DesignFor SaleGeneralWhy Permaculture?

Selling the Family Plot of Gold

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

8 Comments

  1. Jade Woodhouse moved on to Dorrigo after Sunshine Coasting for many years. Maybe you too, Liz? I would be happy to help you set up a place if you moved to Dorrigo. (I live there too).

    1. Hi Dean,
      What a warm and welcoming response to my article, thank you. Don’t worry ever since Jade moved to Dorrigo and gave us such wonderful feedback it has been on our list of ‘to check out’ places. We have sort of fallen in love with Tassie though but just may call in and surprise you on our way south. If possible send us an email and I will keep in contact.

  2. What an amazing accomplishment. I was able to find the listing and they are asking $770,000 my question is what did they purchase the property for originally and how much did they put into it over the years. I have a family member who is more impressed by return on investment calculations than environmental/ health benefits.

    1. Hi Trish,
      Like everyone it is a difficult emotional decision putting a price on a normal home let alone a labour of love like ours. But like most we followed the conventional path and had real estates come and give appraisals and only took the mid road of half way between the highest and the lowest price. Despite trying to find someone slightly ‘green’ it’s still the case that not much value is given to a ‘productive property’ in affecting the price unless a serious business profit is attached. Real estates are still only interested in the the value of the bones of the property not the so called flimsy additions like gardens and dams. They say they only make the property more emotionally attractive and likely to sell more quickly. Alternatively I have a friend who bought a city property in about the same space of time and with no improvements and only a postage stamp of a sad backyard it is now worth 2.5 million….so where is the logic in that. I think food properties are becoming increasingly more attractive as so many people are getting sick eating from supermarkets and living in polluted cities, but we still have a way to go yet.

  3. Enjoyed your article, Liz. I am just now trying to do something akin to what you have done with your property using permaculture designs. Do you have a website or other online articles detailing your work? I would surely love to imitate someone with 20 years of experience and success. Thanks.

    1. Hi Nate,
      Thank you for your lovely response. Good on you for choosing this lifestyle, you won’t be disappointed. I always say re design and your property that they are like a 100 chefs and a group of ingredients…all can make a successful tasty dish and no one is incorrect…using the permaculture tools (like zones, swales, aspects etc) as the ingredients there is a hundred sucessful potential designs for your property and none will be incorrect. The secret is to enjoy the process and be prepared to change the things that aren’t working (I could write a book on some of those we had to change) and give yourself accolade for those that do! I love the garden and nature and cooking my produce but unfortunately I have a VERY short attention span in front of a screen, hence the time I have taken to reply to you. Contact me if you would like to chat more.

  4. Loved your article Liz. My husband and I are ready to move down to our “Farm” 5 acres in Hopetoun W.A. So excited about setting up our permaculture style of living. It’s a blank canvas – literally as it was part of a cattle farm and is bare land. Cheers.

    1. Hi Sandra,
      You have an enjoyable task ahead of you with the bare blank canvas. You can only move forward….I can feel the excitement for you. What fun to look forward to creating your Permie paradise and growing all that lovely clean food for you and your family and helping regreen your little corner of the planet while providing homes for the wildlife that once exisited there. That’s one of my greatest joys is seeing all of the little creatures that we have turned back up here after we provided plant homes for them, everything from the active soil life that feed my plants to the birds and frogs and mammals that have now moved in…all helping us garden too!

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