Almost 25 years ago I had THE big dream, THE self-sufficient, Permaculture lifestyle dream that is. From that moment on I worked hard towards it, both economically and educationally. Then finally, after five years my family and I swapped the mayhem of the city for a fresh air country plot of land on the Sunshine Coast, QLD Australia.
Hooray! We did it! We arrived as a family of five which included myself, my husband and our three sons. We fondly called our new home ‘The Farm’, and we looked a lot like the Beverley Hillbillies but in reverse order, arriving in the country with the bounty of the wasteful city. We had raided Sydney’s North Shore council kerbside pickups over some years in preparation. We arrived at ‘The Farm’ stocked to the hilt with everything including three (animal trough) bathtubs and a kitchen sink!
I sit here today with a glass of homemade wine in my hand. I am overlooking what we have created, nearly 20 years on. I am very content with having the inspirational dream delivered to us and others so cleverly by Bill Mollison in his Global Gardener series screened on the ABC some 30 years earlier. I recall one episode where Bill luxuriously laid back in a hammock and feasted on overhanging fruit. He went on to show simple, easy ‘Garden of Eden’ style gardening that included fruit trees with their own mulching plants, guilds and lush Food Forests with helpful birds and bees without any chemicals. I was SOLD, and I wanted some of that! He planted a seed in me, and I was off!
As the dream took hold of me, I first had to sell the idea to my husband. I slowly convinced him, but our extended family remained sceptical given that we intended to retire from our secure jobs, leave the workforce and commit full-time to this lifestyle in our mid 30’s. Years later my then worried father-in-law asked us if we wake up each morning and pinch ourselves, being so lucky to be successfully living this dream.
Before leaving Sydney, I worked over our financial plans to assure myself it was all possible. On a whim, I decided to write into the financial advisor section of the Australian newspaper and seek the advisors opinion of whether he too thought what we were doing was financially feasible. It was surprisingly published, but the biggest shock was the jaw-dropping response I received. There was no interest in the financial figures and plans I had revealed. No helpful comments on the possibilities of whether it was achievable, only a severe chastisement on what we were subjecting our three boys too. How could we be so irresponsible as to leave a snug city enclave to go to the bush (apparently the Sunshine Coast was some ‘country backwater’) and deprive our children of a decent city education and lifestyle? There I was thinking (and knowing) to the contrary that this was the best lifestyle and education we could give them. I was obviously on a different planet to this misguided snob.
So back to my wine and what we have created in 20 years. We had the advantage of a new house already built on the property. Just the house and nothing else, no roads or fences or dams. This included seven acres of cleared flat land in the shape of a boomerang, fringed by a rainforest creek and dissected by another seasonal creek.
Such a large, clean palate with a myriad of design possibilities. There were too many possibilities! How much land do I need for the tiny fruit trees I immediately purchased? How much land do I allocate for the vegetable garden to feed the family? Where do I place all the animals I (crazily) started to accumulate? I raced around asking others questions until it dawned on me that I had the answers already in my head; I just had to slow down and apply common sense… Permaculture Design by logic. This was when the sensibility of my learning kicked in;
– Start at the back door, zones and energy audits.
– Start with things we do most often.
– Watch and observe.
– Ten hours of thinking and one hour of work.
– Don’t be in a hurry.
– Make plans but plan for every potential.
Start at the back door was a great concept. It allowed me to focus on gardening and not be confused with the importance of a final, perfect design (which I still see so many getting tied up in knots with). I Immediately put in some gardens and started growing food. This in-turn gave me peaceful, purposeful thinking time to plan. Within six weeks, we were eating greens from the garden. By three months, most of what was on our plate was produced from ‘The Farm’ including most of our vegetables, eggs, and dairy products ( including cheese). Yes, I raced out and bought a dairy cow!. Meanwhile, the design slowly started to uncoil itself. Confusion rained for a little while, but we had additional and wonderful support. A serendipitous of events occurred including Geoff Lawton from the Permaculture Research Institute as our near neighbour, completing a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with Geoff and participating in the local enthusiastic Noosa Permaculture Group. These were clarifying pieces and added to my growing store of knowledge.
I was participating in the certificate course with Geoff by day then I was coming home in the evening to blurt it all out to my husband. We would then map out an added element, and he would put this into practice the next day while I was back at the course learning the next thing;
– Energy flow (planned animal nutrients carried by directed water flow to self-feed fruit trees)
– Banana circles
– More swales
– Locally appropriate layered mulch plants
All got added to the broader design. They were wonderful and worked so well over the years, a constant testament to permaculture and good design. Of course, this then flowed on to teaching courses and students. To farm tours and the media exposure that visited or participated here and went away impressed and inspired to with ideas to create their own permaculture niche. ‘The Farm’ is featured in Geoff’s film Introduction to Permaculture Design.
20 years on we now have a mature, fruitful system. We have tweaked and twisted the design over the years, repeating the things that worked so well (like the tank garden system that Mark came up with 19 years ago and has now gone mainstream) and changed things according to our circumstances and for ease of better management. It has and always will remain a flexible, bendable system, better for every bright new idea we have or see better done by others. We always treated the soil with reverence, constantly adding a wide diet of manures, mulches and minerals to develop the gold we have today, the value of which will be the hardest to part with! We certainly took the Permaculture concept of ‘work your way out of work’ and have designed ‘The Farm’ to be a place easily and productively worked by two (lazy!) people. We take in the odd WWOOFer, more for the company than necessity; on average only doing about ½ to 1 hours work a day (more like 2 hours today than nothing for the next 3). And yet our place is neat and orderly. It is beautifully wild and productive in a food cottage garden look. One can sip a coffee or wine, sit and observe or wander through and enjoy the plethora of birds, frogs and fresh air. Not to mention the bounty of food.
Now the next chapter of our lives is upon us; the boys have long left home and sadly but also excitedly we have placed ‘The Farm’ on the market. We have no intention of abandoning permaculture, for us it is a natural part of our lives as breathing, we just want to extend the adventure to a new plot of land in another place. We just hope that the legacy we have started here can be passed on to someone as keen to enjoy ‘The Good Life’ as we were. There is so much distortion in this world with superficial humanized elements, everything from prestige to plastic surgery, chemicals to chemotherapy, which means zero in the natural world. It is good to take a breather and enjoy the real world of family and food, fresh air and nature, with security in the knowledge that if things go pear shaped we can shut the front gate and comfortably survive. This has given us constant comfort over the years, and it is part of why we will do it all again.
Liz Hanson (07 54425530 or 0439760881)
farm59a (at) bigpond.com (replace at with @).
PS. We asked a friend who was a real estate agent for 20 years for a hint on what catchy headline to use on our place, ‘permaculture paradise’ or ‘organic oasis’… he said no, his suggestion… ‘want to avoid cancer, then buy this place’.
If interested, please contact us and we will send more information and pictures or visit us on Forsalebyowners.com – 59 Killawarra Road Lake MacDonald Qld 4563 Australia.