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Permaculture at Wadeye – an Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory, Australia

Wadeye is the Northern Territory’s largest aboriginal community. Having been here just over a year now I can say I have become quite acquainted with many of the indigenous locals and I will be quite sad when I soon leave. However, to paint a brief picture of reasonable accuracy, the town itself is the result of yet another white man horror story created on behalf of English royalty.

Twenty different clans (who feuded from time to time) were not meant to be bought together to live in one community, so there is much violence amongst them — every night of late — and it’s the reason I am awake at 2:13am writing this.

But the feel-good story I want to share is to do with the high point I depart on — and that is being awarded (through the local Women’s Centre) a contract to install a permaculture design on a 4-acre new development that was originally going to receive not much more than a bit of grass seed.

With the contract secure and the design completed, I ran a little Facebook update looking for some help, and though having received many applications I formed a crew of people I had already worked with when I was at the PRI’s Zaytuna Farm: Dave Spicer, Daniel Lawton and Jay Kimber. Jay’s partner Daniel Bovalino turned out to be a bobcat driver and blog creator ( Daniel Sheridan managed to come for a week and Evan Young and Anji ‘Foo’ will be here tomorrow morning for the final charge. We have also employed some local indigenous boys and are teaching them as much as we can along the way.

The Women’s Centre that is doing an amazing job of handling the contact and admin side of things also has a permaculturist, Jo Turner, who has had a permaculture eye on this site for some time, so it’s nice to know there are permie design minds in all aspects of the project.

The project itself is a boarding facility for indigenous kids from outlying stations that can’t get to school and it’s funded by the federal government through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Getting permaculture across the governmental line was not easy but I had some persistent help from a lovely lady by the name of Maria Moulten. I get the impression that ‘Greening the Desert‘ played a pretty important part as well so thanks for that Geoff.

This is the wet/dry tropics and the rain in the wet season comes hard and heavy. Erosion is guaranteed without water management so a swale system was evident. We have been filling some smaller swales for demonstration purposes and the ground has been sucking up the water like a thirsty sponge, reinforcing a clear message for our visitors and student workers of how much the land needs to absorb surface water rather than just letting it run off — taking what little top soil there is along with it.

The contract details that we have to plant a minimum of 300 trees so I bought 1000 plus donations just to be sure. Support species are hard to find up here but after sowing pigeon pea we note that it starts to pop up within only a few days, showing much promise. Bougainvilleas are being used around the boundary as a prickly protection while sugar cane and bamboo will provide privacy screening between staff and students. There is an amazing endemic native ground cover here with the common name of goat’s foot; a very hardy and beautiful plant. This will be planted across the swales while sweet potato will be used to break up the compacted surface areas. The budget has allowed for a fully automated irrigation system in the dry.

We have our work cut out to be complete on time but I hand-picked these people for a reason; they are all exceptionally good at what they do and they get the job done! I hope my exercising the ethics I believe permaculture is based on will bring a return for these fine people by helping to supply their needs.

Check out the blog, as it’s updated daily:


  • My crew including Joseph Perdget, Neil Melpi and Harold.
  • Margo and Jo (Palngun Wurnungat Assn)
  • Maria Moulton
  • Geoff Lawton
  • Jobfind Wadeye – Christine Holding
  • Wadeye Garden Club
  • Wadeye Police for donating mulch


  1. Hi Craig,

    Thank you for this absolutely inspiring piece. You guys up there are doing a “life-building” job: not only plant life but also quality of life for our beautiful Aboriginal people.


    Krisztina from Brisbane

  2. Wonderful to hear all about the project Craig!
    Great news,cheers to you and all the crew!! Deborah Willis

  3. This is Great !
    Just love to see “Hands On” projects such as these.
    Will be following with interest.

    Great to see the Solar water heaters on the roofs.

    Will you be cathing water runoff in the swales
    or will you use tanks ?

  4. Hi. I just read about the project a year after u published the above. Can I ask for an update? How has the growing gone… What is the interaction like with the locals now. .. How is it used. …
    Great work I hope it is still going well.

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