corbett. In 2013 she was one of two women added to Hepburn Shire Council’s Women’s Honour Role for her community work and leadership in pursuing a low impact, simple lifestyle. At Melliodora, Su’s morning and evening hour with her milking goats is her “time out.”
David Holmgren is best known as the co-originator with Bill Mollison of the permaculture concept following the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. Since then he has developed three properties, consulted and supervised in urban and rural projects and presented in Australia and around the world. His writings over those three decades span a diversity of subjects and issues, including his recent book Retrosuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a resilient future. At home (Melliodora in Hepburn, Central Victoria), David is the vegetable gardener, silviculturalist and builder. David is respected for his commitment to presenting permaculture ideas through practical projects and teaching by personal example, that a sustainable lifestyle is a realistic, attractive and powerful alternative to dependent consumerism. David is a life member of Permaculture Australia and is about to release Our Street, a children’s permaculture book co-authored with Beck Lowe.
VirginiaSolomon has been involved with permaculture since the early 1990s. Since 2003 she has been worked on the Accredited Permaculture Training (APT), is a founding member of the Permaculture Educators’ Guild and passionate advocate for quality permaculture education. She has been a previous Board member and President of Permaculture Melbourne (now Permaculture Victoria), convenor of the Australasian Permaculture Convergence in 2005, and is the current Chair of the PA Board of Directors. She lives in NE Melbourne and has a large, productive garden and a rambling friendly house where visitors and guests are always welcome. She is a patchworker, a cheesemaker, an eco-dying enthusiast, a shoemaker (only for herself) and a dressmaker.
Additional texts and resouces referred to in the interview:
Azby Brown, Just Enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan
Permaculture Australia (PA) is the national permaculture member organisation and peak body. Our mission is to support, promote and advocate for permaculture ideas, solutions and strategies. To support our expanding work, we are looking for a part time Accountant to join our growing team.
The position of Accountant is central to the operations of Permaculture Australia, a Company limited by guarantee and a Registered Charity and Environmental Organisation. The Accountant is one of four part-time paid positions within PA and covers a variety of tasks including preparing financial reports, invoicing, payroll and compliance reporting.
The ongoing part-time position is on offer with an initial contract to end of April 2022, with flexible working hours undertaken from home for up to 10 hours/month.
For any queries please contact Donna, PA Board Director via firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO APPLY:
Please send the completed application form and brief CV to email@example.com before midnight Saturday 7th November 2020.
Thank you for your interest in working for Permaculture Australia.