David Holmgren Interview

This was a nice find. Here we can hear permaculture co-originator David Holmgren sharing his own story on his involvement with the birth and development of the permaculture design system, as well as talking about the permaculture ethics and how these embody the solutions we need as we move from an era of abundant, non-renewable energy to a world that must work within the constraints of a more limited cyclical supply of energy and resources from real-time sunlight.

Part I

Part II
Part III


  1. Wonderful!! So much insight and inspiration. I appreciate every bit of this. I am currently designing a plan to remediate my new home’s 2.5 acres from it’s previous monoculture pasture into a permaculture oasis!

  2. David Holmgren himself has said that if Bill is the father of permaculture, then he is the mother.

    Which is quite apt. Bill the brash, domineering father out in the fields from sun up to sun down making sure the family gets its daily bread, while David is the nurturing, stay at home mum, keeping the house nice and orderly.

  3. Hi Craig,

    You’re a good sport for posting this and I appreciate that you are being evenhanded about it. And I also appreciate all the effort that you put in; in both in quantity and quality to this website.

    But, as noted in my opening post on my thread in the Big Picture section of this Forum titled: “Respected folk who think that David Holmgren co-founded permaculture”; in 2008 on this website, in introducing an article by Bill Mollison, you referred to Bill as the “co-founder” of permaculture.

    But in the introduction to the other co-founder for these videos you refer to him as a “pioneer”. Is this going to be the PRI Australia policy in future given Geoff’s stance i.e., one co-founder (Bill) will be referred to as “the founder” while the other co-founder (David) will be referred to as a “pioneer”?

    If so, then we are not really getting closer to a resolution of this problem.

  4. Hi Rob,

    Does this “problem” as you put it, even matter? Is David Holmgren (no disrespect to David) clamoring at a real or perceived injustice or is he out to set the record straight?

    Or are people perceiving a division where perhaps the divide is not that great?

    People often get fixated on these wedges and in doing so miss the bigger picture which is that people need to get out there and practice this tool (i.e. permaculture).

    This is a common avoidance technique (i.e. the wedge) that people employ and we would do best to leave it behind us.



  5. This is a brilliant interview. David is a thinking man and his insight is undeniable. The job of a permaculturist in many ways is to see things that others aren’t seeing, and to articulate them. Nobody in the permaculture field so far, does it better than David.

  6. Hi Rob

    My words are not ‘policy’, as you express. They are not carefully engineered terms, and do not have an ‘agenda’. There is no conspiracy here.

    I’m not sure of the purpose of your discussion in semantics. I wasn’t aware of your ‘Big Picture’ thread until you mentioned it in the comment above, but have just taken a very quick look. I get the sense, from your quoting from different parts of various sites, that you feel that certain statements are made with intentional nuances, but, as far as it concerns me, this is not the case. When quickly writing the passage above, for example, the word ‘pioneer’ fell onto the screen, and I thought it apt, consider a pioneer is someone who blazes a trail, for others to follow, etc. I never for a moment thought that it could be regarded as an ‘inferior’ term in any way! Regardless, I’ve just changed it to ‘co-founder’, in the hope it keeps you happy.

    I’ve not met David myself unfortunately. I did seek to meet him when I was visiting in the area in 2009, but I got the message from David’s end that they were too busy. Perhaps I’ll visit that part of the world again, if I have opportunity to do so, and if so I’ll try again to visit. I would love to do a featured article with photos/video of his property, etc. I’m sure our readers would love to see it and hear David talk about his experiences and his thoughts on the future, etc.

    But, who had more or less influence in starting the permaculture movement is not of as much interest to me as where it is heading, and how fast. Some of the points you are making could also be raised by Masanobu Fukuoka ‘disciples’, Sepp Holzer ‘disciples’, and perhaps about a great many indigenous eco-pioneers, etc. Both Bill and David, and all of us, are also standing on the shoulders of influences that pre-dated them. If we’re to get really picky about who did what, I think the conversation would get even more complicated, and comical….

    At the end of the day, I (speaking for myself) do not ‘follow’ other people. If ‘permaculture’ is only about Bill and/or David, then it’s a cult, and I want out. Rather, I learn from others, picking up insights and lessons, etc., but I must stand on my own two feet and make my own decisions. I personally do not elevate people in my mind beyond a certain level (you leave yourself wide open to be disappointed if you do), and I don’t hold them in balances, measuring one against another. Permaculture is a framework that we’re all involved in developing.

    Given the amount of writing you’ve put into your thread in the forum, it’s clear you have a passion for this particular ‘detail’ in life, but unfortunately I don’t share this passion, nor do I understand the point of it. (I suspect David would be a lot less passionate about this than yourself – but again, I’ve not met him, so what do I know.) You sound very sincere, but I can’t help but say that when I drill down to the base issue you’re bringing up, it all just comes across as petty, divisive and rather pointless to me.

  7. I really like this guys style. Not only what he says, but how he says it tells you a lot about his role in permaculture. From what I can gather, he also never claims permaculture to be the sole answer to the challenges of the world, acknowledging other viable solutions come from outside the permaculture world. Many thanks David Holmgren.

  8. David Holmgren is undoubtedly the mother of the Permaculture concept, and we can all be very thankful for that, I am sure none of us would be here if it wasn’t for Permaculture One.
    I have visited David and Su several times and heard David speak formally and informally at different times, I always come away bouncing on my toes with enthusiasm and inspiration.
    He is a brilliant and articulate writer, he lives a Permaculture lifestyle we can all aspire to, and he is deeply embedded and influential in his community.
    And honestly, I think there is absolutely no need to debate the semantics around his contribution to the movement.
    As I live only an hour from him I would gladly volunteer to write an article on his property if he were happy for me to do so.

  9. Hi Carolyn – yes, if you have opportunity to cover David’s property, if he and Su don’t mind of course, then please do!

  10. Thanks for posting this Craig… I had not seen it yet or heard David share of these early moments in the birth of ‘permaculture’. I can’t help but agree that David probably cares little for who gets credit for anything.

    The work before us all is to move this way of thinking forward and make it accessible and understandable to the many. It will take many voices and real demonstrations.

    Regards from Illinois… USA

  11. Hi Chris, Carolyn, and Bill,

    You have expressed understandable concern that my posted question to Craig (above), is hung up on “semantics” and/or has lost sight of a constructive focus. I can certainly understand people feeling that way if they don’t know the context. But my question to Craig, asking if there was a PRI policy about what to call David, occurs within the context of a substantial but utterly unnecessary conflict that has been initiated by Geoff Lawton—not me. I am not quibbling over semantics; over a slight difference between “co-founder” and “pioneer”. To get the context you need to watch Geoff’s response to “Matto’s” question (which asked Geoff why he was excluding David’s contribution) on the Q&A#1 video on this site. Craig is aware of the issues because he read the question to Geoff and listened to Geoff’s extensive response (starting at 4 min: 30 sec) which runs for 6 ½ minutes. This is where Geoff made the unpleasant claims that have kicked-off this unpleasant dispute. I would much rather this dispute had never happened but that was Geoff’s decision—not mine.

    In his Q&A response Geoff claimed that Permaculture One was merely a proposal that Bill’s pre-existing ideas for the permaculture design system would work and that David had only a minor role in developing the design system. He further claimed that the important thing about permaculture is really the “permaculture movement”, as distinct from the actual permaculture design system; and he claimed Bill was the sole founder of the permaculture movement, and that this alone justifies his exclusion of David. And so Geoff is attempting not only to rewrite the history of permaculture and deny David’s acknowledged role, but also to relegate the permaculture design system to the level of a secondary detail. And this is what newcomers to permaculture are being told.

    Geoff’s claims ignore both the evidence of Bill’s own words in Permaculture One, and the broadly accepted history of permaculture. David has always been regarded as the co/-founder/-originator/-developer of permaculture (the term chosen varies) and in my thread: “Respected Permaculture folk who think David Holmgren co-founded permaculture” I have posted a set of links which demonstrates this fact. All I am trying to do in this dispute is defend permaculture’s accepted history from Geoff’s attempt to change it. It is Geoff—not me—who has kicked this whole thing off, and if he hadn’t done so, nobody would be hearing BOO from me on this subject. He is broadcasting his rewrite of permaculture history through his high profile, his videos, and the PRI Australia website. All I am doing is speaking in defence of the currently accepted history in my low profile thread and posting reasoned, relevant comments here. In this context Geoff has turned the terms “founder”, “co-founder”, etc., into clear emblems that signify whether or not you are prepared to swallow his rewritten history.

    And so, Chris, Carolyn and Bill: please understand that my question to Craig about PRI policy was the polar opposite of a semantic quibble. I agree that this utterly needless, unpleasant conflict constitutes a distraction from a constructive focus on actually doing permaculture, and I do wonder, considering that Geoff has so many worthwhile things to do, why he feels compelled to go down this path—but down it he has gone—apparently without regard for all the trouble it will cause.

    PS: I reiterate, as I have done in each of my responses about this issue, that I appreciate Geoff’s important work. My only objective in responding as I have is to point out that Geoff’s key claims in this dispute are simply untrue.



    1. Of course David is co-founder., and forever one with Permaculture, the which is a name coined and founded by David and Bill. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s I became acquainted with Permaculture and even took out a life subscription on the Australian Permaculture magazine, which folded some years later and, I believe, re-started some years after that under a different name, PIP. Whether David Holmgren had any hand in the running or either magazine I don’t know, but his contribution is beyond dispute. That some people now seek to write David out of it is political, of which there is a lot these days. Look at the way old methods of farming, long and strongly derided and written out of the official history of modern agriculture, because it was profitable, convenient and politically advantageous to do so, have miraculously been rediscovered by academics, pseudo-scientists, political operatives and all manner of people with no ties to farming whatsoever, apart from, of course, genuine people discovering and re-fashioning old wisdom, which has always been around and never died out, and building on that.

      When humankind came down out of the trees and started walking about, they were still surviving in the original food-forest, when agriculture was in the future. The challenge is now to deal with the usurpers and political activists who hijack a common sense or new idea which has grown and become known as, for instance, Permaculture, and abuse it for their own purposes.

      To do something permaculture-like there is no need to dismiss (one of) the originators, unless there is a political agenda or personal spite involved.

  12. Rob. I suspect this is a conversation that can go round and round and round, getting nowhere but causing a lot of division in the process. I think this would be very unfortunate.

    I suspect very few people have interest in this ‘issue’, but I’d like to say the following, for what it’s worth.

    I wasn’t there when Bill and David were working together. Geoff wasn’t either. Geoff is expressing his views, as he sees them. I have known Geoff closely for several years now, and I know he is sincere in his work. He has no reason to ‘rewrite history’ as you put it. He is simply sharing what he believes to be the case, based on the information he has been exposed to.

    If you believe what he is sharing is not correct, and you really feel the need to ensure the history of Bill and David’s role in the formation of ‘permaculture’ is entirely accurate, and that David is correctly ‘labelled’, then the only way I can see that you can accomplish this is to get to the source of the matter — i.e. get David and Bill together to discuss it, and when the two of them have come to an agreement, they can then let all of us (including Geoff, me, yourself, etc.) know what that agreement is. Then we can all be assured that we’re using the correct ‘label’. Anything less than this is just ‘he said, she said’.

    Additionally, I’ve just rechanged the ‘co-founder’ part above to instead read ‘co-originator’. I’ve made this change, in the interests of the accuracy you demand, because of an email ‘signature’ that’s been forwarded to me. It appears David’s emails have the following at bottom:

    David Holmgren
    Co-originator of the Permaculture concept

    (the rest of the signature has David’s physical address, which I will leave out).

    But, again, why all this matters is something I find a little perplexing.

  13. I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Bill and Geoff, I’ve also visiting David’s farm and had a chat with him. Both the founders are brilliant and inspiring men, they do have a different aproach and focus, which to me is complementary.

    Rob, best that we focus on their message rather than the interpersonal dynamics, there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from looking deeper into what these pioneers brought to the world, and lots to be gained by putting it into practise.

    Personally, the more I learn by practicing the more I realise how much they both saw and understood so long ago.

    In my opinion there is little to be gained from focussing on the personalities and human events, it’s a peculiar mental preoccupation that I can see very little gain from.

    If we think in Permaculture principles, where would your energy best be directed for the greatest gain and benefit to yourself AND everyone else?

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