[permaculture] Joe Polaischer Tributes
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lflj at intrex.net
Tue Feb 19 04:09:45 EST 2008
"Rainbow Valley loses its Founder"
Rainbow Valley loses its founder
By DELWYN DICKEY - Rodney Times | Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Joe Polaischer was a child of nature, a man of the earth, with a passion for life and sustainable living.
He saw a bountiful and beautiful world being degraded and abused, and he couldn’t stand by and do nothing.
Born in southern Austria in 1946, just after the end of World War Two, Joe grew up on an alpine farm near the village of
Schwanberg. His family was not rich – everything had a use and nothing was wasted. With no children his own age to play
with, Joe’s companions were animals and birds on the farm and in the nearby forests.
There were often food shortages in the cities and this saw many families moving into the countryside. Joe was concerned
that these people had no idea how to grow their own food or fend for themselves.
With the death of his foster father when he was nine – Joe had been raised by foster parents since a baby – difficult
times followed which saw him unsettled and at times running almost wild in the forest, and eventually led to him being
placed, at the age of 14, with another foster family in Tahl, near Gratz.
He fitted in well, and among his friends was a young man interested in body building - Arnold Schwarzenegger. After
Joe’s judo class they would often walk home together, but Arnold's enthusiasm for bodybuilding eventually took him on a
very different path to Joe.
Joe became a graphic designer and spent time in South Africa. He was appalled at the injustice of the apartheid system.
When a romance developed with one of his black female friends, they were legally forbidden to marry. Joe returned to
Austria and the woman followed. They settled in Vienna where Joe again worked in design. His wife went to work for the
United Nations. Among her working companions was Trish Allen, a young woman from New Zealand who had travelled overseas
to work originally in London and then Vienna after the end of her marriage.
When his own marriage failed, Joe headed for the United States, working as a landscaper and handyman in Hollywood. This
was a lucrative job and Joe was able to save and travel for months at a time.
In 1983 Joe found himself in New Zealand after a three-month travelling holiday. Due to fly back the following day he
decided to catch up with Trish Allen who had returned from Vienna. He hadn’t known her well but remembered her long dark
hair down to her waist. She invited him to dinner that evening, and he stayed six weeks.
Love blossomed and Trish visited Joe at his house off Hollywood Boulevard – a seedy part of town – she recalls that
there were always visitors and he had a beehive on the roof and a vegetable garden.
Joe decided Trish and New Zealand were his future, and they were married in 1985 and bought a property on Waiheke Island.
They attended a permaculture design course and met a man who was going to change their lives – Bill Mollison –and a
couple who would become lifelong friends – Kaye Baxter and Bob Corker.
Australian born Bill Mollison had a degree in psychology and environmental science and had been a lecturer at Hobart
University. A series of discussions there with student David Holmgren had lead them to a strategy for designing
settlements, in particular the development of perennial agricultural systems that mimic the structure and
interrelationship found in natural ecologies.
Twenty years ago, Joe and Trish bought a steep gorse-infested 20 hectare block of land near the little farming village
of Matakana, moved on their house truck and started to put the design concepts they had learnt into practice. Rainbow
Valley Farm was born.
Their ideas and commitment to the concepts of permaculture, along with their growing concerns about the state of the
earth generally, the degradation of the land by conventional farming practices, the extensive use of fertilisers,
chemical pesticides, burning of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide build up – ideas that at the time were often considered
a bit wacky – put them at odds with some conservative farming people.
Trish was working fulltime at Morris and James Pottery as their marketing manager while Joe did most of the physical
developing and planting of the property.
Over the years, the property was transformed into a permaculture farm and education centre. Joe became driven in his
quest to educate people to avert what he saw as an environmental catastrophe on the horizon.
He became a columnist with New Zealand publications such as Growing Today Magazine, Organic NZ Magazine, and the
Austrian Permaculture Journal. Articles about them started appearing everywhere. They were featured on Maggie Barry’s
gardening show twice, and on Country Calendar.
Joe attracted people like a magnet, and when Trish began to feel overwhelmed with all the visitors seeking advice, they
began structured open days, courses and workshops. He began running permaculture workshops in places like Austria, Italy
and Japan. In Europe he became affectionately known as the ‘Eco Pope’.
Joe had recently been asked to do a presentation for a conference in Australia celebrating 20 years of permaculture –
Rainbow Valley Farm was considered one of the four top permaculture properties in the world – and he had been thrilled
at the prospect.
In December, Joe had an operation to remove a brain tumour. His health, while initially improving, failed again and he
died early on Thursday, February 14.
The day of his funeral a Japanese magazine editor arrived at Rainbow Valley Farm to show Joe and Trish the latest
feature on them, unaware that Joe had died.
While Joe’s frustrated voice was once a cry from the wilderness, growing environmental awareness has finally caught up
and embraced him.
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