The Politics of Permaculture – Terry Leahy

The Politics of Permaculture – Terry Leahy

PA’s Kym chats with Terry Leahy, who has been involved in the permaculture movement for more than 40 years, about his new book. The Politics of Permaculture is one of the first books to unpack the theory and practice of this social movement that looks to challenge the status quo. Drawing upon publications as well as extensive interviews with permaculture practitioners and organisations from around the world, Terry Leahy explains the ways permaculture is understood and practiced in different contexts.

Tell us about yourself and how did you get involved in permaculture?

I was in a Child Care Cooperative in the early seventies. I joined with some other people in the collective to purchase a block up the back of Taree. I am pretty sure that I read Permaculture One as a guide to the kinds of things we might do on our block. I loved it. Later on, in Newcastle, we had a large block and I was keen to use permaculture so I went up to Tyalgum in Northern NSW to do the PDC with Liz Nicholson and Peter Wade. I think that was 1996. A year or so after that I went to my first Convergence in Nimbin at Djanbung Gardens. In 2003 as part of my job at University of Newcastle, we got ten students from South Africa who were working in the rural villages there as extension workers. That led to a whole interest in permaculture in the context of food security and development.

In 2009 I went to the international convergence in Malawi and met the people from the amazing Chikukwa permaculture project in Zimbabwe (pictured left). The following year my sister and I went there to make a documentary on that.

We often see comments online that permaculture is not political, and that politics has no place on a permaculture site. How would you respond to these comments? 

Well, that’s a doozy, isn’t it? I’ve been very much influenced by the second wave feminist movement. In terms of their slogan, ‘the personal is political’. Their idea is that wherever there’s relationships between people, there can be conflicts and you can talk about the politics of these relationships. So, politics is a part of any social life, and my book takes a very broad view of politics.

If you narrow it down and talk about politics as related to government, to the political process, as it’s normally understood, I’d say this. There is the famous scene from ‘Global Gardener’. Mollison is walking across a misty paddock and talking about how he used to be involved in forestry protests in Tasmania. And he realized that protests were not ‘enough’.  What we need to do is to build the permaculture alternative from the ground up.

Permaculture is just as much about system change as more obviously ‘political’ movements. But the route to that is building up the alternative. My view is that permaculture has a lot to contribute as a grass roots strategy, but also a lot of permaculture people are not seeing that as the only thing to be doing at the moment.”

What I found talking to permaculture people is that there are different approaches. Some are massively happy that permaculture is not ‘political’. They don’t like the conflictual argy-bargy that’s associated with the political scene. They want to get on with doing things that are making a difference in the world, even if it’s just one backyard at a time, as one of my interviewees said. This is quite defensible, and I explain why.

At the same time, a lot of my interviewees are also talking about how permaculture needs to intervene in the political space. For example, the initiative in Britain called “Control Shift”. Which brings together various groups, including permaculture, to try and create a way forward through political alliance.

Tell us some more about some of the topics in your book.

There’s a lot covered in the book. Even though it’s only 50,000 words, it rattles along. The book begins with the definition of permaculture. Most of my interviewees define it as a design science for environmental sustainability. And I question that and talk about various options reflected in the practice of permaculture people. The next chapter is on permaculture as a social movement. So, how does the network of permaculture people hang together and what sort of things are they doing as permaculture?

The third chapter is partly on the anti-political strategy of permaculture and how people are responding to that. The second half is about visions. Like, so if you are in favour of system change what kind of system do you want? I look at different approaches that people are following. ‘Town and village market bioregionalism’ is close to what Mollison proposes. ‘Radical reformism’ hopes for a cultural change and a change in market behaviour along with some degree of state regulation. Ethical businesses and cooperatives with an interventionist state. I found that full on anarchists and democratic socialists are very much a minority in the permaculture movement.

“Permaculture’s grass roots interventions are meant to prefigure what a permaculture system would be like if it was implemented through the whole society. I look at how this works out in practice and give a lot of examples — a lot of detail on what permaculture people are doing. And most people, including those in other movements for system change have got no concept of what permaculture is doing, in that sense.

The final chapter is on gender and colonialism. This is about critiques of permaculture that come from within the movement — but also from outside. Some people are writing off permaculture because they think it’s patriarchal or colonialist. What is the substance of those critiques?  How is permaculture responding? I hope people will find what I am saying about this helpful.

How do you see the current permaculture movement in Australia? What more could be progressing and how could this occur?

I think I am pretty happy with the diversity in the permaculture movement which probably comes through in the book. Go on with what we’re doing. David Holmgren’s recent book Retrosuburbia is just brilliant. And like heaps of what we are doing all around the world. Adding to that the first thing I’d be saying is to be realistic about what we can achieve and what we can’t. For example, what are the typical problems of trying to run an ethical business in the context of a capitalist economy? The second would be that there is a slight problem in defining permaculture as system design for sustainability. I tend to think that the definition Mollison gives in The Designers’ Manual is closer to what most permaculture people are actually doing – sustainable agriculture with a side salad of settlement design. And I think that the mismatch between the current definition and what people are doing can lead to certain problems. In terms of how permaculture relates to the broader environmentalist movement and how it relates to the left and the public. Because when people ask, “What is permaculture?” they get an answer that is hard to read.

You are a long-term member of PA (thank you!). Why are you a member & what do you see as the role of the national permaculture organisation?

I love PA. It’s great that we’ve got a permaculture organisation in Australia. Despite some difficult conflicts in the Australian movement, we have a peak body that works extremely well. The UK has got one, but the United States is still reaching for a consensus. I see PA’s role is to facilitate convergences and to promote people’s businesses and media and to help them to establish their permaculture careers. Yes, that’s what it is and it’s doing that already and I’m liking it! Obviously, I have a particular fondness for Permafund, for the permaculture in developing countries action. Which permaculture’s done very well so far and we have the scope to expand.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve been sometimes worried about writing this book. You worry about a number of things. I worry about whether I’ve been faithful to my interviewees and whether they’ll see themselves in what I write about what they say. It’s an inevitable problem for a sociologist writing about interview data. You excerpt the particular piece of interview text and then you try and relate that to other interview data and put it into some sort of framework. It can seem very far removed from what the person felt at the time. I have also been a bit worried that some of what I say about permaculture is controversial within the permaculture movement. But quite a lot of positive response to the book so far has made me less worried about this. I think people are looking forward to a book that has a go at tackling some tricky issues for us.

More information:

You can purchase a copy of The Politics of Permaculture here.

Terry is a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture organisation. You can find out more, including how to join up as a member, here.

Bonnie Tuttle: building local economy & community resilience

Bonnie Tuttle: building local economy & community resilience

“I support individuals, micro/small/family-owned business owners and people in not-for-profit or social enterprises. I do this because I believe that grassroots action and people working together locally is better for all of us. I see the enormous difference not-for-profits and social enterprises make in our communities. I believe that local business is a cornerstone of connection and resilience. And behind it all is you and I – just people with our own personal and family commitments, trying to do our best.”

PA’s Kym spoke with Bonnie Tuttle, one of our new PA members based in lutrawita / Tasmania about the links between permaculture & Holistic Decision Making, building local economy, and obtaining many yields by working with small community organisations/groups.

For those who don’t know you, tell us more about yourself?

I’m a business and community consultant and my core focus is on helping our communities grow through service and enterprise. I offer training, facilitation, coaching, project management and marketing/communications support. I’m based in the South of the beautiful lutrawita / Tasmania, on the ‘sunny Eastern Shore’ which has allowed me to create some lovely little microclimates in my garden, where annual veggies were a (very time consuming) passion before I discovered permaculture! Now we have significantly more perennials.

I can’t remember how I first came to permaculture. I think living here with such a small and well-connected community meant that I just stumbled across it when keeping up to date with fellow PA members Hannah at Good Life Permaculture, and Lauren and Oberon from Spiral Garden. I did some reading and although the gardening aspect really spoke to my hands-in-the-dirt obsession, it also set off all the bells in my strategic/solutions/design/planning brain, which had lived in the corporate growth economy for far too long.

What are some of the wins and challenges of your work activities and running your own business?

The main challenge is that I have chosen to work with grassroots organisations, and people who don’t generally have a lot of access to funds. During my Permaculture Design Course (with GLP) I became more interested in the economic aspects of permaculture, because it helped me to better understand the issues, but also some of the solutions.

I am still grappling with how to best obtain a yield from my work whilst maintaining a sense of fair share, but I have adopted barter as a form of payment, set up payment plans, and joined the CENTS network to try to make my services accessible to everyone. I do a little bit of ‘Robin Hood-ing’ with corporate clients every now and then, as long as they align with my values – by working with some larger clients who have capacity to pay I can then offer time pro-bono to other volunteer-led grassroots groups, or start-ups without any capital.

“Although this ‘target market’ may not be the most appealing in a marketing sense, I am all the richer for it. I have created the most wonderful tapestry of friends and acquaintances, and I now have the opportunity to share my knowledge with people I know will use it well and build a better future for themselves and our community.

Another ‘win’ is that I am able to live a more holistic life, with work integrated into the flow of my days. If I fancy a walk in the bush, I can take it. If the tomatoes need watering, I can pop out and do it. My days are still extremely busy, and I do work early in the morning and late into the night on occasion – but I pick my kids up from school every day, and am always here if the neighbours need a hand.

You are doing some great work in Holistic Design Management (HDM). How do you see this linking with permaculture (ethics & principles) and broader community resilience?

I learned HDM with Dan (Palmer) early this year, and it immediately sparked something. I have used the framework on a number of occasions now, with individuals, couples and groups. There are many similarities to other forms of strategy and design, and I tend to pick what I think will be the most effective tool for each client.

I see many linkages with permaculture. The most powerful impact I have seen so far (and I’m only at the beginning of my HDM journey) is the impact it can have on Zone Zero. Many people put substantial energy into People Care, but their focus is on the ‘other’. By using the nested wholes structure we can see that there is no ‘other’ – we all exist in symbiosis with the living systems we are nested within. Without clarity and care for ourselves, we can’t possibly be sustainable nor regenerative.

I love that it is a Patterns to Details approach, and this aligns with my philosophy no matter what the framework is. I always start with the ‘big picture’ and work down, because in my work I see people, in their personal and professional lives, get very ‘stuck’ in the doing. Using HDM it is easy to give appropriate space to these enabling actions, but they are always in service of something bigger, and of great importance to the person or the organisation.

For me personally, the whole HDM system’s value is in Applying Self Regulation and Feedback. The tools have really helped me to stay on track, Observe and Interact with the things influencing my progress towards where I want to be, and adjust – usually through self regulation! I am known for being ‘all in’, and have been prone to burnout in the past. Utilising HDM energises me, and gives me little indicators when I’m putting too much energy into one thing (and so it helps me to better value diversity too!)

You are a member of PA (thank you!) – why do you think permaculture and supporting the national permaculture organisation is important?

Although I have a very grassroots focus in the work that I do, I acknowledge that the impact we can have on many issues including the economy and climate change really needs to be addressed at a higher level. This requires momentum and pressure. We can’t do it alone, and our many voices make our message louder.

I also think a sense of belonging is important – to all of us, but to me as an individual too. I have been very lucky to have only experienced a short lockdown period in April 2020, but my work can be very isolated which is hard for a social person like myself. I went from busy offices to being alone all day with my sleepy dog much of the time, and it made me realise that the only connections I had were work colleagues and family.

“Being a member of Permaculture Australia and Permaculture Tasmania has given me opportunities to connect with like minded people and spend my time doing things I consider to be a good use of what precious time we all have. I’m also relatively new to permaculture, and I love to learn. PA exposes me to such a wealth of knowledge – I’m so grateful.”

What do you see as the challenges we are currently facing (e.g. climate crisis) and how could these be addressed?

Wow that is a big question! There are so many opportunities, but the one I focus on is building local economy and taking the wind out of the global growth economy. There is such big ‘bang for buck’ in local economy! People have richer lives because they can work close to home; they can get what they need in their neighborhoods, cutting down on monocultures and carbon miles; we would consume less, and what we would consume would be more necessary and less frivolous if it wasn’t just available at the click of a button from the other side of the earth. From a business owner’s perspective I think it would be easier to find our own place in the market, because we wouldn’t be competing with people online from everywhere. And services would be place based and therefore more tailored and effective…

This isn’t all necessarily true of local economies all of the time, and it would take a lot of work. But I think if as consumers and business owners we turned our minds to providing for ourselves and our neighbours, buying only what we need, and took our feet off the accelerator in the quest for global domination then a lot would change for the better.

What does the rest of 2021 have in store for Bonnie Tuttle Consulting?

I fell into working for myself because of a family emergency, and so at the time I didn’t have time to do things ‘properly’. I certainly didn’t go through any of the steps I advise my clients to take! So I have recently spent a lot of time and energy on the business – looking at systems which support my way of working and reduce the time I need to spend at my desk. I also continued the momentum which started in January this year with my PDC and HDM study, and really looked into who I am and what impact I want to make – how I exist with my business and how that exists within the world. It led me to a rebrand, which I have just launched. So for the rest of the year I will be continuing to get my systems in place, and become more routine in the way I work. And now that I have something I can be proud of, I’ll be promoting the brand a bit more.

I have also been working hard to develop relationships with local government bodies and other organisations who have access to funds to support grassroots organisations, and so I will be delivering some workshops called Business Fundamentals for Grassroots Organisations over the next few months. I have teamed up with my dear friend and fellow permie Jo Smith (Naturally Well with Jo, and Bruny Island Market Garden) and we are running a ‘Living with Purpose’ workshop too – that should be great fun.

And last but not least, I have a Permablitz I’m helping out with in October, and my husband Andrew and I will be starting to roll out the permaculture plan I created for our own space. It will be a slow process, and Small and Slow Solutions is the principle I struggle the most with, but we make a great team so I’m sure we will get the balance right.

For more information:

Check out Bonnie via her Website,  Facebook and Instagram. PA members are able to access a generous 10% discount on services from Bonnie too – log into the PA website to find out more.

Bonnie is a Professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member organisations. You can find out more, including how to sign up today, here.

Spotlight – New PA member & new member benefit

Spotlight – New PA member & new member benefit

Welcome to new PA Professional member WaterUps, who are also generously offering PA members a big discount on their entire range of products. Read more to find out some staggering statistics on how much plastic and water they’ve saved and reused, as the end of Plastic Free July comes to an end. You can also read more about the team in this article we did in 2020 too.

“The lockdown has seen a lot of people focus on their gardens and the physical and mental health benefits they offer so it’s been really nice to see so many people exploring how to grow their own food and, even better, do it in a sustainable fashion.

“The reduced food miles/carbon footprint and of course reduced waste (plastics and unused food) are all additional benefits that can help reduce the pressures on our fragile environment so we’re so happy to be able to play our part whilst also promoting and supporting groups like Permaculture Australia who contribute so much good to the community.”

Interestingly, as it’s “plastic free July” we’re incredibly proud to be able to report that we ticked over the 8.6 tonne figure of the amount of plastic that we’ve saved from landfill and that has been recycled to our products.

In turn, It’s estimated that the people who are using WaterUps® have then saved nearly 25.5 million litres of water compared to the same gardens using an above ground irrigation system!

We’re pretty proud of those numbers and thank you for your support in helping us achieve this, and for encouraging others to find our more about our efforts.

Discount offer for PA members

Catch and store water to help obtain a yield with a wicking garden bed from WaterUps From Down Under. By recycling plastics (over 8.5 tonnes already!) we’re helping reduce waste and to significantly reduce the amount of precious water needed to keep plants happy and healthy in all manner of garden and growing environments. WaterUps can reduce your watering needs by up to 80% and gardens can be left for several weeks without the need to be re-watered. We are thrilled to offer a 20% discount on our product range for all Permaculture Australia members (log into the PA website for the discount code). For more please visit

The Good Life – with Hannah Moloney

The Good Life – with Hannah Moloney

Photo credit: PA member Natalie Mendham

I love permaculture because it doesn’t just highlight what’s wrong in the world, but it provides the tools for us to craft genuinely new  solutions for how we could move forward to create the world of our dreams that’s good for everyone, not just for our individual selves. ” Hannah Moloney

PA’s Kym spoke with PA member Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture about her new book, radical hope, living the Good Life in lutrawita / Tasmania and the busy time she’d have doing great things as Prime Minister of Australia for a week!

Thanks for chatting with me Hannah. How did you get into permaculture and how do you think it can address some of the challenges our society is facing?

I’m originally from sunny Kurilpa, Meanjin (West End, Brisbane) and the youngest of five wildly different kids. I grew up on a quirky herb nursery my Dad ran while Mum worked as a Research Librarian at The Native Title Tribunal. By default I absorbed a strong sense of social and environmental justice which has undoubtedly helped shape me into who I am today. Having grown up in a herb nursery (not a permaculture garden) in a rather alternative community the word permaculture was often flitted around. I think I first saw Bill Mollison speak at an organic fair when I was 17 years old. But it wasn’t until I was travelling Australia  when I was 18 and met Annemarie and Graham Brookman at the legendary Food Forest in South Australia that I really learned what it was. Their holistic approach to farming and living hit home with me and I *got it* – deep down in my heart I went “yessssssssss”.

For the next few years after meeting them I was mostly involved in front line activism helping to defend old growth forests in lutruwita / Tasmania. But at some point I looked at myself and knew that I was sad and approaching activism the wrong way for me personally. There’s many different ways to be an activist and my big learning in that time of my life was finding out how I could be an activist forever. That’s when I pivoted and focused 100% on permaculture and community work. I see permaculture as a form of positive activism that addresses all the big challenges of our time.

Many people still don’t realise it’s not just about gardening/farming – permaculture is a holistic design framework that can be applied to anything – including urban planning, the building industry, education, health and wellbeing  and the climate emergency to name a few things. “

Congratulations on your first book – exciting! How did you come to write a book & what was your inspiration?

Thanks! I was incredibly fortunate to be approached by Affirm Press who suggested I write a book. While flattered, I was very hesitant as there’s so many books already – do we really need more? The short answer is yes, we need more story telling of meaningful and positive ways to move through our world. Right now we’re being bombarded by either a denialist and/or negative narrative around climate change. My book is part of a broader movement in reclaiming that narrative and grounding it in reality (can’t dodge the sobering facts) while drenching it in radical hope. Radical hope is the act of living with optimism and courage in the face of the huge uncertainty that is the climate emergency. 

Tell us more about your book – what do you hope folks will take away from reading it and importantly the action they’ll take?

My book answers the question “how to live a good life in the face of the climate emergency”. I draw on my own life as a practical example – but for the first time ever I step into my vulnerability and share my personal experience in coming to terms with our world and my small place in it. It hasn’t been easy. I also highlight other wonderful people and organisations across Australia doing incredible work in their homes, communities, for their whole regions and our country. I have two hopes for people reading my book. The first is that they learn about some of the effective initiatives already happening in Australia (there’s so many) and realise the solutions are already here, we just have to support them. My second hope is that readers remember that we have everything we need to bring about stunning transformation to create a just and safe world for all. Every single one of us ordinary humans are capable of doing extraordinary things when we apply ourselves. 

It’s been a challenging few years with bushfires, droughts and a global pandemic. If you were PM for a week, what changes would you implement to try and address some of these challenges or advocate for?

Oooo, I’d have a really busy week and;

  • Prioritise and centre First Nations engagement and wisdom. As a starting point, this would include adopting the Uluru Statement From the Heart
  • Legislate and regulate non-biased, responsible media as the norm to ensure people are not ingesting blatant misinformation. 
  • Introduce a quota in Australian government to ensure gender equality. This would include good detail about gender diverse people to ensure genuine inclusion.
  • Ban political donations from big industries to prevent corruption. 
  • Transition to 100% renewable energy which would involve closing all coal power plants justly which would include supporting the workers into new industries. 
  • Provide significant financial and technical support to farmers so they can transition towards methods in line with regenerative land management tailored for their context. 
  • Invest in well designed/built social housing that provides secure homes for people.
  • Invest in the arts to re-establish them as part of our country’s foundation of cultural expression and development. 

You are a long term member of PA (thank you!). Why are you a member/why is being a member of PA important? 

I’m a proud PA member as I love belonging to a national community of passionate people dedicated to doing good. It encourages me to strive to be better in my work and as a human, and connects me with people across the country for support, ideas and friendship. 

What else does 2021 hold for you and Good Life Permaculture?

Well, it’s been a big year – as well as our usual calendar of permaculture workshops and landscape design projects – I’m gearing up to launch my book into the world in September. This will coincide with me re-starting fun, educational weekly You Tube videos from my home/garden to share free skills with people and I’m trying my hardest to pull together a podcast based off my book for people to enjoy as well. Plus I’m excited about a new collaboration with dear friends Milkwood which will kick off later this year (watch this space).  But mostly I’m really hoping I can continue to soften into myself to get closer to reaching my full potential so I can do more good in the world – as far as I can tell this  requires a lot of courage and willingness to fail. But I’m going to have a crack! 

How can folks get a copy of your book? (and will there be a second or third! book coming too?)

You can find the book at your local bookstore or here online at Booktopia. You can also ask your local library to order it in. In terms of writing another book – I’d love to! But let’s give birth to book baby number one first and see how that rolls. 

More information:

Hannah is a and Co-Director of Good Life Permaculture based in lutrawita / Tasmania & guest presenter on Gardening Australia. You can follow the journey of Good Life Permaculture via their Instagram, Facebook and You Tube channel for heaps of great inspiration on growing food, implementing permaculture ethics & principles, and building community.

Hannah is a Permaculture Australia Professional member, the national permaculture member organisation and has completed a Diploma of Permaculture, You can find out more and sign up as a member here today, and join Hannah and hundreds of members across the globe who are advocating for permaculture solutions and positive change. Find out more information on VET Permaculture offerings, including the Diploma of Permaculture here.

Fair Share Friday:  Building community resilience with permaculture

Fair Share Friday: Building community resilience with permaculture

Thanks to your generous donations, PA’s Permafund has supported 59 projects in 17 countries. Each month we’ll bring you a wrap up of some of the projects being supported, so you can follow their progress and fantastic outcomes.

They say a picture tells a thousand words, so scroll through and check out the photo updates shared from Sustainable Communities Kenya. The team have been busy training farmers in organic farming skills, with more activities still occurring before the crop harvest occurs in July and August, and “are happy how our farmers have benefits so much because of the Permafund grant.”

The IRDS Project team in India have completed the training for fifty rural tribal farmers in growing tomatoes, brinjal, beans and castor oil and provision of seeds. This included a focus on eco friendly farm inputs, low cost crop tonics, and intercropping. Criteria used to determine the farmers included: young, has interest to try new methods in agriculture especially the integrated agriculture, allocate time to training and other project related activities, and has land to practice the new permaculture skills.

“IRDS expresses its sincere thanks to PA’s Permafund for their partnership. The farmers are taking care of their cultivation crops now, and they are happy to raise various crops in their lands that will ensure diverse crops and various out come as a result for their sustainable livelihoods.”

The reality and impact of COVID in India, was shared in the project update from Aranya India, with many team members, family and the project communities negatively impacted by COVID directly.

“The situation here isn’t as great. Many of our family, friends , staff and the farming community have been affected with COVID. We have started working on the one acre permaculture projects, however couldn’t continue with the sudden resurge in COVID cases. The villagers shut their boundaries and are not stepping out of their homes whatsoever.  However, we have managed to work a little bit with the help of our ground level staff and volunteers. As the monsoon is nearing, we have procured the plants for plantations and earthworks have started.”

And finally, we are thrilled to introduce a new project in Zambia. The Youth Empowerment for Development Initiative (YEDI) plans to train rural communities to improve land, become more resilience and sustainably produce food using permaculture principles.

The scope of the project is ambitious, aiming to not only teach permaculture but also to train local leaders to nudge farmers towards ‘climate smart agriculture’ where traditional beliefs at times hinder the adoption of sustainable practices. (For examples of such beliefs see Considering Religion and Tradition in Climate Smart Agriculture: Insights from Namibia).

Permafund will follow YEDI’s progress with interest, as its goals of land conservation and permaculture ideas may provide lessons for many projects in such hot, subtropical areas with limited rainfall.

For more information:

PA’s Permafund provides small grants for permaculture projects implemented by community organisations across the globe. Since 2012, we have supported 59 projects in 17 countries, thanks to generous donations. Permaculture Australia is a registered charity and registered environmental organisation, and donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia. To find out more, including how to donate here.

Graduate stories: Designing for disaster & experiences from the bushfires

Graduate stories: Designing for disaster & experiences from the bushfires

Ben completed a Diploma of Permaculture with Eltham College in Victoria. In this article, Ben shares experiences of using permaculture to design for disaster, and how his VET Permaculture knowledge assisted with the recent bushfires.

“I first heard about permaculture while WWOOFing on farms in New South Wales and Victoria. It seemed to me that the people talking about permaculture had a different approach to their land, animals and life in general, so I took notice. After reading about it online and in books, I became interested in studying and commenced the Diploma of Permaculture in 2012,’ Ben Buggy

Tell us about the permaculture studies you’ve completed and what were the highlights
I completed the Diploma in Permaculture, which included a PDC qualification as part of the study as well as Dynamics Groups training with Robyn Clayfield. There was so much good in that course, but the highlights were often the practical days and field trips, where we visited people to learn about specific skills like bee keeping and cheesemaking.
I remember one morning spent on the course with John Seed, the Deep Ecology pioneer, where he took us through a process exploring the birth of the universe and life on earth. That was a powerful experience that has stayed with me.

Designing for a changing climate & resilient communities is an important consideration for permaculture design – how can we promote this better in Australia (and internationally)?
Permaculture design is a great framework to tackle big problems, such as the climate crisis. It’s a way of thinking that, together with Indigenous knowledge, can be harnessed by leaders at all levels. Also, the grassroots work we can do to share this knowledge within our community can help mitigate the worst effects of the crisis. As permaculture designers we need to be a part of the process – thinking deeply and walking together.  There are so many inspiring permaculture examples and stories around the world that people need to see and hear. I think media like Pip Magazine and Happen Films are doing a great job at finding these stories and sharing them more widely.

You mentioned that your permaculture studies and design helped save your property during the bushfires – can you share some of the design components you utilised and also any lessons learnt?
My family and I were able to stay and defend our home from the Badja Forest fire that burned through our community around Cobargo, New South Wales, on NYE 2020. When my mum and I moved onto a property, which adjoins the vast Brogo wilderness, we knew that bushfire would be a very real threat, and because of my studies I had seen the ways that we could prepare ourselves. That preparation included meeting up with neighbours to talk about our fire plans, as well as a visit from the local RFS and a consultation with permaculture elder and designer, Phil Gall. Our defence fire system was a big investment which we prioritised over a tractor. We installed a large steel tank (110kL)  that would be dedicated to fire fighting, and a decent sized petrol pump, which sends water to a network of misting sprinklers over the house and other buildings. Our sprinkler system is in copper pipe and is designed to endure a firestorm. We have a number of fire hoses that come off that system. We planned to shelter in the house during the fire front. Other things that are part of our fire kit include protective gear, smoke masks and battery radio.

The fire was stopped by the green growth in the orchard, but the bird netting was taken.

During my permaculture course, we visited a couple in Kinglake, Victoria, where we learned about the ways that they prepared for the event of fire, and stayed and defended their home. It was that day when I learned that we would need to prepare our home to fight fire, and started to gather the knowledge that we needed to do it safely.

The fire that burned through our property was not a firestorm, which was raging further to the north of us, but a grass fire that spotted ahead of the front. In retrospect, the system we had designed was not well suited to this type of fire. The house and buildings were soaked and very well protected, but the gardens further out from the buildings were burning, and we didn’t have a mobile option. We also fought fire for about five hours, so we needed to turn the pump off at times to conserve water. We used 80kL of water that night, and kept our buildings from burning.
We are now adding an extra loop of sprinklers further out in the garden, so we can keep fire further away. We really love our gardens, and realised that we hadn’t done enough to protect them. This new ring of sprinklers will help to keep our gardens greener during drought, which is also a great buffer against grass fire. It will also give us more control to direct water where it’s needed.

 The portion of the 90 acre that was unburnt after the fire.

The experience of staying and defending our home was traumatic and exhausting and not something I’d wish on anyone. The weeks afterwards were even harder – living in a home unrecognisable and barely functioning. We would do it again though. We love this place and we grew through that hardship. I want to help other people see that preparing to stay and defending safely is possible.

Would you recommend others study permaculture – and why/why not?

My mum Nina, (Kovo), Manu and Ben on their first outing together after the fire

Yes I would recommend this study to anyone who hears the call. The PDC is a small but mighty program that has the potential to flip thinking on it’s head and open new pathways. You really do see the world through new eyes. Then there’s the extended [VET Permaculture] certificates where we had the time to broaden that understanding through other aspects of our human habitation – working together, self care and planetary reverence.

My experience of permaculture is as a pathway, an open invitation and a responsibility. It is a pathway to a deeper and healthier connection with plants, the natural world, and other people. It is an open invitation to share in the vast wealth of knowledge and loving care that exists all around us. And it’s a responsibility to be a part of the tradition of sustainable human existence. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

More information:

The VET Permaculture studies include accredited Certificate I – IV and a Diploma of Permaculture courses. They are offered by a variety of TAFE and Registered Training Organisations in Australia. More details of where you can enrol in these courses can be found here.

The Permaculture Design Course is generally offered as a 72 hour course, either online or face to face, by permaculture practitioners across Australia and internationally. We’ve collated a list of PDC’s offered by our PA members here, including many which offer a discount to PA members.