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Wed May 4 18:08:57 EDT 2011

One was working furiously with a slasher on the slope above Bill's original
house, just below the lower swale planted to young mango, clearing long
grass from a number of banana circles.

> It is a very interesting archaeology - in that it has been largely abandoned
> and looks like a permaculture ghost town! Most of the ponds and dams were bone
> dry (perhaps due to poor pre-construction material investigation) -

On my first visit to the site some years ago, we found the dam above the
original 2.5 or so hectares to be dry while the others held some water. I
have never since seen this dam with water. On my first visit, one of the
residents said that they were cultivating sweet potato in the dam to develop
a layer of gunk on the soil that they thought might seal the dam against

> the exception being the dams placed where naturally good construction material
> would be found. Many of the trees - particularly the mangos and olives are
> choked by grasses etc.

This was what I saw too. I wonder whether the swale system might have been
too extensive for the number of people there to maintain, considering the
other maintenance activities there would have been to keep the property in
good order. Long grass grew in the swale and on the swale lip and I don't
know how convenient it would have been to cut it on a regular basis  - what
I'm asking is whether the shape of the swale structure makes for convenient
cutting of long grass.

As Robyn noted in her email, grassland systems usually come with a suite of
animals including the herbivore - kangaroo, bison, cattle - which feed off
the grass and keep it in control. In Australia, where marsupials graze
clearings in the bush, we have the phenomenon of the 'marsupial lawn'. She
notes that there were no large herbivore maintained at the Institute
property, so maybe this is why the grass was prolific.

It would be interesting, Darren, to hear your observations were you to visit
Kooragang City Farm on the outskirts of Newcastle and compare it to the
Institute farm. Kooragang, managed by Rob Henderson, who has a background in
engineering and landcare, is trialing a range of enterprises such as
bushfood cultivation, chilli production and grazing.

> The bamboos are a highlight however and did not appear
> to be suffering too much from the lack of attention.

I visited the bamboo aboraetum, whichI thought to be a valuable collection,
and the plantation on the creek flats. Some large canes had been cut and
stacked and one of the residents explained that they were considering the
city markets for bamboo shoots.

I was also impressed with the vegetable garden adjacent to the training
building. I liked their approach of using polypipe and poultry wire domes  -
moveable by two people  - and rotating them around vegetable beds made to
the same diameter - about 2.5 to 3 metres, I estimate - as the pens. I guess
that the residents relied on the garden for much of their food, so that
might account for its productivity and order.

The garden in front of Bill's house, as I mentioned in an earlier email, had
matured into an understorey of coffee (which, I am told, was harvested and
sold to a local coffee processor) with a canopy of leguminous Pride of
Bolivia trees. I found it to also be full of voracious mosquitoes, so maybe
I visited at the wrong time of year. Lucky malaria has not penetrated that
far south, I thought as I walked away from the coffee forest.

I feel that it's unfortunate that the experiment has reached its conclusion.
I always liked the ambience of the place... nestled against the steep
ramparts of the Tweed Range... the feeling of being at elevation at the head
of the beautiful Tweed Valley.

It would be good for an analysis of the experience of the farm to be written
up so we can all learn from it. There's no shame in starting an enterprise
that eventually fails - we all make mistakes and circumstances in our lives
change so we cannot always realise our earlier dreams. I suggest this
because, as my friends and colleagues know, I encourage permaculture
experiments, no matter how humble, to be documented via writing,
photography, video or whatever media is available because there have been so
many of these experiments, knowledge of which has been lost because they
were never documented.

...Russ Grayson
> I also agreed with Robyn that honesty and openess are aspects that we need to
> focus on as movement - unfortunately communicating this at times with some out
> there has proved difficult. Nature displays total honesty and in the case of
> the property spoken about this is a case in point.
> Cheers,
> Darren Doherty
> ----- Original Message ----- From: <permed at> To:
> <permaculture at> Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2002 6:38 PM
> Subject: Re: [permaculture] (Fwd) Interview with Bill Mollison Part Two
>> Bill Mollison:  Yes, for example, I went to a new ecology, the tropics,
>> latitude 28 and I went to the grasslands. Now tropical grasslands are fearful
>> things: they're over your head, they're tangled, they're awful, and we turned
>> it back into jungle, into rain forest; in about three years.  I put in some
>> 45 dams and miles and miles of swales, so it all turned into a huge
>> self-watering system. So, at the end of three or four years, I said: I can do
>> it, I can create paradise out of hell. There were 57 big Herefords on this
>> farm of 170 acres-and you couldn't fatten them so you couldn't make it pay.
>> And that's all there was-just great big earth-tamping machines running around
>> losing money and now, you know, we produce more fish out of a half acre pond
>> than all the Herefords put together. And thousands of mangoes and endless
>> bunches of bananas and on and on and on and on.
> I had to read this twice to recognise the property Bills talking about here.
> The reality of the farm is not quite as fantastic as it sounds and
> unfortunately that's very typical of Bill.  Yes there were a lot of dams and
> swales put in - the landform engineering was probably the best thing there -
> quite a few hundred mango trees were planted but not maintained and stunted
> and lost in the grasses, the fish ponds had a couple of productive seasons
> before disease hit and the next entreprenuer managing them made fatal mistakes
> as they really didn't know much about fish farming. I'm didn't see any jungle
> or rainforest emerging after 3 years unless he's refering to the little acre
> or so of food forest planted on the original 5 acre plot next door. In the
> absence of grazing animals the grasses and weeds proliferated. Hundreds of
> thousousands of dollars were pumped into the property, mainly on ill-conceived
> and poorly planned enterprises that never took off. The farm was never fully
> designed, had no management plan - I think I'd better stop.... While I have
> much to thank Bill for, I really feel uncomfortable about the way he hypes so
> many projects with exaggerated claims, projects that I'd be embarrassed to
> take a PC class to sound fantastic, isolated good projects are blown into
> whole regions and nations.... Just take what he says and downscale a heap and
> you'll be closer to the reality. Bill's yarns and claims have lost pc a lot of
> credibility over the years. The good stuff stands well on it's own honest
> merits without exaggeration, the stuff-ups need to owned and lessons shared so
> people dont go making the same mistakes over again. Permaculture needs to be
> open and honest about its successes and failures if it's going to be taken
> seriously and have a sustainable future. Robyn
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