Russ Grayson

A day with Ted

Ted Trainer: visionary, author, appropriate technology tinkerer, educator

I FIRST MET TED back in the 1980s, it must have been. I don't recall where of how, but I ended up working for him at the University of NSW.

He had been inspired by the Club of Rome report that came out as the 1972 book, Limits To Growth. The contributors to that report used computer modelling to explore economic growth on a planet of limited resources. It was an influential book.

In those days Ted was something of a visionary. He still is, however he says that, today, our task is easier than it was for him when he started teaching, as many of the issues in that book are today mainstream issues and the ideas now have currency.

Ted Trainer is the man who was teaching about sustainable living way before sustainability became a social movement.


THE CLOUDS were dark but the enthusiasm was bright as a small band made their way along the bush track to Ted's home on a bush block on the banks of the Georges River in south-west Sydney.

Ted's a tinkerer in appropriate technologies, so, as we wandered his casuarina forest on the banks of the river we were treated to his ideas and philosophy as well as to his water wheels, wind pumps, methane digester, workshop and so much more.

Ted's message is that initiatives like home and community gardens, community sharing schemes, farmers' markets and other local initiatives make up the 'level 1’ intervention in social change for sustainability. They are all very good, Ted says, however they are best seen as a gateway to 'level 2’ thinking. That level is about restructuring our economic system to rescue it from wayward market forces and redirect it to satisfying human needs, reduced consumption, reduced waste and zero-growth.

People gather around food, and when they do a conversation strikes up. And so it was when we started that other enjoyable part of the day... a shared meal composed of what people had brought with them. That included fruit and salad supplied to a couple by Ooooby, the Sydney-based community supported agriculture scheme, while other tasty edibles came from people's home gardens and a local bakery.

We walked back along that bush track we had followed to find Ted's place, happy in the knowledge we had seen and heard what I can only describe as inspiration.

Thanks Ted Trainer, author, imaginative uni lecturer and innovator.

(Ted's writings can be found at:
Getting to Ted's house involved, first, finding a hole in a chainlink fence, climbing through, then walking a distance along a bush track.

In the photo, Virginia carefully hands the fruitata — the food she prepared as her contribution to the shared lunch — to Kat. Both are Katoomba women from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

Below — off along the track.
Two above: Ted's washing machine.
Above: Ted demonstrates a hand-cranked device for lifting water.
Below: Kat is dwarfed by a water wheel.
We didn't find out what Ted was making with this new machine, but Kat (in the photo) and I think it has something to do with moving water.
Above: Leesa Maree, a community and early childhood sustainability educator, walks through Ted's storage yard for reusable material.

Below: Ted's workshop is large, well lit by natural light and crammed with tools, constructions, art, odd things and a couple kayaks suspended from the ceiling. In the photo, Virginia finds inspiration and ideas for her own shed in the Blue Mountains.
Below: It's lunch... time for food and conversation.
He might be a university lecturer and an author... but Ted is also something of an artist. His appropriate technology installations, his water wheels and wind pumps and other devices, are interspersed with artistic imaginings drawn from fantasy. These you see in the following photos.

Below: a wind pump adjacent to Ted's house in the urban bushland and, grazing in the foreground, the sheep that keep down the grass to minimise the bushfire hazard.
After lunch it's time to head back to Sydney or, for some, to the Blue Mountains. So it was back along Ted's bush track and through that hole in the fence.

First two photos below: Ted's vision for retrofitting the suburbs as productive places producing many of their own needs. The photos are of paintings by Ted Trainer, before and after images.
Photo 1: The suburbs now.
Photo 2: The suburbs reimagined and remade.

Last photo: Ted Trainer, visionary.
Above: One of Ted's appropriate technologies — a device for the centrifugal extraction of honey from the racks from Ted's hives.
First below: A cobb oven.
Second below: Ted's chicken house.