1985: Trust-in-Aid

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, 1985.
Feature photo: Bill Mollison in Tasmania. Photograph ©David Holmgren.
NO SOONER HAD we launched the idea of a Trust-in-Aid to help get resources to people who would otherwise find it difficult to pay for one or two of our teachers to set up a local, trained permaculture group, than several things happened at once! (It is always the case.)
Firstly, some of our members and readers sent in a total of $2500 for the Trust. We have spent most of it in these ways:

  • new permaculture groups in Spain, Chile, Zimbabwe and Nepal have received life subscriptions to the International Permaculture Journal, books, and other booklets and pamphlets
  • $1000 will be used as partial fares to Nepal to teach a full two-week permaculture design course in Nepal in November ’86.

Secondly, not only the above groups, but small farmer groups in Portugal, Thailand and an ecumenical aid group in Lesotho also wrote in to request education or other material aid.
Some additional funds were routed to groups from our tree tithe funds which are derived from the sale of our permaculture books. Such funds were sent to and used by tribal forest groups in Tamil Nadu (India) and to our group in Spain. Both were for tree projects.
Lastly, Lowell and Natalie Strombeck of The Friends of Right Livelihood visited here in Stanley, Tasmania and offered to help raise funds for a foundation trust to serve the Trust-in-Aid purposes. We hope that their initiative is successful, but as usual we are determined to proceed to help in any case. We hope for (but must not depend on) outside help.

Photo accompanying the original article.

The most encouraging thing that has happened is that all the groups that have so far contacted us are either setting up permaculture projects for study, or are students of courses elsewhere. We also hope to get to our Western Samoan graduates in 1987 — two requests have been received from there, and to Thailand in that year.
Jon Correa, one of our New Zealand graduates, has (amazingly) raised $8000-$12,000 by his own work and is off to live in Chile, where the resident study group is to welcome him. We have promised to somehow get to him with teachers once the need arises, probably in 1987.
A friend in Brazil (Reinhard Hubner) has pledged to fund my fares once our representative there (Julto Taborda) has set up a study group to host (and attend) a course there in Porte Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul).
In all, we have a modest, busy, useful influence in areas of need. Many groups have contacted us after obtaining our books or after reading an article in translation or after recommendations by students of previous courses.
We estimate that is costs us about $6000 to get literature, seed and teachers to remote groups (and still stay alive ourselves), but wherever we travel (as to the Permacutture Convergence) we are able to earn paid courses to fund visits to nearby groups in need, so that we can often spin the money earned out to cover needs for nearby courses in areas of need. This will not work, however, for areas such as Nepal, India, or Africa.
I would remind readers that we have now established a rainforest trust and that they can take shares in this trust, at the one hit preserving rainforest and also funding the Trust-in-Aid with part of the mantes earned, or interest from that money.
We are also racking our brains to find ways to develop reciprocal systems. One way we will be exploring in Nepal and Thailand is to employ or fund local people to research local technologies and ‘recipes’, to illustrate them, and to share in the English-language publishing profits.
Jan Correa will also be investigating ways to publish in Chile, and we have given groups in need free access to our journal articles for local sale. Jon will also be seeking to collect and sell Chilean seed to USA and Australian companies such as Abundant Life (USA) and Phoenix Seeds (Australia).
We can set up mutual fair trade systems, then local teachers can help self-fund their native institutes by earnings.
Vithal Rajan (Right Livelihood Foundation) is anxious, as are we, to see teachers from areas such as India used in other (Western) countries.I believe that this will happen as we develop local institutes.
Of course, graduates from local universities such as the Arab University will also serve their country’s interests locally.
There is no reason whatsoever why our own Earthbank groups cannot lend modest revolving fund seed money (at fair interest of 10 percent) to newly-formed third world groups for local projects which will pay (eg. seed collection). Money can travel anywhere for little cost!
What we do need are local graduates to handle that money responsibly, or local ethical groups accustomed to assessing good projects.

How to help

How can you help? In any number of ways: direct modest gifts, bequests, tree tithes on your products or interest-free loans to our Trust-in-Aid (you get back the capital at call, we keep the interest and you are not taxed on it).
We have also contacted our lawyer to attempt to obtain tax-deductible status for our Trust-in-aid, but with the government spending so much on widgets, keep your fingers crossed.
Perhaps you can aid by tapping other sources of funds such as those of Live Aid; we really don’t have time! You can also invest in Earthbank.
Meanwhile, at home, our Aboriginal graduates and teachers (chiefly David Blewett) are hard at work in our own Australian third world of malnutrition illness and distress.
Shirley Peastey and other gallant ladies are working in the Enfield Urban Farm project and Rex Stuart is hard at work in the Baroota (South Australia) alcohol rehabilitation farm gardens.
We have come a long way on our own efforts. We have a long way to go. We certainly need more teachers to cope with demands!


At this time, we would see some ideal of aid as follows:

  1. Respond to a contact from people in need by sending journals, books, seed and encouraging them to set up a project or study group.
  2. If a course is requested, try to have the study group convene a capable local group to train as designers and teachers.
  3. Reach this group, sending in teachers for two to four weeks to establish a group of trainees, giving emphasis to local climate, soils, species, existing local NGOs and educational establishment.
  4. Try to raise local and assisted revolving funds to start up more local projects.
  5. Explore the potential for reciprocal enterprises, intended to self-fund future enterprises in the local area.
  6. Try to establish a local teaching institute to continue education locally.
  7. Try to get land and capital organised locally for demonstration projects.
  8. Keep contact and explore ways to increase reciprocal contact.

Editor’s note

Bill Mollison mentions Earthbank in this article. More on Earthbank here.

1985: Reaching the Third World

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, 1985. Edition 20.

Reaching the Third World

It is never too early to give people all the capacity to plan for self-reliance that it is possible for us to give.
In the case of the Permaculture Institute, this means teaching our design courses on home gardening, sustainable agriculture, forestry, communications, community money management, ethical investment, land trusteeship and commonsense enterprise management that are the subjects of our unique permaculture training courses.
We have taught some 600 people in Australia, the United States and Europe over the last five years since 1979, and I am proud of the work they are doing in all those fields of the course.
To achieve this, those of us working full-time for the Institute have foregone personal income to fund the legal structure, land base, library and dwellings of the Institute. We have taken ‘wages’ of from $19 (1979) to $38 (1985) a week to do so. But our slender personal resources have never enabled us to respond to requests from people who are really in trouble — requests from India, South America and Africa.

A new funding initiative

We now propose a new initiative. It would take us about $30,000 per year to support two part-time teachers and a full-time administrator/secretary ($10,000 per year). From those of us now at the Institute and those who have obtained their diplomas based on two years of applied work, we have such teachers available.
Some of us have managed to teach Aboriginal designers, American Indians (Pauite Reservation) and Mexican people. This is only possible where we earned the money to reach them by working on other projects. The fares and accommodation costs to reach most Third World areas prevents us from doing so on our own resources.
In every course we have taught we have made places for people who are financially disadvantaged, sometimes as scholarships, reduced fees, work for training (barter) or by some such strategy. Such students, although unable to pay, have made effective teachers or workers in their own right.
How do we commonly reach groups quite unable to pay? This has always been a problem for us.
We have decided to go for a trust fund and in our minds we would place an upper limit of $300,000 on such a fund. This fund would, from a fair ten percent interest on investment, pay for teachers to reach the third world and train 40 people there as permaculture designers every year. They would then have access to our network, publications, and would become teachers in their turn. In this way we can build up a body of local graduates in the poor areas of the world.
We are opening this fund as of now. It would mean that 300 of us find $1000, or 600 of us $500, or some of us bequeath our estates or give surplus resources such as land to the Institute for sale towards this fund. I am personatly bequeathing any of my share of publishing income from my forthcoming book to the fund. This alone could do it over the next decade, but why wait ten years?
Colin McQueen (a permaculture design course graduate) has given a 182 acre rainforest to the Institute for such a purpose. It is valued at $40,000, and we are trying to sell it to anyone who can pay to preserve it, and then place it in trust with the Rainforest Information Centre (John Seed and friends) at Lismore NSW for preservation and care.
We will set aside an estimated $2000-$4000 of this money to help them form a trust to receive the forest and to pay transfer costs, and an estimated $5000 to set up a tax-deductible institute for our own purposes. The probable remainder would be placed in trust for the third world teaching fund. So we have started.
With $300,000, the Institute would be a foundation. Interest from ethical investment ($30,000 per year) would enable us to pay all costs associated with teaching (administration, travel, accommodation, etc). Also, when we publish in the third world, we plan to give a local institute the income from our books to help them set up their library and home base. Our own earnings will continue to go into the Institute too, so we may be able to send up the three to four teaching trips a year as long as they are needed.
That’s our plan. Anyway you can help achieve it, please do so. While Andrew Jeeves, Reny Slay and myself would be teaching where we can, we would also expect to fund others to teach if and when they have the time and have a demand from people in trouble. We have, in our Earthbank system, ethical brokers and investors to handle any such trusts.
If we achieve our aims and are able to send out three to four teams a year to teach, then we foresee a time when the capital of the fund wouldn’t be needed. We would then consider suggestions for the dispersal of the capital. One possibility we favour is that the fund be dispersed to Third World institutes to support local teachers whom we will have trained.
I now call on all of us to find ways to achieve these goals of free extension to the Third World. The need is obvious — and urgent.
Meanwhile, wherever we have taught people, they can give local courses for people in need in their region, and this is also our aim in the Third World.
I will be sending this open letter to a few friends and perhaps you would do the same.
Progress on the Third World Teaching Trust will be posted in the journal.
My great admiration to all of you.
…Bill Mollison

1983: The desert is dying

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, May 1983. Edition: 12.
SEVENTY PERCENT of the Australian continent is either arid or semiarid. This land accounts for 34 percent of Australia’s cattle and sheep production but the shift from little direct manipulation of the environment, except for regular, patchy burning, to the pressures of extensive cattle grazing has had a profound effect on the land.
One of the areas most affected is open woodland country at the base of hills. This often happens to be preferred country for both the cattle industry and for outstation sites.
The removal of the vegetative cover often followed by soil erosion was not the only effect of European land use. The extinction of several native animals and the extremely reduced numbers of many others are the results of predation by introduced animals and changes in the plant composition and cover induced by grazing animals. Many of these native animals were important food sources for the hunters.
As Europeans settlement proceeded in the arid zone, feral animals became abundant. They include donkeys, horses, cattle, camels, goats, rabbits, foxes and cats. In general, the feral stock thrived and expanded to the limits of their climatic tolerance, and in many places exist in considerable numbers.
The effect of cattle on virgin range in Central Australia has been shown to be great. Within one year the abundance and diversity of the vegetation fell by two-thirds, but even then it was ten-fold that of country that had been grazed for many years. There is little doubt that the grazing of the fragile desert communities by feral animals will, in the long run, have severe deleterious effects on the natural plant foods of the animals and on the land itself.
It has been estimated that in some areas 200 square kilometres were required to support one person in the 1950s.
Some aboriginals had personal knowledge of areas exceeding 52,000 square kilometres. Yet in richer country densities reached one person every twelve square kilometers, a density of 200 people for each two and a half thousand square kilometres. The pastoral industry which now occupies much of this richer land supports only a handful of whites.
Changes are taking place. In 1978, 34 percent of land in the Northern Territory was held by Aboriginals. Today, including all land with land rights claims pending, the figure is approaching 57 percent.
In an overview document produced for the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1977, the causes and symptoms of desertification were described:

“…In its initial stages desertification may merely involve a shift to a more desertlike and less productive ecosystem, with water, energy and nutritional balances less favorable to plant growth than before. But land use in arid regions poses problems which continually menace the prevailing equilibrium.
“This is at least partly because of fluctuations in rainfall between drought years and good years which not yet predictable are difficult for the land user to respond to effectively.
“For example, in dryland pastoral economies, large numbers of stock tend to build up during runs of good years, too many to be supported through the inevitably ensuing drought.
“There is a natural reluctance to cut back on stock numbers in the first dry year and a tendency to hang on until drought is seen to be established. But, by that time dryland pastures are probably being overgrazed toward a state that threatens eventual regeneration.
“By this time too, prices for surplus stock will probably have shrunk because the market is gutted and destocking through sale of surplus numbers will be opposed by economic forces.
“For the same reasons, destocking may be prevented during the periods critical to the regeneration of pastures following the rains that end drought.”

Part of the reason for this reluctance may also be the fact that in some societies livestock is regarded as the resource base, instead of the land and its vegetation.
Dryland farmers, too, show a tendency during runs of good years to extend their cropping onto ever-more-marginal lands into areas of higher climatic risks, pushing back the oastoratist in the process. This is particularly the case when pressure on the land is increased through population growth or restrictive systems of land tenure or the short-sighted introduction of mechanisation.
The expectable but unpredictable onset of drought will find the marginal land prepared for planting stripped of its protective natural vegetation and vulnerable to erosion. Such land enters a run of dry years without defenses and may emerge in too-degraded a condition to support even livestock. Removal of fine topsail materials means the loss of the most productive and nutritious portions of the soil complex, while sterile sand accumulations cover plants and good soil. A further harmful effect of high velocity sand drift is the destruction of young crops by the blasting impact of moving sand.
Foilowing the 1958-64 drought in Australia’s north, large areas were denuded and cattle numbers dropped. Yet those areas recovered after rain. The recommendation after the drought was that stock numbers in the Alice Springs district should be restricted to 300,000 head but populations rose to 500,000 and stayed at that through four or five good years.
In 1981, following two dry seasons, owner-manager Bill Prior of 1812 Hamilton Downs, 50km north west of Alice Springs, said, “If it stays dry we are overstocked, but we can’t afford to run any less.”

Aboriginal burning increases food availability

Aborigines knew that long-unburnt country was poor as a food resource. Once burnt and the appropriate increase ceremonies performed, only then would the food plants produce in abundance.
Many of the favoured Aboriginal food plants appear in the early regenerative phases following fire. The fires rarely extended over large areas.
The effect of traditional burning regimes was to produce a series of small patches of country at different stages of recovery from fire with associated different plant and animal communities. This almost completely eliminated the risk of large-scale wild fires which would have been disastrous for any group attempting to survive in a completely burnt out area.

Why not gardeners?

Why didn’t Australian Aboriginals become gardeners, particularly at Cape York where they had contact with the Papuan-influenced yam gardeners of the Torres Strait Islands?
Australia has numerous plant species which could have been developed. The answer may well amount to personal preference. With no population pressures pushing them toward intensive food production and the normally plentiful and varied food supply available, the freedom of the nomadic lifestyle offered much.
While following a lead on Terminalia ferdinandia, an Aboriginal food plant that tastes iike an English goosaberry and contains fifty times the vitamin C of an orange gram-for-gram of edible plant, I was much encouraged to learn that professor Alan Truswetl, Jenny Brand and Vic Cherikoff at Sydney University have researched and analysed the nutritional constituents of over one hundred native food plants and intend to continue until over three hundred are completed.
The principal vegetable staple throughout the desert, wherever they occur, are the rootstocks of Ipomoea costata and Vigna lanceolata, the fruits of Solanum, especially S. chippendalei and S. centrale, Ficus and Santalum, the seeds of various acacia and of such herbs and grasses as Fimbristylis, Panicum, Portulaca and Eragrostis.
Native plants have evolved in highly specialised adaptations to the ecosystems within which they occur. Gary Nabhan, who works among North American Indians in Arizona, estimates that introduced crops sometimes require two to five times the water a native crop needs.
In view of the fact that mere may be as many as 800,000 plant species on the earth it is remarkable that the world’s population is almost completely dependant on three major cereals and perhaps ten other widely cultivated species.
Here in Australia a race of people have utilised the indigenous vegetation to supply 70 to 80 percent of their diet for 30,000 years. Yet that knowledge, which is largely part of oral history, is being lost to us as the old people die and the plants become extinct.

The outstation movement

The outstation movement is a new development among Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. Tribal groups of 30-100 members have begun to move away from the larger settlements dominated by white people and have set tnemselves up in smaller units where their traditional culture can be reserved. The long term survival of these communities will depend on their ability to survive in a drastically altered environment.
Now, with many traditional food sources extinct and much traditional knowledge lost, the work of preserving remaining species and the culture which went with them becomes urgent.
Let’s face it. It’s not just a question of plant diversity. We need cultural diversity. Particularly where that culture can offer, in Gary Nabhan’s words, “Insights into the mutually reinforcing connections between spiritual life and skilful care for the ecological integrity of food producing land”.
The location and conservation of native, desert-adapted crop varieties holds more promise than any other strategy for Aboriginal self-reliance initiatives such as the outstation movement.

1983: Aboriginal self-reliance: finding a way back

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, May 1983. Edition 12.

Aboriginal self-reliance: finding a way back

RECENT STUDY OF ABORIGINAL CHILDREN in town camps at Alice Springs showed that over 50 percent were suffering from severe nutritional deficiencies and three-quarters had skin disease. About one-third had clinical chest disease, half the children with teeth had active caries, only one-fifth had two normat ear canals or drums, only one quarter had two normal eyes without conjunctivitis, trachoma follicles or scarring.
Leprosy, a disease of antiquity in the old world, was probably introduced into Australia via miners in the Northern Territory  in the 1850’s. It affects one Aboriginal in a thousand in the  Pilbarra and Kimberiey regions, perhaps one of the highest attack rates in the world.
Since its introduction following white settlement, syphilis has had serious and disabling effects on the Aboriginal population where it has now reached epidemic proportions.
Such diseases have followed the colonisation of Aboriginal tribal lands and the resulting destruction of Aboriginal economic self-sufficiency.
Imagine you are an Aboriginal adult in a remote settlement, once a church mission. You are unemployed, badly educated, almost certainly sick and yet have a lot of family responsibilities. There are 80-200 people in the settlement but only about 10-20 fit adults. They are old, sick, kids or single parents. All your energy is needed to keep the fences, wood, water, and vehicles moving. For 100 years there has been no help and no money.
However, help is now on the way! Here come the relief teams:

  1. OAA — the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Federal). See 4 — do not confuse

2. ADC — the Aboriginal Development Commission.
3. DCW — the Department of Community Welfare
4. DAA —  the Department for Aboriginal Affairs (state) — see 1 – are you confused?
5. DPB — the Public Buildings department
6. DMR — Department of Main Roads
7. DEYA — Department of Employment and Youth Affairs
8. DCE — Department of Commonwealth Education.
Not to mention:
9. TAFE — Department of Technical & Further Education (Aboriginal  section)
10. NAC — National Aboriginal Conference
11. WOMA — Alcohol and Rehabilitation
12. AHA — Aboriginal Hostels Associations
13. ALR — Aboriginal Legal Rights
14. AHO — Aboriginal Health Organisation
15. NAEC — National Aboriginal Education Committee
And not to forget:
16. DSS — Department of Social Security
17. PD — Police Department
And to include:
18. Church and mission groups, mainly Lutherans, Catholics and Uniting Church.
There are also a lot of other volunteer groups, local progress and district, council and parish people willing to enrol, enlighten, obfuscate, legalise, make illegal, reform, deform, shout you a drink or cure you of drink. The suspicion creeps in that you have been discovered.
Several academics also wonder through, collect urine, legends, blood, bones, teeth, names, stones and sacred objects. They then leave and write papers, gaining fame and money. Craft and retail groups ask for woomeras, pitis, mulga, snakes, baskets, paintings, spears and skins.
Unions have the decency to keep away — they don’t want Aborigines anyhow. But various groups seek your vote, consensus, agreement, signature, disagreement, protest and genealogy. No one is interested in your life story.
Radical hippies, primal screamers, feminists, permaculturalists, communists and anarchists attempt to enlist you to the cause but by now you are feeling a bit apathetic and, as well as your old problems, you feel mentally confused and somewhat harassed.
You realize that nobody listens, but everybody talks. Not a day goes by without consultants; developers, engineers, plumbers, surveyors, and contractors are busying about. In the confusion, miners, millers, graziers, shopkeepers and liquor retailers dash in for their traditional exploitation. You are too busy to notice.
There are classes in literacy, finger painting, tankmaking, mud patting, stone lifting, dust shifting and the pan and broom. You try hard and partly qualify as a deepsea diver, high rigger, personal secretary and parachute jumper, but there are no job offers. This makes you sick and confused and tired.
At this stage, the chiefs outnumber Indians by 10 or 12 to one. For most people on setttements, this is too much to take and they move to town or have a nervous breakdown. Some, however, get educated in town and join the chiefs, while a great many give up and join the cowboys.
As well, of course, the police and probation officers always take a keen interest in Aboriginal settlements, more so as the roads are improved, and have become a real problem. Some of these people now build homes, hospitals, offices and park modern caravans in the settlement.
The state, of course, has always maintained a teacher (who may once have been a policeman, traffic registrar, JP and what have you), a small school and now a nurse-resident. Meanwhile, you are still living in the same old house (concrete and galvo) or camped under trees.
The old missionary has formed an Aboriginal advancement group in the church and they all come out to oversee new developments on the old mission. They also retain a perennial lease on the farm and the church block and the water area.
Much of the settlement has been leased by various authorities, mainly to white graziers or given to a national park group or sold off.
It occurs to you that all these visiting people drive cars, have nice houses and that most of them draw some salaries for helping you. Some, of course, get very big money from helping, especially civil engineers, architects and construction crews (hardship, isolation, dirt money and weekend rates are paid). After all, they don’t have to live here as you do. They need special allowances to even come this way.
This has not, however, managed to change your health or house, garden or water (which was always at 1100-1400 parts per million salt, and now has chlorine added). A dreadful thought starts to creep unbidden into your mind. You make a few enquiries, and this is what you find.

  1. There are many more salaried helpers, lessees, contractors, bureaucrats and staff in town than there are Aborigines.
  2. The amount spent on Aboriginal settlements during the last decade was more than $1,000,000 per Aboriginal adult.
  3. There are no Aboriginal millionaires.

An even more dreadful thought occurs. If they had given you the money or invested it in gilt-edged bonds or built you a block of flats in town, you would have gotten a doctor, built a new house and retired to the Gold Coast. But — what would they all do in that case?
A great weight of guilt descends. If you get the money they are out of work. And there aren’t many jobs so they would be poor. You are used to being poor, sick, fly-tickled and mosquito-bitten. They aren’t. If they had to live like you they would become alcoholics, wasters, layabouts and probably smell bad as well.
It is obviously your duty to Australia, to the state, to decent people everywhere to remain sick, poor and unemployed. But you don’t have to worry, they will see to it themselves. After all, your poverty is their industry. They can make it in Australia, but only if you don’t.
We have successfully demonstrated that good gardens can be created in the worst of conditions, and even the aboriginal population itself is a good market for gardeners. Kids need plenty of high-vitamin food to develop their bodies and brains and stale, imported, processed food will never allow that to happen.

A better approach

Our approach, therefore, is to concentrate on the houses, gardens and general settlement amenities. Koonibba people have demonstrated that very small expenditure and group action can get gardens and nurseries working to provide fresh food and long-term pleasant surroundings in houses and settlements.
Due to the Aboriginal section of the Department of Further Education of South Australia, permaculture designers (chiefly Dave Blewett and myself) have been able to get these programmes going and keep up the essential continuity. We are not a year off seeing capable Aboriginal self-design groups able to teach and demonstrate good settlement ecology.
The miserable, expensive, unsheltered housing on settiements is a shameful waste of Australian tax money and a worse blow to Aboriginal hopes. We can design cheaper, comfortable, locally built and environmentatly sound structures that reflect the needs of specific communities and the way the group and family wants to organise itself.
I believe it to be in everyone’s interest to set up wholly Aboriginal design, planning and technical teams to assist other Aborigines with housing. This needs early training and experience but would later develop into a specially-skilled and sensitive group.
Similarly, the barren appearance and dustiness, the lack of fresh food and sense of hopelessness in settlements needs a vigorous Aboriginal permaculture team to teach and to help provide basic nutrition and shelter, forestry and forage systems for animals on the general model of the older, skilled environmental management systems of the tribes.
This will spread to good land management ecology as courses in water diversion, suitable tree trials and desert crop techniques are evolved. Aboriginal skills are evident and widespread. Tribal peoples are probably the world’s best seed collectors. The next step is to get direct market links via the Department of Trade and Resources for Aboriginal seed, tree and animal products and to help groups self-fund their own suitable housing and settlement pattern.
It took 150 years to break the tribes and ruin the economy of the land.  We will not rebuild It in a day. We will never rebuild it by a divisive bureaucracy and by grand schemes but by long, hard, persistent and sensitive work in settlements, extending gradually to tribal lands.
All Aboriginal people have a place in this development of their lands to ecological health and there is plenty of room for all. The key is to find those Aboriginal people able to handle design,  bureaucratic systems and self-funding and to get the basic health structure (nutrition from home gardens and settlement  plantings) developed.
We must all of us aim to lend our efforts to this work, and to help spread the commonsense designs of permaculture in Aboriginal people as an allied skill to add to their own expertise in landuse and careful land management as evidenced in tribal peoples.
Aborigines in Australia and Indians in America have control of millions of hectares of lands, many of them deemed unsuitable for agriculture by whites, but in fact rich in a whole series of natural products from native and feral animals to seed. ‘Special” industries are needed based on feral animals, wildlife management and forest seed collection (now worth millions of dollars in Australia). Ordinary tractor agriculture is what is recommended to Aborigines and of course on the competitive market and with dry and margined lands this can be a disaster.
Before any grand schemes are taken on, however, the basic nutritional and stress problems of settlements make any potential for such expansion difficult. We need a more relaxed and healthy population to even begin on the road to self-determination.
Commercial success may follow. It should not be our first aim but should arise first from sound landuse rather than follow the white model of land mining for short-term profit.
Healthy land will, in the end, be the rarest resource on earth and will out-produce the bash-and-burn economy in the near future.
As I write, Reny Slay and I are preparing a six-month curriculum for South Australian setttements. Dave Blewett and local designers will implement, and with any luck we should see some permaculture designers evolve in the Aboriginal nation.

Case study: Koonibba

Paul Keath (DFE) first requested a permaculture training program with practical work at Koonibba and invited the writers to Ceduna for this purpose.
There is no significant food grown on the settlement, no cheap energy sources or local self-reliance, no insulation, no solar, wind or wood energy commonly used and no on-going enterprises apart from three farming families in wheat and wool. There is no domestic evolution, hence no future in a world of failing external energy supplies.
The bush (what is left of it) is rich in kangaroo, wombat, lizards and rabbits and the nearby sea in a variety of fish and shellfish. Seaweed and wood are both plentiful.
Outward signs of civilization (church and football oval, school and offices) are abundant and capacious. Basic self-reliance is at a low ebb and Koonibba is losing population as the more successful, dissatisfied or vigorous people leave for town and paid employment.
Yet, this need not be the case and in a world where firewood, land and shelter are the privilege of the few, Koonibbans are lordly in possessions compared with most people in the arid-world.
What is lacking is any sense of the need to survive by personal effort: this has in the past been frustrated by preemption by whites or bureaucracy of Aboriginal enterprise.


Needs include:

  • a dynamic self-reliance movement which will attract capable people back to Koonibba
  • a modest program of energy self-reliance in housing
  • a trial of home food production
  • materials for close-in, intensive, interesting and essential
  • production of necessities such as seed, vegetables, food, dried products glasshouse crop
  • trials of sustainable, broadscale agriculture by way of forage trees and windbreak, no-tillage and low stocking rates
  • entrepreneurial forestry or exotics for special products (oils, honey, cork, processed materials)
  • community cooperation and self-help aimed toward self-support.


Cold and strong W/SW winds are the major effects on vegetation, as is evidenced by the many dying trees in the district, bent irreversibly to the N/NW. Hot, dry N/NW winds blow from the continental interior from Spring to late Summer.
Crops, livestock, people and plants are deleteriously affected by the excess temperature ranges and the desiccation and deflationary powers of these winds. Crops and surface water soon dry out.
Houses fill with dust because streets fan the hot north winds into the towns. People get sinus and asthma problems. We can dodge the streets in a dogleg and plant dust barrier plants towards dust sources in all towns, put quick-growing acacia or legume hedges around every house and screen doors with trellis. Cool, shady, and liveable places soon develop.
Windbreaks therefore need to follow an extended horseshoe pattern around settlements, grazing lands, crops and gardens.
It has long been evident, published and belabored that loss of trees brings low production, lost soils, lower rainfall and, ultimately, the desert. The evidence of archeology, history and modern ecology agree on this point.

Community involvement

In any small community, or in parts of larger communities, no ongoing programme is accepted without consultation and involvement — working with, not for people.
At Koonibba we started at the school showing garden techniques for sandy soils of low pH. Children from 4 -10 enjoy making these and can bring along a mulch of old clothes, wool, rags, paper, straw and suchlike.
They also enjoy gathering seaweed or sawdust for the final layers, hosing down and trampling each layer and planting seeds. Carrots and peas straight from the garden are popular and healthy foods and the main thing is to ensure that there is enough, for too few means too many kids try to share the goodies with bad results for the garden and peace.


There is no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of such people as Dr Kalikorinus and many health experts that the majority of Aboriginal illness, child death and lack of energy is rooted in poor food. In particular, adequate vitamin C is desperately needed. Oranges, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, greens and citrus generally are indicated.
This may be the basic revolution needed to bring people to full vigour.
In tribal days there was plenty of such food, now it is all fat, flour, coca-cola and sugar. Rickets, colds, lassitude and illness are the results.
Thus, home gardens are a more heroic act than a football win if we are thinking of Aboriginal morale and the full development of the childrens’ potential.
Orange trees should be the priority of any scheme and should be plentiful, cared for and in the home gardens. I feel very savage about schemes which give Iip service to welfare and ignore the basics. What is needed as an absolutely basic priority is a serious, nutrition-centred, domestic, cooperative approach coupled with the essential education and ground implementation, not another pub, golf course, workshop or vehicle.

Glasshouse Crop 

Ceduna lacks local sources of tomatoes, paprika, eggfruit and chilli, as well as vanilla, ginger, turmeric, pineapple, pawpaw, papaya and grapes. All of these yield well under glass and would be a good domestic source of food.
Generally speaking, a glasshouse amortizes in two years by crop sales (tomatoes are $2-$3 per kilo here at present).
The soils suit all these crops, under drip irrigation and with sheep manure and seaweed mulch.

Uses of Domestic Waste Water 

Waste water is either:

  1. nontoxic and only slightly conlaminated with phosphates and potash (soap and detergents); eg. water from hand basins, showers, and washing machines
  2. slightly more conlaminated as from sinks and floorwashing
  3. unsafe for immediate use, as from toilets and sewers.

The first category is traditionally used on gardens as more of a fertiliser than a nuisance. Sink water so used is de-fatted by plants and soil bacteria, practically overnight if run into mulch or ring gardens.
Simple flexible pipes can be used to divert much useful water to gardens so that watering becomes an automatic part of daily life.
Civil engineers and health authorities spend millions of dollars to run this water away from desert settlements and mix it with sewage to make it unusable on gardens.
We cut these pipes at the house and lead them to mulch pits or mulch channels along which trees and high-value food is grown.

Domestic improvements

Modest glasshouse, shadehouse, seaweed insulation, venting and draught-proofing would make all houses comfortable and energy efficient if windbreaks were sensibly planted to obviate (and not accelerate) wind effects.

As for ring gardens, they suit any domestic situation and we made several trials on this trip. We plan to extend these and, also, waste-water soak gardens as they prove successful, for they are, in fact, low maintenance ways to grow vitamins from waste water.
All schools should develop gardens, teach nutrition and deficiency symptoms and put the system on drip or appoint a summer garden group over the holiday periods.
At home, if people just live there, the system grows.
At every settlement school the hand basins are in constant use and provide up to 800 gallons per day (as at Yatata) of slightly soiled water. This would grow 800 orange trees or grapes. Every house uses hand basin and kitchen sink, bath and shower water. This could provide all the water for tomatoes, parsley, watercress, citrus, and bell peppers.
Stress causes low blood sugar. Alcohol gives a sugar kick. So do grapes! Again, schools should teach the body’s needs for sugars when stress comes — as it often does to Aboriginal adults in this society.
Grapes, figs and bananas relieve this sugar need and avoid the abuse and violence of alcohol or the tooth rot of sweet, processed sugar. Grapes, grapes and more grapes are eagerly eaten and should be trellised at every house to help shade and relieve stress. Figs, figs and more figs can be planted in every settlement.
These are the medicines we need for stress. Sugar has causes a lot of diabetes in Aborigines. Natural fruits have a less-harmful effect.
We can do this in a few months of busy work as both figs and grapes grow from cuttings.

Tree crop

Tree cropping at Koonibba, as elsewhere, has several possible forms and uses:

  • selected species for food and provision, eg. orange, date, apricot, almond, fig, mulberry, olive and pistachio
  • selected forage forests to buffer drought and cool winters, eg. carob, honey locust, mesquite, tree lucerne, coprosma and desert oaks (Quercus spp)
  • selected fuel forests of native species yielding solid (wood) fuels and species such as wild date (Phoenix sylvestris) for liquid fuels, or crops like sunflower as diesel replacement
  • structural timbers from bamboo to honey locust and cedar for future buildings, fences and garden uses (there is precious little straight timber in the district, imported posts cost $12.50 each).

The very act of assembling the most suitable species, instigating nursery growing and trying out plantings should make an arid land mecca. A laudable project would be to assemble a library of arid land books at Koonibba itself as a reference (not lending) collection, and to commence a card file of useful species, their uses, and the sources of supply.
An adequate botanist, in a few days, can list all trees and successtul shrubs and vines growing locally, giving accurate names, card and record many uses, contraindications, propagation and indicate which related species or associated species can be tried out.
Such a list would be invaluable for designers at Koonibba. It should include native, exotic, marine, saltland species; suggest new varieties and species and uses for trees. Later, new species for trial could be researched and grown. Some that come to mind are pistachio, jojoba, Chinese tallow tree, aloe vera, buffalo gourd, dryland millets, selected quandong, some of the African desert acacias used for fodder.
As cropland windbreak of durable fences, selected fruiting cacti (pitaya, cereus), Callitris (Rottenest or local or Tasmanian varieties for fence posts), selected palms (doum palm, peach palm, wild date, date, Afghan nut palm etc), tamarind, mondongonut and so on. All are desert or dryland successes elsewhere.
In commercial crop lupins, Chinese tallow, sunflower, castor oil and millet are probable futures.

Potential for Aboriginal self-help 

Glasshouse crop alone would support two to three families, egg productlon one or two, honey production one or two, seed production and processlng three to four, and if forestry and nursery were developed, increasingly more families would be setf-employed in meaningful, self-sustaining and creative work.
The place to start is in the backyards and on the open town areas, not in broadscale trials which may be expensive failures, but In small, people-centred schemes which can be handled by the present population.
Even one to two acre trial plots within and adjacent to the town would supply eggs, chickens, honey, grain and vegetables for local self-reliance, while windbreaks would provide seed and cuttings for extension of the sysem via shadehouse and nursery.
The settlement itself has empty acreage, good reticulated water, waste water, surplus building space, workshops and vehicles. If it were developed it could itself supply much of the district’s needs.
Fenced gardens are normal and can be used for trials of crop technique.
The use of domestic waste water is critical to the establishment of species. Nursery, glasshouse, seaweed processing, and seed collection can all be spaciously accommodated in the unused buildings already standing, at minimal cost.
It is also clear that one or two responsible people should be paid on a full or part-time basis to keep public plantings and nursery stock alive and increasing. Given that so many people are employed in less-productive roles, a gardener would make all the difference to any settlement.
There are good potential incomes apparent and more can be evolved. Of immediate importance are the following.

Seed collection and growing

Selected desert seed gathered by the Pitjantjatjara nation, packaged in settlement and retailed directly, both locally and overseas, can be coupled with seed grown in settlements for those same markets.
Acacia sells for $20-$30 per kilo, eucatypt and rare seed $300 per kilo. Our Aboriginal lands provide the seed, but who takes the profit? We are trying to form a seed group at settlements to collect, export and develop overseas markets. The old people know the best quandong (ooti), the best mulga for wood, seed, the best acacias for grubs and food. They should also benefit most from the seed sales.

Goats from Nepabunna

Valuable goats are in the wild flocks gathered here. These are of mohair and cashmere strains (13-21 microns in downy wool) and the best yield 1500g, of which 750g (50%) is down of 13-20 microns.
Released in the early 1800’s, these goats are hardy feral animals now available for export selection to stud flocks. They are browsers but do well on grasses such as paspalum and rye grass, native saltbush, acacia etc.
Selected animals bring very high prices for export and local wool sales. Fencing needs are for 5-strand (3 earth, 2 live) fences.
Goat husbandry is particularly suited to women, who now run many small stud flocks, and to settlement areas. Stud flocks could quickly be set up at Nepabunna and Koonibba.
Good nutrition is essential and low stocking rates on present Aboriginal lands will achieve this. Fencing and irrigation plus rested land are also essential. Shearing is not difficult using normal equipment at half speed or new (expensive) compressed air handpieces designed for goats.
Returns are as high as from the best merino flocks and goats run well with sheep as a mixed grazing enterprise. Does realize $34.00 per acre from shearing in selected flocks, live and yield longer than sheep and give reproduction rates averaging 150 percent kids per annum.
Live market exports to the Middle East are a probable venture.
This whole venture seems ideal for Nepabunna, Koonibba and Pitjantjatjara areas and could be entirely run and staffed by Aboriginal people.
Following a number of workshops with the Yalata Community, architect lan Hannaford drew up these housing designs.

Ian writes:

This camp house is fully flexible, leaving the family free to practice tribal culture in most ways while solving some of the key problems associated with a bush camp existence on the edge of a mission settlement.
It does this as follows:

  1. The extended family can all be housed white allowing privacy and private spaces, and without any person feeling left out. Extensions can be readily added onto the courtyard principle.
  2. Heat is minimised by having major through-ventilation, plenty of verandah and a shade-house potential on the south elevation to act as cool air suite. Heavily insulated walls and ceilings are essential.
  3. Cold is a serious problem and this is controlled by walling off the major cold wind directions and having a fully closeable wall and door system, while allowing internal camp fires for heat and communal gatherings and using heavy insulated walls and ceiling.
  4. Hot winds and dusts, mainly from the North, are very debidtating, and these are minimised by walling and construction on the North.
  5. Permaculture designed wind breaks associated with the U-shaped walls and buildings give protected courtyards with plantings to increase psychologically-essential outdoor living potentials.
  6. The claustrophobic effect of conventional rooms with minimum airflow is overcome with lift-up door/walls, floor to ceiling viewing window/doors and cross-vent doors. In average conditions these can all be open to give warning of visitors and view in all directions and a strong feeling of living outdoors.
  7. Sand or shell grit floors and verandah areas are much more acceptable to sit and sleep on in the traditional manner.
  8. Fully flexible traditional sleeping arrangements to suit the family structure and the prevailing weather conditions are possible.
  9. Traditional cooking over a camp fire is possible both inside and outside the buildings. A kitchen for washing up and storage is available, with space for refrigerators and a future stove.
  10. The house can be upgraded in the future, solid floors added, etc. Within well-sheltered areas, greywater from bathrooms and kitchen and tank overflow is used for permaculture gardens.

Shelter is essential to reduce the devastating wind effects in this semi arid 12″ rainfall country.
Rammed earth and cement walls were suggested. The local supply idea and the natural earth finish had strong appeal to Aborigines.

1983: Interview with Bill Mollison

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, May 1983. Edition: 12.

Editor’s note:

The identity of Bill Mollison’s interviewer was not disclosed in this article, nor was Bill Mollison identified. The verbal and content style strongly suggest the interviewee as Bill.
The article carried no headline. It appeared on pages six and seven of Permaculture magazine’s May 1983 edition.

The interview

I started an organic gardening society as an innocent in 1972 because I believed in clean food. I’ve migrated from that to a study of what is really happening in the world and realising that being a good gardener can be like being an ostrich with your head in the sand. You will inevitably die in your own good garden if you don’t pull your head out and see what is happening in the real world. You can’t garden under the above conditions. Soil cannot be created under those conditions. Life cannot continue under those conditions. Everything we say about soil is meaningless under those conditions.
Therefore, for us to continue to live on the earth, stop for a while from just being gardeners and look at what is happening and try and stop it. And to a large extent this is why permaculture associations are formed and are forming rapidly across Europe, the UK, throughout all American states and all Australian states — to tell people what is happening, to help them to design out of it.

Positivist rather than optimistic

Now, while I’m not optimistic, I’m positivistic. I think there are things we have to do . Quickly. I’m not at all optimistic that we’ll do them or that if we do them, we’ll succeed. I think we have a very short time in front of us.
An analysis of the cadmium in food sold in Canberra shows two to three times above world health limits to avoid permanent lung and kidney damage. This can’t be told to the public victims because they’d stop buying vegetables, and it would require stopping using superphosphate and phosphate rock, and we don’t know how to garden without it.
We can’t tell North American people, by presidential decree, about the acid rain that’s falling on them because they’d try to vacate north east USA, which would mean chaos that would shatter the economy and shatter the nation. They must be allowed to perish where they are. Real estate and banking would collapse. They must be allowed to turn into pickle right where they stand.
We must let Canberra people go on eating their own death warrant. We must let our children absorb lead and become idiots. Politically, it is impossible to keep control if anyone is told the truth. The only way we can tell people the truth is to get on our feet and go tell them.
So I get on my feet and I go to Vermont, have the snow reliably analysed, and the same in Germany. Because I’m not the government and I believe people should know what is happening in their lives and should know about the threat of universal death. I’m a political animal, not just an organic gardener.
We’ve got work to do. In the cities you use far more energy, water, superphosphate, more sprays than the total of agriculture in the whole country. On lawns you are putting more water, herbicides, pesticides, more agricultural nutrients than the total of Australian agriculture.
Some questions: Do you need any farms at all? Are you prepared to use those resources to grow food? Can we change our soils to be safe soils? This is the only chance. To become home gardeners with a good compost layer on your garden.
Back to the start. We must all become organic gardeners or die. That’s the plain unvarnished truth. I’ve understated everything I’ve told you. I’d like you to look at the New Scientist of this year and read the story on acid rain throughout the northern hemisphere. The original article appeared in Der Spiegel Berlin in three editions.
Now you are up against it, worse than in the bushfires because this enemy is impalpable. You can’t go out and fight something that is yourself. This year arises in Germany with the Green Party candidate running for parliament. The Green Party says it doesn’t matter if the whole economy is brought down, if every factory is shut down, it doesn’t matter if we blow up every highway, we’re going to stop killing the earth forever.
We can’t burn coal or oil or run atomic power. We can develop hydroelectric power, wind energy, solar energy, bio power, and we must be careful how much fossil fuel we use in that development. We can’t run around like blowflies, up and down the street, six cars going this way this morning and six going back this evening not knowing why they’re going in either direction. We can do a modest and essential trip occasionally on alcohol fuel. And we can sail as far as we like and as long as we like. We could even probably balloon great distances, but you get a long way by walking, in a long time.
We are working at completely meaningless tasks. I once came into Adelaide and sat in North Terrace watching workers loitering on a big building construction opposite, and sleepwalkers along the pavement. Everybody here is crazy, I thought. Not one of them has a single say on what he does every day. They are there as accidental cogs in the mindless economic industrial machine. So I am sane and they are crazy. I do what I like, when I like, and laughing, with a lot of time for my gardening friends.
Interviewer: Where do you get your money from?
BM (Bill Mollison): It’s given to me by people who think I’m worth it. I’m an entertainer with chalk and words. They give generously to me because they think I’m a great clown, and they’re right. I sing and dance for it. People like to throw money at people who sing and dance.
Lady, you print your own money. All wealth comes from the application of brain power and muscle power to the world around us. You can easily produce all your own food year round and have surpluses for trading in a few necessary imports. But a few strategic mass-production operations produces such teeming outputs, that any mechanism-of exchange is really a hilarious irrelevance.
In your spare time you can clothe and house yourself and indulge in the civilised arts or status fripperies while keeping viable your surrounding ecosystem. The natural food jungle is powered by sunlight, rain and the natural interaction of a million living things who charge you nothing. We don’t need much of that to live royally.
So permaculture is about suiting inputs to outputs: fitting needs and innate characteristics and yield of the natural elements of our environment to the needs of other elements of our environment, putting them in the right place. If the chicken are grossly underutilised we have to expend a huge amount of fossil energy just to eat.
The best thing you can do is spread the news and keep on gardening and showing people how to do things. Keep on measuring your own environment. You know what is happening in South Australia at present around the lead burning area, the risk to children and the terrible condition those soils are in. That chimney was simply put higher, you remember, so the lead is falling further and further away. We have all the CSIRO reports on the levels of lead along the roads and we have all the information on the amount of cadmium we put on annually. All the information you need on the amount of fallout of sulphuric and nitric acid over our cities and their drift across the country is available. We have information you need on tree deaths in Australia which is averaging 11 percent per annum, which gives us ten years of trees.
So it’s time we opened a really great debate with all people. We need thousands more voices, millions. The number of informed people is pitifully small.
Interviewer: Would you be aware of the Henry Doubleday event in England? They tested cabbages at a city stop light and found the lead the same at all distances from the light over two home allotments.
BM: Yes, and the same everywhere else in the city too.
In Germany we measured the lead in a vertical plane and found we had to be over 40 metres up before it was safe for window box food growing.
On windy days it goes over the top of the highest buildings. There’s nowhere in the city that we should grow food, nowhere but the city that we should grow food, nowhere but the city that we must grow food.
We must must not add any more to the lead in petrol and we must compost everything that enters the city and start to create the city soil. We can no longer afford the agriculture we have, it kills us more surely than anything we’ve ever had. Agriculture is killing Australia.
Interviewer: Could you give me an answer to the chappie who’s trying to push hydroponics down my throat. I told him to drop dead, but…
BM: You beat me to it. If we abandon the environment, we’e sunk. We have to live on the earth, we can’t go into space capsules, interplanetary fantasies are the ultimate copout.
To go inside with hydroponics is a copout. Most people would never make it in time. We’ve got to try to survive on the face of the earth, with the earth.
There is a great group called the Society for Growing Australian Plants. I like them and many are friends of mine. They took exception to my following remark: If you live like an Aborigine and garden like a European you’d be completely out of trouble. But when you insist of living like a European and gardening like an Aborigine you’re in disastrous trouble. However, if you live like an Aborigine and eat like an Aborigine you’re out of trouble. If you can eat as you garden you’re out of trouble.
Interviewer: I’m an organic fruit grower for 20 years, from the Riverland. We have one massive problem with salt. Should we abandon these areas and concentrate agriculture in areas of higher rainfall?
BM: Yes. Agriculture should be transferred as far as possible into the cities themselves. Every city can not be only food-self-supporting, but exporting.
We should use every area available to it. Its rooftops, gardens, unused public lands, its roadsides (though obsolescent). The city can easily produce all its food. As long as we let hoofed animals run on the ridges, and woodchippers chip our forests, you’ll go from salt to saltier.
We all know it, we know its causes in dryland and wetland irrigation. Its basically the loss of trees. The cause of salting is the loss of trees.
We cannot continue putting a thousand units of energy into farming and only getting one back. We could do better with a lot of New Guinea gardeners coming here. They’ll give us 70 energy units out of their garden for every one we give them. We haven’t got a farmer that can come near to or even touch an urban gardener for energy efficiency. An urban gardener runs on bacon and eggs. A farmer’s got to have at least a 45hp tractor and uses the equivalent of 45 tons of coal every time he ploughs one acre for one crop, and that will kill us.
We are a little luckier than some of the European cities. We’ve kept the 1/4 acre block which happens to be the ideal production size. 1/2 acre is too big to look after properly, 1/8 acre is a little too small to achieve excess food.
Now what we’ve got is a lot of idiots as politicians. They came up either through the law or through economics. They are all political animals, they don’t care whether they call themselves Liberal or Labor. They are none of them saying one damn thing to us, not one of us. They are not talking about life or the care of life. They are talking about childrens’ armies, more industry, more aid to farmers. They are going to kill us. They are complete idiots, we have madmen at the helm, both sides and everywhere. We’ve got to change it.
Some of you are going to have to volunteer to become prime minister. Now when you do we’ll make you PM next election because we, organic gardeners, men of the trees, wilderness societies, Aborigines, women, freaks, hippies and others are the majority of Australians. We who want to live, and live peacefully and quietly are the majority of Australians.
I think we must get some members of the Green Party of Germany here. They promise to bury atomic power, to bury the coal industry, to bury the car. Your future, folks, is urban hippies, and a good job too.
Interviewer: What political structure would you see a permaculture society living under?
BM: Basically, just an environmental structure with totally open discussion and full local input, a lot of regionalisation, a lot of measuring of what we’ve got in the soils, of where it’s coming from, of what it’s urgent to stop of what we must continue doing to make the transition into the energies we talked about. That is solar, wind and biological energies. We can make that transition fairly rapidly.
When we clean it all up we’ll sit back and have a talk to each other on national radio, that’s what it’s for, a few TV channels, to pop in and talk to each other and see how we are getting on. That’s what they’re for, they’re ours. Keep our information flowing, say look we’re winning here, see this is how we are doing it, we think we’ve worked out this energy problem here . . . we’ve built a solar pond, we’re getting this out of it, and we’ll sort it out.
We’ve got all the brains on our side, we’re the majority, right? I mean we’re not stupid. Stupid people poison each other and we don’t do that.
We could improve things rapidly. Now we have to do it.

Editor’s note

In the interview Bill Mollison refers to lead in petrol. Petrol containing lead was phased out in Australia on 1 January 2002. Lead Replacement Petrol was developed as a substitute for the leaded petrol that was necessary for most cars produced before 1986.

Lead in petrol

According to Wikipedia, Tetraethyllead, commonly called tetraethyl lead), (CH3CH2)4Pb “was a patented octane rating booster that allowed engine compression to be raised substantially, which in turn increased vehicle performance or fuel economy. Ethanol was already known as a widely available, inexpensive, low toxicity octane booster, but TEL was promoted because it was uniquely profitable to the patent holders.”

More on lead

The Lead Group: http://www.lead.org.au/fs/fst29.html
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/bulletin/archives/80(10)768.pdf
Australian Department of Environment and Energy: http://environment.gov.au/protection/chemicals-management/lead

1983: The parable of the chicken

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison’s articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.
All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, May 1983. Edition12.

PERMACULTURE IS NOT GARDENING, it is design. It does not espouse a particular technique whether organic, inorganic or biodynamic etc. I personally espouse the organic or natural gardening approach. I talk and write about it, not about pesticides and herbicides.
Permaculture is not confined to gardening or plant growing. It is a design system involving the placement of all the elements of the landscape, of the living system, in the right relationship to each other.
Let me explain. Consider a chicken. We can know some things about the chicken, its particular characteristics. A fancier will note its colour, its qualities of breeding, susceptibility to hawk attack etc. These are its innate characteristics. It has needs like most of us. Food, a night resting place, elevated perch, modest climatic needs. It had yields: feathers, feather dust, eggs, chicken manure, carbon dioxide from breathing, and like most animals about 13 percent of its inputs are turned into methane. If killed, the chicken has other yields too.
There are thus innate characteristics, inputs and outputs. The inputs are supplied from various sources or other outputs, the outputs go to various destinations, or provide other inputs. The relations between all these elements are studied for our design purposes.

Making connections

Permaculture does not work with chickens or glasshouses or houses or gardens. It works on making the connections between these elements. A good design would be a complete natural cycle with energy outputs only.
So permaculture is not gardening, and has nothing to do with technique, in the sense that you know technique such as how you make compost or kill cabbage moths or why your lemon trees turn yellow. It has a lot to do with exactly where your lemon tree is placed and its needs as supplied by something else.
Permaculture is a skill that says where something goes so that it functions in relation to other things. Every time you don’t do that, you are in trouble. Every input that is not automatically supplied, you must supply. Every output that is not passed to the thing that needs it must be got rid of.
Therefore, all undesigned outputs are pollutants and all pollution is an undesigned output. All unfulfilled needs are work and all work is the satisfaction of unfulfilled needs.
None of these is necessary if you have correctly placed every element in relation to its needs and outputs.

Lazy-man technology

Permaculture is the ultimate lazy-man technology. If it is successful nothing needs to be done and you simply step in the way of the yields, because you need eggs occasionally and occasionally a chicken.
How much a chicken does will amaze you. It can be used, as a model, to completely heat and fuel your home. You can keep total control over a large variety of pests. You can double production in your fish pond. You can increase production in your glasshouse, reduce servicing needs of glasshouses, etc.
A chicken has a great number of uses. If you neglect these you must do the things yourself. Every time you don’t satisfy a need automatically you must do it yourself.
The question is, is the chicken or the human being the smarter animal in all measurable environmental terms? We will examine that question.
In all broadscale agriculture, which, sadly, is the most destructive influence on the whole face of the earth, the chicken becomes a parable, which, as a representative of a class of animals kept by man, consumes 70 percent of the product of the labor of man in agriculture.
Man thus works for the chicken. The chicken then provides for the man less than one percent of the necessary food of man. The chicken is enormously smarter than man, by thousands of times. Man works extremely hard for the chicken. The chicken works very little for man.
Of all these crops, then, of every acre of every field of wheat, 70 percent goes — with the chicken as parable — to the chicken, and 30 percent to the uses of mankind, not just food uses.
So most of agriculture is devoted to the chicken. Therefore, most tractors, most roads, most rural networks are built to service the chicken. In the total society 35 percent of all energy goes towards food, so the chicken is a very large consumer of energy in the total society.

The chicken and energy

As another parable, if we were not servants of the chicken we would not need atomic power. For instance, those of you who use electric clothes driers consume 13.5 percent of the total domestic energy of society. That is exactly supplied by the total output of atomic power in the world. Those of you who use domestic clothes driers are the people responsible for atomic power stations. Those of you who still hang your clothes on the line are very responsible citizens. It is called solar drying.
Those of you who prevent the chicken operating are again responsible for most coal and power station use and the soon-to-come extinction of the northern hemisphere by acid rain because most of the coal and energy poured into society serves the chicken or something very like the chicken.
We are about to lose all the forests of Germany. We have effectively lost all the forests of Canada and Scandinavia. We don’t know about Russia but we expect that we are about to lose all of those. This is because we burn so much coal and drive so many cars that the air has filled with nitric and sulphuric particles. These fall to earth and, at first, become a fertiliser and for some years everything grows much better under sulphur and nitrogen. But later there is too much fertiliser, and too much of a good thing can be painful. As this acid accumulates in the soil it dissolves into something which all soils have, aluminum. Aluminium dissolved in sulphuric acid is a deadly plant poison, also a deadly person poison.
Therefore, as the coal and motor vehicle exhausts fall to earth they start to turn, after a little while, into solutes of selenium, lead, cadmium and aluminium, all of which are fatal to man and fatal to plants.
The plants then stop rejoicing in the fall of acid rain and start to suffer. Then they are attacked by gipsy moth, tent moth, pinetip dieback and so on. All these animals sense the death of forests. They are the undertakers of the forest. If you hit a tree once with an axe and wait, by night, above it there will be a swarm of parasitic wasps. Tapping around your axe cuts will come the longhorn beetles. They know that the tree has been injured, they come to ensure that it is decently buried. And they are there within hours. Experiment by all means. You will never hit a tree again. unknowingly.
So they wait on the death of the forest and they come, the decomposers, to conduct the burial service, to return the dying tree to the soil for life regeneration. We then say the gipsy moth is killing the beeches, we say the dutch elm disease is killing the dutch elms, we say fire blight is killing our forests, we say pine rust is killing our pines, we say poplar rust is killing our poplars. We don’t say we are doing all of it by driving cars and using energy, and we are blaming the gipsy moth, we are blaming the tent caterpillar, we are blaming the phasmid.
We are in a joint conspiracy not to identify the real criminal. We look at him every morning in the mirror. And we’ll all agree to blame the gipsy moth. Now we’re free to attack the gipsy moth. We’ve found the culprit. Now we can go to the forest and spray it with DDT and we can add insult to insult to the forest and the gipsy moth and ensure that the gipsy moth did indeed kill the forest. And we help it enormously and very quickly to its death. We’ve just done that to the whole of the northern hemisphere.
So rain filled with acid now enters the streams, with selenium, mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminium. And its pH? Clean pure snow in Vermont USA has a pH of 1.9 — acid. Very close to concentrated sulphuric acid. The pH of rain over Berlin averages 2.3, also highly acid. More sour than vinegar. There are now available to you pH maps of North America. Large areas, including deep well water, are more acid than pH4.
What plants grow happily at pH4? No plants can tolerate pH4 and heavy metals. No fish can survive. We then have blanket extinction of all life in the lakes of Nova Scotia and Quebec, Montreal, all inland fish of Newfoundland, all the fish in Adirondacks lakes, some of which have never seen man. There are no fish on the eastern slopes of Norway, in Sweden no crayfish have survived. The Crayfish festival requires that crayfish now be brought in from southern Turkey, where the pollution is slightly lower. In fish the acid causes gill mucous and they smother, and their eggs will not hatch at pH less than 5.5.
6000 Swedish lakes have no fish. 14,000 lakes dip below pH4 at times, 8000 lakes have a sharper dip. If people drink water of less than pH4.5 with metals in it, cadmium builds up in the kidneys, aluminium combines with protein more strongly in cooking, the aluminium  causing general body deterioration. Lead and cadmium affects lungs and the central nervous system.
So it seems that we should quickly join the chicken up to everything and stop wasting all the fossii fuel into the atmosphere. We have no choice. Cars are almost unviable, also coal burning, also nuclear power. A little longer and we have universal death.
Wars and atomic bombs will not kill us, we are killing ourselves. Australia is worse in fallout than any part of Europe. In Brazil pH2 rain falls constantly on the Sierra Dei Mar. They industrialised. So did we. We signed our own death warrant when we started to dig up the things in the ground. The Pitjitjindjara at Ernabella said that sickness would follow digging up of the green stones by white men. I think this may follow from some past event. We are sick on energy.
The whole of our design efforts must be directed towards a reduction of our use of fossil energy. Permaculture can’t cure anything. It can tell you the way to cure it. To cure it really lies with yourselves.