Where to From Here?

Income streams, being hip, and those who’ve no other choice (through choice)

We’ve recently celebrated our third year of land stewardship here on Djaning, and all in all, to say the least, we’re pretty chuffed. We’ve so far managed and are still managing rocky terrain both internally and literally.

As we sat in our king sized bed, kindly donated by an old friend, at the end of another long challenging day we made a point of noting some of the things we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our three previous years. Some, such as developing community interdependence are barely beginning, we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface of this integral element knowing more work is certainly needed and will always and forever require conciencious work, with its own notably enriching rewards. While others, like our ongoing plantings of both annuals and perrenials and the application of various methodologies within the diverse fields of bio-intensive, syntropic agriculture, forest gardening and others, have all improved exponentially. With every season, nay, every moment that passes being afforded another rewarding learning opportunity.

Laughing with pure joy at the end of another long day. This time implementing our first larger scale Syntropic system with help from community members and seriously ‘hip’ friend

With this in mind (still in our bed) we began to turn over our most hotly avoided and weary topic; poly income streams. Or, how to make ends meet so long as our dominant monetary economy exists. We’ve become quite used to being creative within our household economy, both in its physical form and its emotional form, from musical performances, teaching stints, sharing and exchanging fresh produce, and inviting new people in to our lives to share this journey with us. Though we tend to continue to come back to a pressing question:

How to create a life and livlihood within our current paradigm without feeding Wetiko?

To make an income from something that’s a passion seems to us the ideal. Which is essentially what it is we are trying to do. However in the process of selling our passion we’re often confronted with the notion of selling out. Need we pursue narcisitic VLOGing? Do we have to sell our souls to social media to turn a buck? We don’t want this to be just another fad. After all, being Green is the new Black. As The 70s funk band Tower of Power asked (in all their majesty) “What is hip?” furthered by the statement, “If you’re really hip the passing years will show.” 40 years of applied permaculture living should attest to this pursuit being genuinely “hip”.

In fact we feel this is beyond hip, beyond marketing. A return to The Mother, living “Off-Grid”, as if all those “on-grid” are some embrio straight out of a nightmarish scene from The Matrix. The irony is of course not lost on us. In our bid to return, our dismissal of The Grid, we’re spruiking ourselves through the very elements we’re endeavouring to supercede.

All this in mind (us still in bed – perhaps wearing furrowed brows) we look to the solutions. The people and things that have inspired us to get here. Those that are holding a light up ahead. We refer directly to our friends Artist As Family and their wholy inspiring approach (now notably removed from social media), and their expressed intention to not give any money, or as little as possible, to “The Man”. We also refer to our friends closer to home, eco-warriors who’ve been living off-grid before it was even a thing. Those who actively engage in such lifestyles because they know that any other choice would be to compromise not only their integrity but their soul, their spirit, their Joie de vivre!

In our initial ponderings and searchings for a more connected, more meaningful existence we were inspired by those putting it out there. They may well have been using social media and many of the other things they sought to upheave but in doing so they’ve inspired and encouraged countless others to do likewise.

So perhaps (droopy eyed now), their and our insistence on utilising these machines and mechanisms we’re doing as those prerenaissance, utilising the printing press to diseminate counter culture, inspiring the reformation and bohemians everwhere evermore. Or perhaps we’re just making ourselves and our little family that much happier, that much more resilient, that much more informed of all the potential that Gaia has to offer.

Oh You United Kingdom You

It’s rather hard to put succinctly the feeling of returning to this wet little island known as the United Kingdom. It’s a little like putting on one of your old pair of shoes; a little musty, possibly mouldy, but comfortable, welcoming and if a little spit and polish is applied as good as the day you first wore them. Upon stepping into these old shoes we’ve encountered old and new projects, rekindled friendships and developed some anew.

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Making the time for some toddler led yoga with old friends

The unifying theme it would seem of the trip was in fact contrast. The individuality of this unifying movement known collectively as permaculture, has presented itself to us beautifully. We’ve tasted the social and interpersonal aspects of it as shared through the nurturing mentorship of friends and acquaintances, like Klaudia Van Gool. We’ve had our comprehension of potential alternative systems of governance explained in detail by the likes of Andy Goldring , Maddy Harland and others. We’ve been taken in, wined, dined and toured wonderous living classrooms such as Karuna Insight Design and Lammas Ecovillage. And we’ve consistently tasted some of the finest forage we’ve ever had the pleasure to have dance on our taste buds. With each experience being presented to us with the personal flavour and splendour of the individuals themselves.

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One particularly special insight afforded us came from Karuna in the Shropshire hills. Fionn had been a WWOOFer here a few years ago and had been so taken by the place that he was adamant we had to return in whatever capacity. So when we managed to organise and co-teach an Introduction to Permaculture course there (a first for us, anywhere in the world!) it was serendipitous to say the least. Having the Wheelhouse’s allow us to share their space and guide us through their lovingly and painstakingly created ‘Sanctuary’ was truly a treat. The evidence of their care, their observation and their willingness to integrate seemingly disparate elements was and is everywhere to be seen.

All the variations we’ve been able to sample in this brief time has been a testament to the movement itself. Be it demonstrated in a social manner, through animal husbandry, large scale forest gardening, back yard tampering, or completely altering one’s life to continue the spread of vital, inspirational information pertaining to the continuation of sustainable means and livelihoods.

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The windmill water pump at The Green Gathering

As we pack our bags for our return we’re thankful for so much. All these beautiful beings have again roused and shaken our understanding of what it is and what it means to be alive. With these memories in our hearts we happily venture forward into the next chapter of our little part in the quiet revolution.

 

Oak: Homo Sapien, Ka-Pow! & Slow, Creeping Confidence

How is one supposed to compose a considered piece of writing after several months of disengagement? Easy right? Well, not so much.

The fact that we haven’t written has been playing on our minds, and the fact that it plays on our minds creates further blockages. We do however feel we have more than enough ‘excuses’ to warrant our absence. We half promised ourselves we wouldn’t do this, but here’s at least one good reason why we haven’t ‘blogged’ for such a long time.

Baby.

Yep, a baby boy. We called him Oak. Yes, we named him after one of natures most brilliant gifts; a tree. But we also named him after a feeling, an energy, and a human being.

First off, we should probably apologise to Oak for using him as an excuse for not writing our blog. Then we should explain and thank him, as because of him we’re relearning to slow down. To wholly appreciate. To savior moments.  To stare into a little face and know that at each moment he’s receiving information  that is completely new. Never before has this little being seen a sun rise, a sun set, a rain storm, a cloud, a flower, a smile. This in itself is something to be greatly treasured… With of course “treasured” being a limited term in its capacity to describe such an on going transformation.

So with this new post, we acknowledge Oak Elliott Quinlan. Soon to be 4 months old. Just beginning to smile, giggle, recognise familiar faces, tones, and sensations. With this post we publicly embrace our newest friend and family member.

This all goes without mentioning further council approvals and the mountains of paperwork that includes, the Australasian Permaculture Convergence, Family from England visiting, erecting a yurt, planting innumerable trees, organising future workshops and courses, realising dreams, and conquering inner demons. Which we all know takes a whole lot of…

Now that we’ve explained ourselves, we’d also like to take this moment to acknowledge the passing of one year, one full cycle around our star on our little rock, since we’ve been on Djaning.

We’d like to share a few of the things we’ve learned in this time.

First of all, we’ve realised one year is a long time. It’s also no time at all, and for many things it’s just enough. It’s as if you only really begin appreciating and comprehending the passing of time once you’re doing that which you feel you were put on the earth to do. Or, begun listening to ‘your heart’. Cheesy we know, but it’s true.

The near 1000 trees we’ve planted so far are establishing themselves. We’ve witnessed a year of weather cycles; the deciduous trees shedding their leaves, the frost pockets showing themselves (minus 2 a few nights), the warming up of Spring, and the intense, humid heat of summer (45 degrees on one brutal Sunday). Through observing these cycles we’ve been better able to plan our movement through the land and its emerging organic design.

Our first ‘final’ design

The “final’ design we began a year ago is now coming into its own as the main frame is in. As many who’ve implemented such designs, there’s certain restrictions to any landscape. It’s curves and features naturally lend themselves to only a set number of mainframe alterations, ‘facelifts’. Djaning being no exception. As our two dams, main swale, and entrance road are now settling in, we have begun to be able to observe more closely our, and most importantly, natures, patterns.

Our zone one is evolving through this observation, tweaking our design as we use the space. The few citrus and stone fruit trees we planted a year ago are now settled in and are producing some excellent desire lines around our space, their edge becoming giant over flowing beds of perennial guilds. it is so exciting to watch this evolve and grow. “the edge is where its at” Thanks Charlie, David and Bill!

A happy and slowly evolved mix of pollinators, edible perennials and annuals, featuring; Kan Kong, lemon grass, nasturtium, sweet basil, stevia, cucumber, passion fruit (panama red & Norfolk black), native yam, strawberry guava, pigeon pea, lemon, native ginger, cape York lily, Brazilian Cherry, calendula, Brazilian spinach, seven year bean, winged bean, marigolds, chilli, comfrey, geraniums… on and on…

Our space is becoming a filled in canvas of food. Painting the landscape with garden beds. Our initial excitement at growing an array of annuals was quickly sidelined by the emerging perennials. As the delicious and common place annuals were eaten up and gone, our perennials kept growing and gave us something even more inspiring than just beautiful garden beds. Interesting greens like Kan Kong and the mushroom plant make excellent stir frys. We have all manner of wonderful herbs – medicinal, edible, insect repelling – this world of wonderous plants is just opening up to us and we love it!

Our flowers attract bees and insects, and really add to our overall moral through their constant changing beauty.

So with all this and more, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with our progress and happenings.

Also, (another reason for our lack of blogging perhaps?!), see our up and coming as well as our recent forays into permaculture teaching!

Here:

Fionn teaching @ Zaytuna Farm, Home of the Permaculture Research Institute

Here:

And Here: http://krishnavillage-retreat.com/permaculture

Be Here Now

So we boarded a ferry as excited as could be and rushed off into the blue aboard a giant ship, with hopes and expectations colliding with a calm trust. A trust of the sea, the road, and of each other. We’re not so sure we’d ever felt as alive as we had over the last few months. How were we going to top it? A zig-zagging trip through France, and Spain might do it? How about a trip to the desert? The desert, The Sahara? That certainly sounded like a great deal of fun.

As a picture says a thousand words, we’ve decided to let them do the talking:

 

As we’ve written and posted this almost 6 months after the fact, now working our little piece of land (little is certainly subjective), and taking each day as it comes and riding the roller coaster of learning, there’s a glimmer there that wasn’t there at the time. Something that can only be understood with retrospect. It certainly was fun, though it’s still close enough to remember the bumpy times. Those infinitesimally small moments that seemed so big. Something to keep with us as we venture into our new lives. Be here now.

IPCUK, Social Permaculture & Moroccan Dreams

The weather was changing, we could feel the cool night air seeping in under our duvet while the three of us slept in our van, Arvan. It was time to make another change. We were becoming more open to our surroundings and  opportunities. We decided to take our friends from Keveral up on their offer of a place to stay with them in Morocco. We thought a trip through Southern Europe would be a kinder place climatically to spend some time. We had friends along the way that were practicing permaculture so we could also continue our quest for sound ecological knowledge. This felt like the right thing to do. The longer we were away from such niceties as water on tap, power, central heating, the easier it was to be without it. We were slowly but surely rewilding. Though before we could get going there were two opportunities in England that were too good to pass up.

Moroccan sunsets were calling us
Moroccan sunsets were calling us

The first being that the International Permaculture Convergence (IPC), which appears in seemingly random countries bi-annually, was going to be held just outside London. It was listed as being, “a unique global gathering of some of the most inspired permaculture designers and practitioners from around the world, hosting over 500 participants from over 60 countries.” In short we couldn’t miss it.

David Holmgren's permaculture flower
David Holmgren’s permaculture flower

The second being an event which was one of the first ever Social Permaculture Courses, with a line up of educators that would make anyone interested in permaculture excited to say the least. The course was taught by five facilitators considered to be pioneers in social permaculture; Looby Macnamara, Peter Cow, Starhawk, Robin Clayfield and Robina McCurdy. We very nearly had to flip a coin for this one but as Fionn had returned to Australia to do his PDC with Geoff Lawton earlier in the year, it was now his turn to be with our little one and prepare the van for our future adventure.

This course opened up Laura’s eyes into a world of permaculture that was far deeper than she was expecting, something she is still digesting to this day! Some of the broader aspects covered were how to make our culture, our interaction with each other, and our groups sustainable, self perpetuating; How we can and will live together in an uncertain future; How to have better conversations; How to ask better questions of each other. Stories were told, songs were sung and emotions were felt. Something was happening, a shift, a movement, an optimism.

Robyn Francis - permaculture pionneer, and one of both Laura and Fionn's future teachers. just one of the amazing people we were lucky enough to meet at IPC
Robyn Francis – permaculture pionneer, and one of both Laura and Fionn’s future teachers. just one of the amazing people we were lucky enough to meet at IPC

Straight after this course was the IPC. The three of us drove up to Epping forest and spent 5 days immersing ourselves in PERMACULTURE! (yes in capitals and with an exclamation mark). It was incredibly inspiring to say the least. The people we would chat to, and the projects that were happening were all so up lifting and full of thought provoking actions it was hard not to be moved. Fionn felt in his element networking his way around the world in Epping forest, as Laura just felt a little daunted by the speed and quantity of the knowledge that they both were accumulating! Isn’t there some saying about once you allow the doors to be open you allow endless possibilities to enter into your life?! That was definitely happening to us. And we were becoming less afraid of taking those opportunities.
And with that, we headed South to Portsmouth where a ferry was waiting for us.

 

Seize The Day

After our volunteering in Cornwall we moseyed through some national parks, namely Dartmoor, Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons. Upon visiting these national parks we were naturally impressed with the landscape, they were beautiful, and still are. Yet a recent comprehension of ecological succession and land use practices throughout the UK, helped along by one George Monbiot and his poignant and revealing book, Feral, it was difficult at times for us not to dream of what these landscapes could be if managed more effectively, be they left to re-wild completely or otherwise.

Whistman's Wood, Dartmoor. Saved from grazing and the plow by the Granite boulders the ancient Oaks grow through
Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor. The ancient oaks saved from grazing and the plow by the granite boulders that surround them.

After all this time in the greenery it was time to take on another of our little plans; a family pass to the Green Gathering festival. We’d organised this one once we’d came out the other side of our ‘Trouble in Paradise’. This is a festival with the tag line, ‘a sustainable festival for all our futures’. Every festival since it’s inception has been powered by wind, sun and people, and this year the festival was branded as ‘Performance Meets Permaculture’.

All set
All set

As with so many festivals of this nature, where we’re attempting to re-imagine the future, and are surrounded by strong, intelligent and active people, there’s such a strong sense of what could be if only we’d all be open and willing enough to completely reassess, acknowledge and act upon all the mistakes we’ve made. In short, along with Laura’s brother and family from Hedgehog Hill Farm, this experience felt like the breaking of a dam wall of inspiration.

Green Gathering
Beyond Hedonism

The highlight of the festival, besides meeting the ever charismatic Charlie Mcgee of Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem, whilst engaged in a Children & Permaculture workshop fronted by Robina McCurdy, was getting to watch Seize The Day. This band is the musical actualisation of what you wished Bob Dylan would have done, could have done, if he’d maintained his protest edge. They’re like a combination of the political side of Billy Bragg (on fire), the spirit and get up of Fela Kuti in his Afrikan Shrine, mixed with the truth, honesty and folk of an old weathered, leather-faced, drunken Scotsman playing his heart out for just one more glass of whiskey all the while revealing the harsh brutality of our world with a smile.

Now that we had a soundtrack it was time to ready ourselves for a trip across a continent.

Seize The Day

On The Road

Our first stop in our green beast, (aptly and fairly named Arvan “our van” by our two year old) was Carmathenshire in South West Wales for a stay with Laura’s brother, his wife and their two boys on their recently purchased 16 acre small-holding, Rhiw Draenog or Hedgehog Hill Farm.

Hedgehog Hill Farm
Hedgehog Hill Farm

They had also experienced a similar disillusionment with our human predicament and had been looking into permaculture as a positive solution. They had sold their house in the suburbs of southern England and found a gem of a property in Wales. They were a few steps further along the path than us and were equally nervous/excited/daunted by the prospect of building and creating a life with positive repercussions for the future. We were lucky enough to camp in their garden (house paddock) for a month and get used to our new living conditions.

Arvan in Pooh Corner
Arvan in Pooh Corner

This initial part was particularly hard due to the fact it was such a large change, Fionn was in Herefordshire for the first 10 days, and our little girl making regular complaints along the lines of “Tweety birds, no! Where are the Nee-Nors?!” making things rather challenging for Laura. But gradually as we began seeing the direct results of working together as an extended family the initial awkwardness faded.

A family of wheelbarrows.
A family of wheelbarrows.

This short period became a great learning experience for all involved, as Laura’s brother’s family had only recently moved into their current house (with no windows!), we had the fortuitous opportunity of learning some of the baby steps phase together. Once Laura’s brother’s two boys took our little lady under their wing, showed her the best hiding places in the long grass, got stuck into some of the hard graft, gave her ride-arounds on their toy tractors and most importantly showed her where to source the blackberrys, things became a great deal easier, and the familial re-wilding came into it’s own.

Digging out a polytunnel in Wales
Creating a self watering polytunnel

Cob Oven - almost there
Cob Oven – almost there

In the process of building a cob oven, coppicing a great deal of Hazel, mulching even more Monkey Puzzles, swimming in their little stream umpteen times among many other things, we  would often get far too excited about how things should be implemented and slowly came to understand that everyone needs to make their own decisions and their own mistakes in their own time. Since leaving we’ve been able to see and have begun to comprehend how ideas, like those at Hedgehog Hill Farm, can develop into future masterpieces regardless of what anyone else says, against the current, against all nay sayers. With this seed of inspiration and optimism we set off for Cornwall.

Looe
Looe, Cornwall

We had volunteered to help out at on an organic farm whilst they ran a Permaculture Design Course. This experience couldn’t have been richer and more engaging. The venue – Keveral Organic Farming Community, the people – beautiful, intelligent, open, endlessly inquisitive, and the subject matter were everything we were hoping for and more. We felt we had found our tribe.

Keveral PDC Trobe

This experience took us to some places that were on our lengthy list of ‘places to see that inspire’, including Martin Crawford’s forest garden at the Schumacher College and the Land Matters Cooperative. It also gave us direct experience in foraging (not just for a few bits but near on entire meals),  woodcraft, mushroom cultivation, and other basic survival skills that have left an indelible mark. We also had the great pleasure of being able to sit in on lessons, when not preparing food, from some of the best teachers the UK has to offer.

Picking wild plums in the food forest
Picking wild plums in the food forest

We’ve been able to keep in touch with many of these beautiful people since this time and we’re not surprised but are very pleased to see and know that we’re all applying ourselves as best we can to various projects all over the world. Such a special moment in time for us and our little family, one not soon to be forgot.

All this and the summer was just beginning.

 

Trouble in Paradise

It’s very easy to get caught up in the world, to forget to be human. It would seem right at the point everything was ready to happen it very nearly all fell apart.

We had our land, we understood largely what needed to be done in order to provide for ourselves and were working towards it on a daily basis. Yet somewhere between finding this future paradise and making the life changing shift to occupy the land and the lifestyle, we both fell victim to seemingly separate ailments that had a very similar core.

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With the ever humbling application of 20-20 hindsight we now know where and how it happened. We had become so preoccupied with the end goal and our future that there was no room left for living in the present. Fionn always pushing, backed by an aggressive holier-than-thou moral code and Laura ever cautious, and overtly sentimental. We had become too attached to an idea well before it’d even begun. These two things nearly broke us as we both continued to fight to be heard.

As many couples do in such situations we took a break from each other, reassessed what needed to change, made drastic attempts to change them, all while drip feeding each other new information about our individual progress. The ideas that kept resurfacing were stillness of mind and presence of being. Why work towards something that’s making us forget why it is we’re doing it in the first place? We wanted to make the world a better place and were destroying each other and those around us in the process.

Never miss

So we pulled the plug. We wanted to get out and see and do while we still could, before we got down to some serious work on our farm, we thought, ‘Let’s live now, now!’ Seems ridiculously simple, but at the time it was one of the most challenging processes we’ve ever attempted, and are still attempting to this day.

Another issue that became clear was that the convenience of living in a modern city was about as far away from our idealised future as possible. First we decided we needed to declutter. It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate over a few years, particularly when you’ve got a child. We also needed to get out of the city, find some open air, and some stillness. Laura wanted to re-embrace an aspect of her youth, and it seemed an old Combi van would help her do that, which worked in nicely with the ‘out of the city’ thing. Fionn wanted to finish something he’d signed on to do in India years ago; a ten day silent retreat, and signed on for a trip to Herefordshire, which nicely tied up the ‘stillness’ aspect.

With these things in mind we decided not to renew the lease on our flat, effectively making us homeless. Then we sold and gave away all our stuff, well the vast majority of it, and put in boxes the bare necessities, tucked them away in Laura’s parents attic (thanks Nanna & Papa x), then hit the road. All three of us in our little green Combi van.

Nietzsche

 

 

Hippies, Activists and Permaculturalists

So we found the land we were looking for. It was close to a village – within walking distance – it wasn’t too big, and it wasn’t too small -to use for the vague ambitions we had anyway – and it had direct access to a natural water source – the beautiful Terania Creek. The area we chose also had a lot to do with the fact that Fionn grew up near by, therefore we understood the climate and had some friends we could, and have since called on to help us out in our early stages. Another major plus for the area is that The Channon and more broadly the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales, is renowned for it’s acceptance of alternative view points and pioneering, activist spirit in general. We therefore felt our attempts at living sustainably, or deep green wouldn’t be hampered by local opposition.

The Channon Market
The Channon Market

Yet all this aside, we genuinely had no idea where to start. We were still living in the UK at the time so the practicality of living and learning whilst on the land were not yet available to us. Luckily for our generation there’s a device called the internet, and so we began what we assumed would be a lengthy and tedious trawl.

On the second day of us freaking out about the big decisions and choices we had ahead of us we received an email from the local Real Estate agent who’d sold us the land with some niceties and one particular piece of information that really made our heads spin. He said that he’d just been over the road to visit the Permaculture Research Institute, and that he was amazed at what they’d been able to do and were doing with and for the land there. So we took a look. And kept looking.

This guy's our neighbour?!
This guy’s our neighbour?!

After a few months we had watched every video Geoff Lawton and his team had ever put out, were volunteering with our local team Brighton Permaculture Trust, and were spending every bit of spare time reading anything and everything from the likes of Masunobu Fukuoka, Sepp Holzer, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren and many others. We imagine this part of the story is like many others experience. Once you feel you’ve found your path you go headlong into it.

The next part of our story however, may not be entirely what you’d expect.

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