Who Speaks For Weeds?

Before I begin I must note for the record that I write this with great trepidation. My palms are sweaty, I feel my heart thumping within its bone cage. I am going against my programming, perhaps even my better judgment. These thoughts sat at the back of my throat for far too long. I fear they may metastasize if not enunciated…

Why in this age of extinction do we choose to poison living things? Plants, particularly those of vigorous growth, tend to be known as weeds. This is a derogatory term if ever there was one. If humans have no direct and obvious use for them, they are branded. Now, more than any time in history, it is up to us to question the dogma of invasive plants and feral animals. They may in fact be our best shot at making it through our multiple crises.

So I ask: “Who speaks for Weeds?”

I was raised to both love and to hate plants – raised to love natives and hate non-natives. This wasn’t strictly applied to plants. Certain animals were also targeted for hatred. However, it was plants that got the majority of mine and my family’s and my wrath (along with most of the settler families in the area), particularly that of my father. He was a co-land holder on 72 acres, doing what he thought was the right thing, and bringing the rest of the family along for the ride. For close to twenty years, I had a very black and white, wholly disconnected, view of land management. This was fostered by my ‘right thinking’ father, as well as most, if not, all neighbouring farmers, environmentalists, and academics alike.

Above: The farm I grew up on utilising poisons is now another proud site of urban sprawl.

The ideology was easy to take on board. It was a narrative of the heroes’ story. A great tragedy had befallen the forested areas of our nation. Our wrong thinking forefathers had decimated the landscape and it was our job, no, our duty, to bring it back to its former glory. There was a right way to do it. It began with identifying the bad plants, the weeds, and identifying any of the good plants, the natives. Simple as that, really. We then set about poisoning all the bad plants and, wherever possible, preserving the good plants. This is still very much the story today, but I no longer buy it.

I think it began with another thing my parents bestowed upon me, the ability to ask questions, and keep asking them, not settling for a myopic or limited response. I had begun to wonder why it was ok, and even encouraged to say or write that a plant is bad, invasive and even destructive. I’d begun to just try to see plants for what they were, living entities, giving freely of their life affirming processes. When we apply this same thinking to humans or a particular race of humans, we are branded, at best, intolerant and possibly bigoted. At worst we are labelled racist. Now I knew, and still know that racism is abhorrent, but why is this label only applied when humans antagonise other humans and not when humans antagonise other species?

There are some obvious sociological correlations between plants and humans. Reading the Department of Primary Industries’ spread sheets on certain invasive and destructive plants, if we replaced the words ‘Broad-Leaved Privet (Ligustrum sinense)’ with, for example, ‘mechanically minded humans’, the desired effect is the same. We can hate a plant for being non-native, or at least openly discriminate against it, if it has no immediate or obvious use to humans. This is highly suspect, particularly with Privet which is a plant that has been used in Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years. It’s been used to treat menopausal problems; to blurred vision and cataracts; through to backache; and insomnia. If it occupies it’s niche well, we tend to roll out smear campaigns, to first debase it, then poison it. In turn we poison ourselves literally, as well as give birth to the cancer inducing emotions related to the stresses of trying to eradicate it.

Above: Surely there’s something not right when this is the recommended outfit to apply said poisons…

It appears that within many contemporary, tolerant and well-meaning communities, who may no longer openly discuss human immigrants as a ‘problem’, bigotry and distrust is switched onto plants (along with other species too). The ‘invading’ plants are seen as occupying spaces that could be used by natives, in a similar way to some people seeing jobs for natives being taken up by immigrants, for example: “They breed readily, you let one in and many more will come…” It sounds a lot like the complaints I’ve read in News Limited’s papers regarding minority groups they wish to use as scape goats to help them sell more papers, in order to distract the masses from who’s really doing the short-changing. That’s the ideology. The language of fear. We then manage to justify the eradication of the ‘different’, for example Privet, through the purchase and use of tons of carcinogenic herbicides. These herbicides, coincidentally, are made by the same companies that brought you Agent Orange and the gas used in Nazi death camps. You can’t make this stuff up.

However, this is seen as acceptable, because these plants are percieved as malicious entities determined to destroy our pristine rainforest, what’s left of it anyway. That remaining 1%. The 1% we’re still vying to turn into productive, anthropogenic landscapes such as dams and shopping malls. What happened to the other 99%? A good portion of it is under the wheels of your family car, your Tesla, your ute or whatever your chosen mode of transport is. Still more is kept down by cattle, macadamia monocultures and urban sprawl. The whole notion is hypocritical. What about Coffee and Cherry tomatoes? They’re weeds too, but they’re ok because we love a nice garden salad and we’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of our morning coffee.

In this age of extinction, what is it we need most? As the planet’s climate is thrown into disarray, what is the most powerful naturally occurring element that can help us? You guessed it, plants. And what are the processes driving these changes? You and me. We need biodiversity, and we need it rapidly. While it runs in the face of accepted ‘knowledge’, the more non-native species are introduced, the more overall biodiversity is increased. Our best chance to redirect this human-centric crisis is plants. Their ability to sequester carbon, purify air, mitigate erosion, and cool the surrounding environment are some of the myriad benefits of these wondrous beings. They are the best tool we have for building soil and repairing a dying earth.

Homo morbidus economicus

As though projecting our own history of invasion, we see these plants as something to fear. I would be very hesitant to discredit the work of many people working in the regeneration of rainforests. I was inculcated from a young age in the virtues of ‘cut and paste’, ‘drilling’ and the many other forms of applying state sanctioned poisons. However, I really do question the willingly accepted nature of the processes, and what appears to be a vindication rooted in the colonial mindset. This is one soaked in xenophobia, and veiled in valour and conquest.

This same colonial mindset seems particularly obvious in many of the modern outposts of the British Empire. The same group of nations which refuse to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (USA, NZ, Aus, Canada), seem to be the same group determined to pursue an endless war not only against the original inhabitants but against the land itself.

On the rare occasion a regenerator, resplendent in their safety attire, may speak of the processes which have lead to the mass desecration of the land. This degradation is rightly attributed to our forefathers and the mandated cleaning up of country. However, I’m yet to hear one of these well meaning persons speak of the hypocrisy within the process of their regeneration. The first and most obvious step in the pursuit of their ideology is the application of poisons. This is just the start.

This hypocrisy is most prevalent in our daily complicity to perpetuate the growth mindset at the cost of all biomes. The ‘Not In My Back Yard’ philosophy of ‘caring’ for what’s before our eyes, whilst never questioning the entire way we live makes no sense. We rarely question where we’ve obtained our food, clothing, or resources in general. At best we are mining of finite resources, and at worst we are directly contributing to slave labour, mountain top removal and biocide. These ramifications are, for the most part, writ large on our landscape and all life on earth, due to our lack of, or unwillingness to utilise, a larger time frame. If only we could all begin to think like trees; even the moderately long lived can call 200 young. Many trees were in their hundreds, if not thousands, during the invasion and settlement of Australia. I wonder what they’ve seen become of their neighbourhoods?

The painful irony of our short-sightedness was recently brought home to me when visiting the Brisbane museum. In one of their major natural exhibits, consisting of taxidermied animals from throughout the continent, sponsored by BHP (the worlds 19th largest corporate polluter), was where I found a stuffed, but still snarling feral cat. It was of course the Cat and not landscape devouring companies like BHP that was deemed the problem in this scenario. The plaque beneath the cat read:

Feral Cat – Felis catus
‘Feral animals such as feral cats, foxes, rabbits and camels threaten the fauna and flora of the arid outback through predation, competition for resources and habitat destruction. Controlling feral animals and weeds remains a huge challenge, given the vast size of Australia’s arid outback and the sparse human population living there.

My immediate thought upon reading the above was, Where’s the stuffed Feral Human – ‘Homo morbidus economicus’? Seemingly the feral cat has more of a constructive place in this modern paradigm. As do the weeds.

This essay’s purpose is not to debase humans. It is to question our assumptions of black and white, our willingness to turn a blind eye to ourselves. At the same time, we point a judgmental finger toward all that we deem unproductive or unhelpful in perpetuating the advance of the industrial modality. What we need is every plant we can get. Save the rainforests? Absolutely. Keep them pristine. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. In our pursuit of purity, we’ve forgotten about the microbiome, a fundamental building block of all life on earth. Every time we use poisons, be they emissions from our car or direct injections into living things, we’re mutilating that link in the chain and compromising everything that is connected to it. Everything.

This war on invasive species is a never-ending war. The seed bank isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s in the soil, it’s in animals’ intestines, it’s in the river beds, in the gutters, under the concrete waiting for the moment when we stop, run out of oil, breath for a moment or five. If you’re lucky enough to live in a humid climate, the forest will regrow regardless. These new forests are known as Novel Ecosystems. They have astounding biodiversity and are showcases of what can be called the New Pangea. We’ve tried the conquest of nature since the time of ancient Babylon. I think it’s high time to let nature take the reigns. It’s high time we not just learn to live with these novel ecosystems, but to work and thrive with them, to allow them to teach us tolerance and acceptance of what is and will be for the years to come.

A friend recently related to me a question posed by his mentor. ‘If you were terminally ill would you care if the doctor who could provide you with life giving medicine was black or white, Russian or Haitian, tall or short?’ Of course you wouldn’t.

So why do we care which plants are going to build our soil, sequester carbon, and detoxify our planet, before it’s too late?

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 the exception of a 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 provided out of love of our community for itself. 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.

Our First Permaculture Design Course

We have just completed our first Permaculture Design Certificate course as facilitators.

9 of the 12 students upon completion

Fionn has taught on numerous PDCs before and Laura has also. We’ve even taught on the same PDC before, but never solely as Fionn and Laura Quinlan. This, for us, is a real milestone. Something we’re very proud of, though are still very much aware of the managing and tweaking that can and will be implemented to make our next course even better.

We began designing our course around 6 months ago. Utliising the SADIM methodology, along with broader permaculture design techniques we mapped out the desire lines of the course, stated intent, objective and desired outcomes. Some of our included intent/objectives included goals as lofty as “assisting in creation of new neurological pathways”, through to more humble objectives like, “creating a safe space”. Upon initial analysis it would seem that we either accomplished stated aims, or we certainly got very close. This was however a particularly spirited and diverse group of 12 individuals, whom without it is obvious to us that none of it would have been possible.

the crew in front of our wee plot

The course was held over two weeks at the pictresque Hare Krishna Community outside Murwillumbah in the Tweed shire.  The children joined us, tentatively introducing them as a part of our tribe and an integral part of our journey together. So with tingle of excitement for what was to come we, slightly noisily, introduced ourselves to our group of 12 budding permies.

A final design highlight (Nicole Fredman)

Throughout the course we were able to take a couple of short trips to see some of the finer points of permaculture in action. We paid a visit to Australia’s best established Syntropic Agriculture plot, run by Scott Hall and an on and off again team of willing helpers. We also invited the whole crew down to Djaning to see our ever evolving 21 acre plot, with an emphasis on closed loop systems, earth works, main frame and garden design. These trips and grand design schemes, coupled with regular morning contributions to our shared plot at Krishna village, run ins with local Syntropic marauder Thiago Barbosa, swims in the nearby river, and regular yoga sessions made for all round fun and informative two weeks.

Students planting seeds at Djaning

 

If you’re at all interested in ecology, community and self sufficiency or the environment more generally then pop along to our next course planned for 2019. See https://krishnavillage-retreat.com/ for more details.

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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The Beginning

We’re just a little family trying to do “our bit” as best we can. We are Laura, Fionn and Iyla Quinlan; wife, husband and 2 year old daughter. We packed up and left a big dirty British city to move to the sub-tropical North Coast of NSW. We sold our flat and purchased a bare, degraded, 21 acre cow pasture in the heart of a little village called The Channon.

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Our back story can and will be filled in with time. As you may have guessed by the title, this is our first post, and as yet we’re without internet. We’re also without running water, or electricity. So currently our posts will be few and far between. They’ll be put up at random intervals depending upon the grace and good will of our friends and family allowing us to use their internet at odd hours of the day and night. But we’re just hoping to document some of our struggles and victories.

We’ve been on the land, the land we’ve decided to call Djaning Farm, for 2 months now. The three of us are living in a 1974 caravan we bought from a handsome American in the nearby coastal town of Lennox Head. It’s beautiful two tone orange and brown with a gorgeous paisley interior.

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Our general aim is to provide for ourselves as much as possible, through food (vegetable, fruit, meat, dairy), water (dams, rainwater harvesting) and electricity (solar, wind), while integrating with the community as much as possible, through direct involvement in and creation of community actions (be they anti-coal seam gas protests, fundraising activities, market stalls).

One of the main driving factors in our decision to do this is so when our daughter, and any other children we may have in future and any children they may have in future, turns around when she finds out the mess the planet’s in and has been in for some time now and asks “So, what did you do?” We can gesture all around us and say “This.”

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Stay tuned for more updates. With any luck they’ll become more regular once we’ve got our first shelter built to hold our little solar system in place. Thanks for reading.

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