[permaculture] Bruce Hedge reviews the past 25 years of permaculture with joint founder David Holmgren,

Wesley Roe and Marjorie Lakin Erickson lakinroe at silcom.com
Sun Jul 17 03:29:08 EDT 2005

In this issue Bruce reviews the past 25 years of permaculture with joint 
founder David Holmgren,
and begins with his first encounter with the man.

by Bruce Hedge
Newham, Victoria.


I first met David Holmgren at the Bredbo “Down To Earth” Confest in late 
1977. It was the early, heady, exciting days of permaculture. Bill 
Mollison’s irrepressible charisma and enthusiasm had drawn us to this stark 
delinquent landscape on the Murrumbidgee River just south of Canberra. We’d 
all come to hear the great man entertain us and tell us tall tales and true 
about this new and wonderful way of self sufficiency in uncertain times. 
Bill was the consummate storyteller and we were all enthralled in his 
presence. During a break in the frenzied proceedings, I asked Bill a 
question about something (I can’t remember what . . .) and he said to me ­ 
“oh ... you’d better ask David Holmgren about that 
” gesturing to a young, 
shy man nearby. Over the following 27 years I’ve learned of that young 
man’s wisdom, determination, and willingness to walk the walk and talk the 
talk in his pursuit of a lifestyle which leaves a very light footprint 
indeed on this fragile planet.

I chatted recently to David at “Melliodora”, his model permaculture site in 
Hepburn, Central Victoria. I asked him whether he had any idea in 1977 
about the direction that their permaculture concept would take. “I saw the 
permaculture concept but I didn’t envisage the movement itself”, he said.
David’s attitude has shifted over the decades from ambivalence to 
acceptance of one of the most progressive forces for positive change 
happening in the world today, effectively connecting everything we need to 
change all at once rather than just one piece. “We have to change every 
aspect of the way we use natural resources and the way we live. Initially I 
felt uneasy about being a role model because people may copy things which 
are inappropriate to their own situations ­ they might take things out of 
context ­ everything is always more complex 
 but now I tend to accept 
those things as part of the process.”

“Some of the people who now provide permaculture services have visited us 
here at Melliodora”, David continued.

“They’ve seen that it’s important to experiment on yourself first. If 
you’re proposing that people live differently, then the first test is ‘can 
you do it yourself’? This is a funny sort of challenge because some of the 
aspects of the permaculture lifestyle initially swim against the tide. For 
instance, the idea of growing your own food. Food’s the cheapest it’s been 
in human history relative to wages. When someone has skills that are in 
demand and are highly paid, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to spend a lot 
of time and effort to learn to grow a lot of your own food. But there are 
many other reasons to grow food. If we move to a changed economic and 
environmental situation, food will not be cheap. Then we have to ask ‘how 
do we skill up society?’ We need a lot of working models in different 
situations and you can’t just switch those models on overnight.”

David’s partner Su Dennett is committed to the same values, but brings 
different skills to the partnership. David says she has challenged him to 
be even more radical in his behaviour. For example, living simply with 
what’s in the cupboard or garden, or her passion about the family changing 
over to the outside compost toilet. In fact, David, Su and Oliver have 
actually closed down their conventional flush toilet inside the house. Part 
of this comes from Su being the “animal person”, whereas David is the 
“plant person”. Su sees the value of animal and human compost and the 
stupidity of flushing good nutrients away with water. She has a close 
relationship with her animals, going out every morning to milk the goats.

“In any self-reliant household, unless it’s five to ten people, there are 
never enough skills to do everything efficiently,” says David.

“We always come up against economies of scale. Is it worth baking your own 
bread or milking an animal? Sometimes I have to ask other people to do work 
I really love doing. Work such as building a shed, because I have to sit at 
a desk running my consultancy. Even though we grow our own firewood but 
don’t use much in our energy-efficient house, cutting it looms as an ever 
bigger task each year, especially as we get older. I’m now finding the 
culture change from my previous substantial self-reliance to a delegating 
role for some tasks to be very interesting. We’re all a bit pigheaded about 
how we want particular things done and we have to learn to let go a little.”

I asked David who had influenced him most over the years and he said he’d 
love to have met Howard Odum, PA Yeomans and EF Schumacher. David was 
actually taught at Hobart’s College of Advanced Education by one of 
Schumacher’s closest colleagues, George McRobie, while he was forming his 
early ideas of permaculture.

David has recently embraced modern technology to update his 1995 book on 
Melliodora into an e-book available on one CD. All the original black and 
white photos are now in colour and David’s son Oliver has created many 
virtual tours of this remarkable property. Log on to www.holmgren.com.au 
for more information. Despite the e-book, he remains slightly sceptical 
about computers in the very long term of our energy descent. “If your seed 
bank can’t be accessed without your computer then that’s a serious problem.”

Apart from Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, many people were responsible 
for promoting permaculture in the early days. One person in particular made 
a huge contribution. Terry White from Maryborough,Victoria produced the 
“Permaculture Quarterly Journal” for ten years. Hundreds of articles 
inspired us all. Terry then turned his considerable expertise to areas like 
salinity control and energy efficiency. David and Terry have known each 
other for 25 years. Recently they were chatting and found out that they 
were born 10 years apart. Exactly. To the day.

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David Holmgren West Coast Workshops and Talks USA Aug/Sept 2005

DAVID HOLMGREN Co-orginator of Permaculture only Talk/Workshop in Southern 
Tues Aug 2 2005 7PM $15
Santa Barbara City College East Campus

Tues Aug 2 ALL DAY WORKSHOP AT SB City College  East Campus 721 Cliff Drive 
Santa Barbara Campus Center
Afternoon Session 2-5PM
Bill Roley Workshop: Watersheds  a Permaculture Perspective ,
Larry Santoyo Workshop:Urban Permaculture
Doug Richardson (Director Environmental Horticulture) Workshop: 
Restorations Project and the SB Hort. Garden
Special Guest Don Sarich CEO Permaculture Credit Union and Scott Pittman 
Permaculture Designer/Teacher New Mexico

COST $80 (STUDENTS $60 )
To Register send check to Santa Barbara Permaculture Network 312 E Sola St 
#1 Santa Barbara Ca 93101
For more info sbpcnet at silcom.com 805-962-2571 www.sbpermaculture.org

COSPONSOR/FUNDRAISER fo Santa Barbara Permaculture Network ,Permaculture 
Credit Union (www.pcuonline.org), SBCC Environmental Horticulture Dept. and 
SBCC Student Sustainability Coalition (www.biosbcc.net)

David Holmgren , co-originator with Bill Mollison of the Permaculture 
concept, is an innovative environmental design consultant based in Hepburn 
Springs in Central Victoria ,Australia. where he maintains one of 
Australia's best-known permaculture sites. His latest book , Permaculture 
Principles& Pathways Beyond Sustainability is a distillation of life lived 
by the principles of Permaculture. To see his writings and designs visited 

August 6 - 9, 2005 4-Day Workshop with David Holmgren Petaluma, California
Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), Petaluma, California.
Cost $450 not including lunch,
Double occupancy dorm style accommodation $300 per person for three nights 
includes 3 delicious organic meals.
Single occupancy is $360 for three nights includes 3 delicious organic meals.
Download the registration form (PDF file) and return it with a check made 
payable to Permaculture Institute to:
Permaculture Institute of Northern California, P.O. Box 341, Point Reyes 
Station, CA 94956
Contact: 415·663·9090 voicemail or info at permacultureinstitute.com 

David Holmgren in Portland Oregon
Aug 13 -17 Sat-Wed FIVE DAY PERMACULTURE WORKSHOP with Toby Hemenway and 
David Holmgren $295
August 16 -17, Tues- Wed Advanced Workshop on Permaculture Ethics and 
Principles with David Holmgren.$140
Three day introductory workshop August 13-15 with Toby Hemenway is $180.
TO REGISTER, Permaculture Solutions, LLC3527 NE 15th, PMB # 101Portland, OR 
August 15, 7:00 p.m. Mon David Holmgren Talk at Pacific Crest Community 
School, NE 29th and Davis $10.
Contact info at portlandpermaculture.com, 503.293.8004


David Holmgren in Washington State
Aug 19-21 Bellingham WA Northwest Herbal Faire
Aug 23 Olympia WA , Permaculture Solutions for the World
Aug 27-28 Two Day Workshop at TwisP, $130 both days , $70 one day
27 Permaculture Principles 28 Ecosystem Restoration
Aug 30-Sept 1, 3 day Advanced Course Permaculture Design Theory and 
Principles Seattle $175
Contact Washington/ Oregon Friends of the Trees friendsofthetrees at yahoo.com 
www.friendsoftrees.net 360-927-1274

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