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Food for thought in Sydney — two days with David Holmgren

David Holmgren
David Holmgren

IT WAS A BUSY FEW DAYS in Sydney for David Holmgren and his son, Oliver. First came David’s appearance at Randwick City Council’s annual Ecoliving Fair, followed next day with a full-day workshop and an appearance that evening at a TransitionSydney Cafe Conversation.

Many readers of this blog will know that David is a co-originator of the permaculture design system, which he and Bill Mollison unleashed on the world in 1978 through the pages of Permaculture One. David focused his efforts over successive years on the development of his Hepburn property, Melliodora, and marked his return to public prominence with the publication of Permaculture-Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

The writer of this report hosts Conversation With Authors, which is a regular event at the Ecoliving Fair, the intention of which is to introduce the authors and their ideas to the public and for the public to engage with the authors in conversation. It provided the opportunity for David to discuss his new book, Future Scenarios, however the discussion ranged far and wide around the general topic of sustainability.

Appearing with David was:

  • Dr Mark Diesendorf from the Institute for Environmental Studies at UNSW; Mark has written the recently-released book, Climate Action
  • Rosemary Morrow, the noted permaculture educator who lives in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, who recently produced A Good Home Forever and who  brought her unique variety of down-to-earth practical wisdom
  • and Victorian permaculture designer and co-author of the Permaculture Diary and Permaculture Calendar, David Arnold.
Authors at the Ecoliving Fair, from left: David Holmgren; Rose,ary Morrow; David Arnold; Russ Grayson (program host).
Authors at the Ecoliving Fair, from left: David Holmgren; Rosemary Morrow; David Arnold; Russ Grayson (program host).


Educating the educators

The one-day workshop attracted participants from councils, community organisations and others.
The one-day workshop attracted participants from councils, community organisations and others

Monday dawned much less windy than Sunday and, by 9am, a total of 35 people had gathered at Randwick Community Centre for a day-long workshop based on David’s Future Scenarios.

The day was organised by Randwick City Council’s Sustaining The City team through Council’s Sustainability Education Officer, Fiona Campbell. Attending were local government sustainability and environmental education staff, sustainability educators from community organisations, a leading, local climate change advocate associated with the local Green Church and a number of individuals engaged in sustainability education activities including consultants, two architects, two members of TransitionSydney, an engineer and small businesspeople.

The material was found challenging, but feedback on the day and over successive days indicates that it opened new avenues of thinking.

The day’s tasty food was supplied by no-waste caterers, O-Organics, with fruit from Sydney Food Connect.

Transition at the cafe

Workshop-David_Holmgren-021009_2The day event complete, it was time to head over to Glebe for the TransitionSydney Cafe Conversation with David and Oliver.

Held at the Fair Trade Cafe, this was another of TransitionSydney’s successful Cafe Conversations which were set up so that local people involved in sustainability, permaculture and transition activities have the opportunity to meet innovators from out of town as well as those from the city. The Cafe Conversations are essentially networking events in which attendees have the opportunity to meet each other and to talk informally with innovators. Previous innovators appearing at TransitionSydney Cafe conversations include:

Cafe Conversations are not presentations of the guest’s ideas, rather, they are informal events providing a chance to get to know the innovators. Consequently, David and Oliver spoke about how they became involved in permaculture and sustainability initiatives and, following this, attendees had the change to engage them in conversation.

It was good to get to know Oliver, who assisted David at the workshop with administrative matters. He is deliberately seeking the experiences that will inform his role in life and has a keen interest in photography, with which he and the writer of this report had more than a few conversations. No way will Oliver be overshadowed by his father’s reputation as the leading thinker in the permaculture design system.

New rational for permaculture design

David Arnold (left) discuuses his work with Conversations With Authors host, Russ Grayson, at the Randwick Ecoliving Fair.

David seems to be repositioning the permaculture design system as an applied response to the challenging global trends of peak oil and climate change, a response to be implemented at the community scale.

Into that mix, Rosemary Morrow threw the declining fresh water reserve on which food production and so much else depends. At the Conversation With Authors, Rosemary challenged David, saying that she thinks that water will be of equal importance to progressively declining and higher priced oil in the near future.

David’s approach to permaculture may represent a shift in the way it is focused because it takes the design system beyond many of its popular manifestations and applies it to developing local solutions to the major challenges. Were this to be further developed, it could provide a filter on relevant technologies, practices and ideas to emphasise those of greater social value while not ignoring individual and household initiatives in sustainable living.

His goal is what he describes as an ‘earth steward’ society, which may be eventually reached through the current trend towards a ‘green technology’ society. These concepts are explored in his book, Future Scenarios.

Tiring they might have been for those organising them, these two days with David and Oliver were inspiring for those in attendance.

Read a review of Future Scenarios.

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