“Learning permaculture is one of those cyclical patterns, each time you go round it’s like a year: every summer is different from the summer before, you’re a bit older and wiser, it’s a different environment. It’s been really fascinating.”
Delldint chatted to PA volunteer Julia about her approach to teaching permaculture online and how she makes use of her suburban block as a permaculture canvas for the public. She also gives us a VIP tour of her amazing garden.
PA Member and volunteer Delldint Megan Fleming is a permaculture educator and Shiatsu therapist based in Blackburn, Melbourne. She runs PDC’s and various workshops, which continue through lockdown, and you can follow her updates from her Facebook page. She has a thriving permaculture share house and garden as shown in the video below.
So I thought I’d start in the past: where did this all start, how did you discover permaculture and who first inspired you?
I first heard about permaculture many years ago, because someone I knew had been a permie. At that stage, people waved the permie manual and it was just full of technical jargon: so at that point, I was sure it was good but it just wasn’t for me (yet!). I had a big journey of lots of other things about myself after that. I didn’t know that I was on the autism spectrum, I didn’t know why my life was so difficult. I went on and had a family, I have four children, and I had to do all of those things first. Fast forward 30 years, and I saw someone interesting on Facebook, Tamara Griffiths. She had bangled her car and needed to fix it fast, so offered a permaculture walk and talk for $200. So I gave this to my boyfriend as a birthday present, and I trailed around listening to everything she said, hanging onto every word. And at the end she noticed that I seemed really interested, and suggested that I do a permaculture design course. Even though I was busy and couldn’t afford it at the time, she said we could work it out: it would be one day per week and I could pay in instalments. I remember she said: “Some people are meant to do it, I have a hunch that you’re one of those people”. I gave it a go and I was instantly hooked: these were my people, this was where I was meant to do be. I was taught by Taj Scicluna and Tamara. Tuesday nights were the best nights of my week. I didn’t want it to end, so I did the course again and then again as a trainee permaculture teacher! So, I did the course twice more, and Tamara mentored me.
Has your understanding of permaculture changed since then, or has it stayed pretty constant?
It’s like something I’ve always known. But, I’m now teaching my seventh PDC. I did It once as a student and twice as a trainee teacher: this is now the 10th time I’ve gone over it. Every time I do it, I learn it differently, I know it deeper, I understand it more. Learning permaculture is one of those cyclical patterns, each time you go round it’s like a year: every summer is different from the summer before, you’re a bit older and wiser, it’s a different environment. It’s been really fascinating.
What is your approach to permaculture teaching now?
I could almost say a bit haphazard! At the moment the rules keep changing by the week, because I’m here in Melbourne (recorded before second lockdown). I’m a person who flows a lot and because I’ve continued teaching one course, and another course starts to the point that now my teaching is evolving all the time. Now, I teach in a cyclical way, because it’s a cyclical kind of learning. I’m teaching my PDC like that: I’ve had students join in in the middle of it, and it works out: because the knowledge is a pattern or network of everything that is linked to every other thing: when you pick them up, it still makes sense.
I’m teaching from Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. My housemate Guy has made this beautiful workbook for my students and I with all the modules in it, so every student can check off which module they do. When a student takes a break, such as due to sickness or kids, they can come back and finish the modules that they didn’t do. And it turns out that this works very well in the pandemic!
I’ve also developed another approach to teaching. There are some students who only want face to face classes. We can’t do face to face, but we can go for a walk one at a time! If we’re all local, we can just do one-on-one walks for an hour or so every day with a different student, and that also works very well!
I can imagine it would be hard to teach it online, because it requires that physicality, so that is really innovative, and you also get a bonus walk! So, what are you working on outside of teaching, what are you getting up to under the lockdown?
Shiatsu has completely dried up, because it’s not a possible thing to do at the moment. I’m looking after my permaculture share house, so I’ve got five other students who live here. So one of the conditions of living here is that they have done a PDC or are doing one. So, from that, two of them are working on an organic farm and have started an organic veggie box delivery, two of them have started their own teaching, and they’re now teaching an introduction to permaculture through PermaQueer. One of them has gone on holidays and luckily has escaped Victoria!
I’m also trying to connect community and I built a hot compost on the street to teach hot composting to my local area, but I got some backlash from the council and the neighbours. But that was so valuable as a learning experience, for me and everyone walking past!
I’m writing a book, which I’ve been writing for some years. It’s an emotional landscape book about Melbourne’s street directory. As part of figuring out who I am and why I am here, that was how I started that.
Now must be great time to be writing, because we have the opportunity to stop and reflect.
However, the tricky thing about it is that it is landscape reading, so I go to each place on the map and walk it, so it depends on what the restrictions are, and how able I am. So we’ll see how it goes from now.
Fingers crossed that you can keep that up soon! I really want to ask about Shiatsu massage. I’m really curious as to how you got into that and how that links to your understanding of permaculture?
I saw it in a book when I was back in uni. I studied Australian environmental science at university. At school I did geography, biology, art and English literature- it was a strange combination but those were the subjects that interested me. These subjects are perfect for permaculture it turns out, but I didn’t know that then!
Along the way, I met a shiatsu therapist, and really wanted to learn it. I had seen it but had never experienced it. I went off to the Australian shiatsu college and learnt the foundations of Japanese acupressure massage. Looking at all the older practitioners, I noticed that they were all really healthy-looking- so I thought that this looked like a really good job to get into- it wouldn’t wear me out! When I think about all the jobs I’ve had, they’ve been things that align with my ethics, and don’t add any pollution to the world, they’re experiential things, rather than having a gadget or thing that you have to recycle.
So shiatsu and permaculture seem to fit together quite nicely, in that they’re both the people care aspect!
Yes definitely! I’ve been a shiatsu practitioner for 25 years now, and I’m on the autism spectrum. I’m a very kinaesthetic learner, so touch is really important. Even though I didn’t understand people and had a degree of face blindness, I could still see the set of their body, hear the tones of their voice, feel their muscle tension and having that skill in unspoken things comes into play with landscape reading. When I dug a swale, the texture of the soil, or the flow of water or every shape that the ground makes, just the fractal nature of things. You get to a number of years in anything and the skills transfer across from one field to another. So, for example, I’m a good cook, and my permaculture and shiatsu skills come out through my cooking.
Wow! The physicality of it seems really important!
Yes, the taste and the smell and the textures are all important! So with Taj and Tamara, my teachers, they each have very different ways of doing things. Tamara would stomp and sniff and you could almost imagine her rolling on the ground and nibbling everything. When she came to do a design for people, she would do a scribble on the back of an envelope at first. Whereas Taj would look at rainfall charts and do a deeply studied and heartfelt and really skilful deciphering of things and then she would do a beautiful water-coloured scale drawings. Seriously, you would take one of Taj’s designs and you would frame it! They’re both really valuable ways of doing things. So all of those things have come into play.
It sounds like all of those things were really formative experiences for you. One last question, out of interest, on our Facebook group (for which you’re a moderator!), there’s a massive interest from new members, that started around the time of COVID-19. What are your thoughts on why permaculture has popularised? Has permaculture’s time come?
It is the medicine the world needs. It is THE fix-it pattern! Nature builds and destroys and creates things in a way that supports life. The way our society is set up does not do this very well: there are missing pieces and there are problems: chaos, pollution, destruction. We’re now dealing with that. Everybody is at home thinking about why, and looking at all these scenarios: what if supply chains are disrupted, what if we run out of food, geez I don’t even know my neighbour! What happens if something happens to me? All those connections are crucial in this time. So, it’s really important for permaculture to be here now.
Delldint is a professional member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.
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You can follow Delldint’s projects through her Facebook page including information about her PDC courses available.