This month we lost a Permaculture elder, author, teacher & educator. Dr Ross Mars was many of those thing’s but he was also a husband, father, pop, brother, uncle, friend and mentor to many.
Not many people know, but we actually have Ross’ wife Jenny to thank for bringing permaculture to Ross. It was her who first did a Permaculture Design Course and suggested Ross do one too.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ross’ contributions to permaculture were numerous, and if we tried to list them all, we’d be here until tomorrow and would probably still forget some.
Ross’ involvement in Permaculture has spanned more than three decades during which time he had two “Candlelight Farms”, wrote and co-authored twenty books for the beginner Permie, the Permaculture classroom, Permaculture disguised as Science in the Garden, and his last one on Regenerative Agriculture, which only went to the publisher this August.
He played an integral role in establishing approved greywater and black water recycling systems in Western Australia, and was a member of the Greywater and Wastewater Industry Group. He was one of the main organisers for the 2016 Australasian Permaculture Convergence here in Perth and contributed to many others.
Ross was a teacher, a high school science and math teacher in fact, and he brought that skill into Permaculture facilitating and delivering numerous courses – Introduction to Permaculture, Short Workshops, PDCs, Advanced Courses, Teacher Trainings, Permaculture Earthwork Courses and all levels of the accredited training sector. He wrote and established the accredited training for Permaculture from the Certificate I to Diploma level and made WA the forefront of accredited
Permaculture training in Australia. In addition, he also brought Certificate I & II Permaculture qualifications into high schools through the Vocational Education & Training in Schools system.
As a designer and consultant, Ross’ name and “Candlelight Farm” will be found on numerous designs for schools, colleges and community gardens as well as his work with property owners helping them achieve their dreams.
We could go on, but what we really want to talk about is how many lives Ross touched in doing all this. How many people felt that he changed the direction they were travelling in and his influence on their life. He changed not only people’s properties, but also their worldviews and in many cases the directions of their life.
Two themes keep coming up when speaking with people about Ross: His humour and his generosity.
We are the best examples of that and neither of us would be where we are today without Ross. He taught us much of what we know and encouraged us to go out, start our own business’ and to teach others – sometimes with a (not so) gentle kick in the behind.
He supported our baby steps with patience, and trusted us as we grew wings and found our own teaching styles. We could also question and disagree with Ross and he would listen and take on our point of view or differences in opinions, but we always knew we were still mates.
How many weekends were spent at Candlelight Farm learning from him? Financially, it was never worth it for him, he did it to inspire others and because of his love of teaching and his belief in what Permaculture could do for a community. He would say to us on more than one occasion, “When it comes down to it, Permaculture is about Community, Soil and Water” and although we’ve tried to think him wrong, he had a point. Permaculture is about Community and that was what Ross
fostered by his actions and innate generosity.
I remember doing one of the courses with Ross around 2011 and he brought in these MASSIVE Bunya pine cones happily declaring he was going to harvest the seeds and make us a gluten free, Bunya Pine Nut Chocolate Mud Cake for our next teaching session. True to his word he did and I’m yet to find a better chocolate mud cake than Ross’ “Bunya Pine Nut Chocolate Mud Cake” – he was onto gluten free before we even knew what gluten was. That was the lengths Ross would go to for his students to harvest enough pine seeds to make us a chocolate cake just so we could experience it.
We like to think that our countless hours of fixing his reticulation, propagating new plants, making mudbricks, building straw bales, sanding, concreting, surveying or building something was actually helping him. Most likely though, he spent more time fixing it up afterward but you would never hear him complain. What his approach taught us though, was that it was okay to have a go and learn on the job. To use tools we weren’t naturally comfortable with, and that circumstances didn’t
need to be perfect to work.
Ross had an uncanny sense of smell for cake and a knack for materializing out of thin air whenever it appeared. If we needed to speak to him, all we had to do was announce morning tea to our students and his cheeky grin would poke around the corner under the pretence of “selling” books, or needing to talk to our students about something.
Teaching was carried out in a refitted shed with the ablutions consisting of a homemade composting toilet with a bucket, a toilet seat and a container of sawdust. This proved a little too overwhelming for many students as in the end it was upgrade to a “normal toilet” that flushed.
Ross handed over the teaching reins to us a few years ago so he could enjoy more time with his beloved wife Jenny, their dog Bruno and all the family. We hope we can do him proud and continue his legacy. He was a teacher and mentor, but to us, and many more in the permaculture community – he was much more than that, he was our friend and he will be greatly missed.
Vale Ross Mars
Martina Hoeppner – Permaculture Educators Alliance
Fiona Blackham – Gaia Permaculture