Permaculture : an interlude

The PDC was run at Trinity College in the University of Melbourne. Most of us out of towners were billeted in the college hostel. Next to it is the classic Trinity College Chapel. Across the paddock, rolling out a thousand steps from my room window, is the dining hall which might in fact belong to Hogwarts. That is not an inappropriate setting to feed oneself in preparation for the magical lectures starting 9am everyday at the Buzzard Hall, next door.

The weather was balmy. We would lounge in the grass, cups of coffee in hands. What variety we were and yet shared a passion for making a difference to the world with our lives. We shared our plans, delighted in others’ stories and promised to be friends forever. Shortly before 9am, Bill would be steadily making his way across the quadrangle , invariably accompanied by the quiet and efficient Tony Watkins who held the programme together. Soon as Bill arrived, the atmosphere was charged with expectation of great truths to be revealed.

And Bill seldom failed. He would be seated comfortably and begin rather formally on a topic, say the nature of design [“The goal of design is to create energy storages”]. He would be a few steps into formal teaching but soon he was up and away, flying, taking the class with him, cruising the thermals set up by
his stories. One day it was about how to ring a bull’s nose, and on another about a pig that lived inseparably with a cow. Then there was the adventure in Bronx growing vegetables on newspapers spread on sidewalks or how 600 women with little hand hoes built miles of swales in India. How is life with a Kachel oven? My personal favourite was the gripping story of how trees make rain. [Sections 6.5 and 6.6 of the Manual. See box]

From the Designer Manual – Sec.6.6
“The upward spirals of humid air coming up from the forest carry insects, pollen and bacteria aloft. This is best seen as flights of gulls, swifts and ibis spiralling up with the warm air and actively catching insects lifted from the forest; their gastric pellets consist of insect remains. It is these organic aerial particles [pollen, leaf dust and bacteria mainly] that create the nucleii for rain…
…”To doubt the connection between forests and the water cycle is to doubt that milk flows from the breast of the mother, which is just the analogy given to water by tribal peoples. Trees were the ‘the hair of the earth’ which caught the mists and made the rivers flow.”

Stories were heard in intent silence broken by frequent titters and every now and then a guffaw. A story often ran for the better part of an hour. Bill always signed off with a long drawled ‘yeeaah’ followed by an explosive laugh.

The Course’s formalism came from Geoff Lawton, the second teacher. Geoff has been a Permaculturist since 1983 when he attended Bill’s first fully developed PDC. His training as an engineer fits him out for structured presentation of curriculum. He is an engrossing teacher, good at detailed instructions on how-to actually do things. If Bill explored the idea of design, Geoff followed that up with how-to of design.

Gregg Knibbs, the third teacher’s strength was his sensitivity to human nature. His work in Philippines and Ghana have shocked him deeply. Gregg gave lectures on the importance of empathy when Permaculturists travelled overseas as aid workers.

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