Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Internship

Looking back to 2011, I recall the fond memories of our internship at PRI Australia. We had been volunteering and travelling round the world for four years looking for adventure, excitement and meaning. I have been reading about permaculture for some time, but so far it has only been an intellectual pursuit and fascination. But recently, Viktoria and I found ourselves at Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Research Institute in New South Wales, Australia. We were here for 3.5 months to study, work and live permaculture on one of his intensive internship programmes. Normally, the internships are booked out 6 months to a year in advance, but due to a last-minute cancellation, we were able to secure a place just a few days prior to commencement.

Paradise Dam at the Permaculture Research Institute

Very soon we realised that in this permaculture internship we are not just learning how to be farmers. This is a way of life. You can’t separate how food is grown from human existence. It is deeply intertwined with life itself. No, the more we learn about permaculture the more we realise that you must explore all areas of life to be truly sustainable: food systems, plants and animal systems, energy systems, people systems, ecological systems and not forgetting legal, financial and political systems. It’s a lot to learn. One should not try to be a specialist in everything, but rather a generalist that has a solid understanding of each discipline and integrates them together.

Viktoria planting up her newly created urban garden
at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

Geoff Lawton tells us how Bill Mollison sometimes describes permaculture. “It’s a wardrobe within which all of human knowledge can be hung.” It is an all encompassing science of strategic, functional and sustainable design that directly benefits the people, the earth and its inhabitants. To be clear, permaculture has a very clear definition of sustainability:

A sustainable system produces more energy than it consumes, enough in surplus to maintain and replace that system over its lifetime.

In this internship we are learning many things, from the conceptual fundamentals, to hands-on in the garden and with stock animals. We learn the latest knowledge of soil biology, how to create food forests, perform geo-surgery (earthworks) to build dams, ponds and natural water harvesting systems. We learn how to design, be good consultants, and how to teach permaculture. Most importantly we learn how to think ecologically. It is much more important to observe and understand how systems interact with each other so that it can be applied in any circumstances or environment, than to simply copy techniques.

Performing permaculture earthworks: building a dam
to naturally harvest water in the landscape

I did a research project where I studied and experimented with food forests and water harvesting systems called swales. The project sought to determine how much the input of labour affected the stability of food forests systems. The findings of this food forest research are published on the PRI website.

Establishing a new food forest on the bank of a swale
at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

The institute being located in the beautiful sub-tropics of coastal northern New South Wales, is an inspiring demonstration of modern, natural technologies and systems to help us live in harmony with nature. We camp in the outdoors (while learning how to build eco energy efficient houses), eat fabulous fresh food, and learn through education and hard work about sustainable living – all in the good company of switched on and inspired people. It’s certainly and exciting and very special place to be.

One Comment

  1. Gday Fraser, nice artical, generalist well put we all need to generalize and have a hand in all the systems components understanding how they interact either to replicate or to improve the overall design and inter-conection which to me is permaculture’s strenght

    it this reason I be working on developing a course called rural skills to give people a basic understanding in some of those wordrobe skills
    now the course live with 3 site hosting this course and I have teamed up with Dan Lawton to include sharp tools

    we are hoping to improve the skill sett of permaculturist and aid them in designing and biulding resiliant systems

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