Bill Mollison is an Australian who should be better known and would have been a better choice of Australian of the Year than politically correct artists or sports stars. Mollison grew up in Tasmania in the 1940s/1950s, and at that time small villages would have been highly self-reliant with people making their own boots and clothes and growing their own food. In the 1950s and 1960s Mollison noticed that even this ideal world was being slowly destroyed and ecosystems were beginning to collapse. This led him, like many others to protest but he soon realised that one’s efforts were soon evaporated. After withdrawing from society for two years he returned to teach at the University of Tasmania.
In 1974 Mollison teamed up with David Holmgren to formulate a sustainable agricultural system based upon having a true diversity of plants and animals on the one farm to form an ecological system. Mollison called this “permaculture”, derived from two words “permanent” and “culture”. The idea of a holistic system outraged the narrow academic specialists, but it delighted many hundreds of thousands of graduates. In recent times the permaculture paradigm has evolved to embrace regional self-financing and other economic strategies for people to attain higher levels of self-reliance because a mere focus narrowly on food self-sufficiency is pointless if people lack the means of being able to get to first base and get the land in the first place.
Permaculture combines both the wisdom and practical, often intuitive knowledge and experience of traditional agriculture with scientific and technical knowledge, within the framework of an ecological philosophy that strives to create an ecologically sound and sustainable system. There is much available about permaculture from basic to advanced levels, with courses and training programmes available. Beginning at the very basis level I consulted Bill Mollison (with Reny Mia Slay), “Introduction to Permaculture” (Tagari Publications, 1991) and Bill Mollison “Permaculture 2: Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture” (Tagari Publications, 2010).
Mollison did not create permaculture from nothing, for like everything else in the universe, it is an evolution or reworking of other material. In “Introduction to Permaculture” he refers to Fukuopka’s book “The One Straw Revolution” as defining “permaculture” best as a “philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating elements as a single-product system”. Mollison sees the key to living in harmony with nature is for mankind to realise that we too are part of the natural world, and that all creatures are an expression of Life: “Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Co-operation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos.
From these basics permaculture design unfolds using laws and general; principles which can be applied to any climate and culture so that human settlements and food production can proceed can proceed in harmony with nature. In brief, elements of a system (e.g., any building or road or pond) must assist each other and not be in conflict. The parts need to mutually support each other for the well-functioning of the whole. The elements perform multiple functions, but in turn the functions are supported by a multitude of elements. The system must be sustainable, so renewable, biophysical resources are used in preference to fossil fuels. There is a recycling of matter and energy on the site. Edge and natural patterns are used to maximum effect. Further, monocultures are abandoned and in their place is a polyculture and a diversity of plants and animals.
These are the basic principles of permaculture, elements of which are common to other works dealing with organic and holistic farming which have been reviewed at the Crossroads site. As our knowledge of the details of permaculture grows we will address details about how permaculture design could be used for our purposes of ensuring the survival of our people who are living in urban environments without the benefits of large properties.