Develpoing Community Resilience in the Land of Resilient Communities

One small family. One little patch of land. Four hearts and minds.

A few years ago we were total newbies to the application and dissemination of the concepts of ecological and social restoration. Now we feel like we’re flying.

We’re fresh off the back of teaching our second Permaculture design certificate. We’ve both taught sections of PDCs before and have co taught with many others, though this was just us; Fionn and Laura, Iyla and Oak.

The two weeks of the PDC that we had this small group of beuatiful people together, we all felt the power of collective dreaming; the possibilities of achieving our ideal culture, and the understanding that our individual actions can and do make the world of difference.

Our small dedicated group of students excitedly receiving their PDCs

We came away with an overwhelming sense empowerment, as facilitators, friends, earth stewards and keystone species.

“We got this!”

Almost as if waking from a glorious dream, the shock and reality of our current predicament came home to roost. The ancient gondwana rainforests are on fire. We’ve heard time and time again people say the rainforest can’t burn. And here we were reading and hearing that Mt. Nardi – with the highest average rainfall in all of New South Wales – was, and still is, burning.

We don’t wish to go into details of the fires themselves or our neighbourhoods response to them as you can find detailed accounts of that elsewhere. These fires were and are not isolated. There was a a state of emergency declared a few days after we returned home. There was a buzz in the air. One we could only liken to one instilled in a fear of the unknown. We’re forest people, we’re flood people, we’re not fire people… Or at least that’s what we thought.

we’ve heard it likened to applying a gas mask to yourself before you apply it to others. It would appear that when the fires here started on the Saturday, with a exception of few locals working alongside the RFS, many were doing just that. Getting their houses in order. Applying oxygen to themselves prior to allocating it to others.

Police went from door to door advising people to leave their homes, as Tuesday was set to have temperatures into the 40s with high winds. The fire front was over 10km away from the village but with high winds the chance of an ember attack were high. So we cleaned up as best we could, left out buckets all around our yurt, and we left with our two wee ones.

Fionn returned the next day, and posted this after more clean up around the house. In true permaculture fashion he had to ask, and kept on asking;

“What are the potential positive outcomes from this? In what way is this problem a solution?”

Then by Wednesday it had come to our attention that one of the communities near and dear to us was being threatened by fire. So Fionn gave a lift to one of the share holders there while Laura did the essential work of loving and caring for children and our home site. When Fionn arrived there was whole fleet of people carrying buckets to a fro, from the fire to a tanker dolling out water.

And so began the work of the next couple of weeks. Laura and Fionn joined in with an impressive number of people from our local community who had come together to address the immediate danger of the fires. Throughout this process (which is ongoing – and is likely to be for the rest of summer), there was and is a palpable connectivity being created and redeveloped between all those involved in the fires. It was brough to our attention that there was a need and/or desire for people to let off steam now that our fire had been downgraded – we were in the blue.

“there was and is a palpable connectivity being created and redeveloped between all those involved in the fires.”

All this time Fionn had been trying to complete the last section of his second semester of is permaculture Diploma. It related to facilitating participatory planning and governance. His initial hopes of beginning talks in the hope of establishing a weekly farmers market in The Channon common came to an abrupt halt when the fires started. So he asked the question, “Can a party for the firies be more than just a party?”

Talking with some of our local friends, there seemed a need for a fundraiser itself. With the desire stated by myself and Laura, with some contact with our awesome team of local go getters, and two weeks to plan it, we decided on the above.

And what a night! Circus troupes, Flamenco dancers, Gypsy jazz, 10 piece dance band, storytelling, shadow puppets, heartfelt standing ovations of appreciation, a feast for all and so much more. All by the way provided out of love from our community for our community. No one got paid a cent, and yet we managed to raise over $3000. Not bad for a little jar by the door, and some networking.

A full house in the hot The Channon Hall

It must be said that it is more likely, that an event similar to this would have happened in such an amazingly connected community. However, in no small part did the impetus given to Fionn and Laura through their study of permaculture ignite this event, the lead up meetings, and the idea for the fundraiser itself to be larger than just a fundraiser. It was a party with the specific intent of first and foremost acknowledging our awesome firies and defenders, but secondly in using this as a starting point to a new way of creating community resilience in the face of a changing climate: Intergenerational community resilience.

Upon applying self regulation and accepting feedback, it has come upon us – a small group known as The Channon Stewards – to host a small gathering of concerned local citizens wishing to contribute to the discussion around our future, and how we respond as a community to a changing climate.

Here’s to future community cohesion, networking and resilience. Together we are strong.

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.

 

Trust Yourself

We’ve reached a seemingly large, and potentially daunting milestone recently; We’ve altered this beautiful patch of land we call Djaning permanently. We’ve dug enormous holes in her. Ripped a large line through her middle following her beautiful contours. Turned up the earth, removed a ton or seven of her grass, sand and soil, and are now faced with the task and duty of completing this vast cosmetic realignment of her features.

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Digging the ridge point dam

When we look at it like this it certainly keeps us up in our little caravan, hoping we’ve done the right thing. Remembering that the sins of our father are visited unto the seventh generation… Reassuring ourselves through reading all the manuals, noting all previous experience from our elders, that show this type of restructuring of the landscape works. A seemingly extreme, though proven measure in trapping water and slowing it, thereby hydrating the landscape.

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We know there’s other methods, and we will resort to these later. But this initial scarification is giving her a new skeleton. A new main frame. We now have two dams, one rather large, a valley dam, close to a million litres, and another, a ridge point, that’s around the two hundred thousand mark. Along with this a swale the length of two and half football fields reaches from the lowest point on the highest boundary through her newly acquired ridge point dam and out the other side. With our care and attention all will become bountiful habitats for micro and macro biology and everything in between, to grow, play and achieve their full potential.

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We know all this, and are comfortable with our choices, and have had close to two years to really think it over. Though that doesn’t mean we’re not slightly daunted, even if it does seem we’re taking this rather large step in our stride. We’ve been stepping and running since we landed on this wondrous little piece of land. By any measure we have been small and slow, though by others it can certainly feel rather large and fast. It’s in this feeling that we can get lost and doubts and troubles can seep in. And questions, demands and expectations that have no real purpose being in your head or on your lips, except perhaps to perturb you further, also creep in. Questions that can’t, or needn’t be answered, and expectations and demands that will surely – in good time- be met.

We’ve found that it is in this phase that, most importantly, we must stop and breathe. Look to each other for a hug and a pat on the back. Not that we’re short of it, but a few kind words and a loving embrace goes a very long way to planting feet firmly on the ground.

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We’ve recently heard on the wind that there should be an inclusion of a fourth principle to the three main ethical principles of permaculture, the central oft quoted three being, care of the earth, care of the people, and return of the surplus. The fourth to be considered is care of one’s self. This is hard not to agree with. It would appear it’s included in care of the people, but all too often we focus our energies on others and are left feeling drained without allocating sufficient time and energy for self soothing and reassurance.

It would seem in hindsight, if it weren’t so lovely and horrendously obvious, (and quite likely it is to many) that we must be gentle with ourselves, as we’re the only us we’ve got.

In the words of James Brown “Jump back, gonna kiss myself.”

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To be a Dreamer and a Doer

The winter months here on our little soon-to-be farm have brought some interesting changes and realisations, here’s hoping we can recount a few for you.

We feel as though we’re finally getting to see some changes. We’re almost 6 months in and as we started in late summer and are now well into winter, we’re beginning to fully comprehend the necessity of the first principle of Permaculture, Observe and Interact. Noting little pockets of frost and which plants can and cannot hack it, how micro-climates can be provided by an array of things hitherto unknown to us, watching the migratory flocks of birds, and seeing the real slowing down of growth. All interesting. All integral for us to better understand where we are and how we can better live in harmony with changes for now and in future.

Red sky in the morning, our delight?
Red sky in the morning, our delight?

Another happening that has  become evident to us is something Geoff Lawton often recalls when teaching his Permaculture Design Courses; a time he confided in Bill Mollison and asked, “How do I know I’m getting it right?” To which, Geoff says, Bill replied, “Resources will gather around you, and more often than not they will be in the form of people.” It’s likely too early to tell but we’re just beginning to feel as though we may be on the right track. Resources of the non-biped variety have been pooling in dribs and drabs; friendly neighbours leaving us seeds, and tree guards  on our doorstep, a few tarpaulins, a fuel canister, and several large bags of a variety of fresh, local veges. We’ve also been blessed with many visitors, hard working or otherwise who’ve all contributed to our little piece of land in their own unique way.

The formation we found the gifted tree guards in!
The formation we found the gifted tree guards in!

There’s another that’s really sinking in, and it’s something we’d talked about long before we arrived on our land, and that’s the often misunderstood or overused concept and term, ‘necessity’. You may not need to live ‘off-grid’ for 6 months to comprehend it, though it certainly seems to have helped us. Questions have pervaded our once common place assumptions about living and daily existence. A simple example is that we’ve begun adding a ‘Do we?’ to many statements. “We need to install a shower with hot running water… Do we?” If we go back to our permaculture principles and apply small and slow solutions we come to the realisation that we can have a hot shower but in a manner that addresses our ethics via closing loops and creating little to no waste. To some it has the potential to sound like a lengthy process, but to us we enjoy our bucket wash under a tree. It allows us the time to assess and evaluate, reconnect as well as water the tree and harvest any run-off.

Early morning breakfast preparation
Early morning breakfast preparation

On a final note, we’re learning to not take ourselves so seriously, acknowledging the fact that we have to be dreamers and doers, and that there’s no defined dead line for this life.

 

“Let’s take each day as it comes.”

You get struck with the blues at times. We all do. However, it’s not the run of the mill, ‘Oh, my boss is a douche bag’ blues, or the ‘I had to work the late shift’ blues, it’s something more like the ‘is any of this really worth it?’ blues. Though even this brand of blues anyone with a half decent thinking mind gets from time to time. So perhaps it’s more like, ‘We’ve changed everything in an attempt to lead a better life, a life which we and our children’s children can be proud of, a life stepping toward a more realistic pattern of consumption, voluntary frugality, which we can and are doing and are generally very happy with, but in the scheme of things does it really matter?’ blues.

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This thought, these blues, can be debilitating. Playing apocalyptic scenarios over in your head, and hearing an angry voice mumbling and at times shouting, “We’re all living as if there’s three planet Earths and most of us know this! Is there anyone willing to try and change?! Or is it all just going to be put in the Too Hard Basket?!” (or something to that effect). As though our lives are just another spectacle being played out on a big screen. A spectacle for others to watch but not participate in, one which they can change the channel on at anytime when they get bored.

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“…a critique that grasps the spectacle’s essential character reveals it to be a visible negation of life…” – Debord

Then you reluctantly accept the fact that everyone has their own idea of what’s going wrong and how they can change it. You also realise a lot of people just want to bury their head in the sand, look after themselves and are unwilling to come together and say “we can fix this!” You’ve probably met small pockets of people who are coming together, though we all know many who aren’t. And sadly, most likely, never will. And in this place we can get stuck.

Serenity

Then you take a breath and you see your daughter running around outside in your newly planted garden shreiking with delight at the sight of new plants, and asking you, “Mummy, Daddy, can I water the plants? They’re little babies, and they’re so cute!” You load up the watering can and off she runs. Then a magpie lands on the newly and painstakingly built trellis with a grub from the garden in it’s mouth, the dappled light shines through the nearby trees, and your life partner grabs a hold of your hand.

Photo care of Diane Cordell

“Let’s take each day as it comes.”

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