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A Quick Pictorial Look at the PRI Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast (Queensland, Australia)

The top valley dam, nestled amongst rainforest
All photographs © Craig Mackintosh

After Geoff’s Urban Permaculture talk at the Noosa Permaculture Group meeting on March 21, 2013 (watch for the video, which I’ll upload in about a month from now), we headed a few kilometres north, to the Permaculture Research Institute Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast, where Tom and Zaia Kendall kindly put us up for the night. It was a great opportunity for me (and thus you) to see their site. We arrived in darkness, and soon drifted peacefully off to sleep to the sound of frogs, fruit bats, and other critters that I, and my tiredness, failed to identify.

After a sound sleep, however, I awoke early, grabbed my camera, and headed out to take a few pics to share with all you interested folk, in the couple of short hours I had before we needed to head south once again!

My cute and comfortable shelter for the night

Ever-helpful Geoff guides Latifa up the giant staircase of their cabin

Beauty abounds here. Large, colourful butterflies flit gracefully at eye-level, below the occasional squadron of parrots passing overhead (rainbow lorikeets, crimson rosellas, king parrots, various cockatoos, etc.). Water and sunshine are abundant. Nature seems to rejoice without reservation in this climate, and for the human element in the landscape, this property provides the added advantage of peaceful isolation from the noise and stress of the world outside.

The very practical Tom Kendall — now an accredited PRI PDC Teacher

Tom’s early morning routine includes leading the cattle out to pasture

As well as the beauty and peacefulness, Tom and Zaia’s site, in the Sunshine Coast’s hinterland, is an excellent, developing example of practical, on-the-ground permaculture in action. Indeed, the latter helps secure the former.

A swale running along the top of this pasture helps to keep it a lush green,
despite the stony/shaley composition of the poor soil here

The swale, right, also provides hydration for a developing food forest (left)

The landholding is about 34 acres — 10 of it cleared, with the remaining 24 being intact, lush rainforest. Although this was my first visit, it was Geoff’s fourth. From his observations, having seen the property develop over a period of several years, it was clear that Tom and Zaia are hard-working, industrious types. Although there is still a lot to do, they are steadily turning this property into a little haven of relative closed-loop self-sufficiency.

Dad, otherwise known as Bully the bull

Mum and bubs

At the moment Tom and Zaia are 100% self-sufficient in water (rain water harvested), meat and eggs, and about 60% self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables (i.e. over 70% across the board for food intake). They make their own cheese, butter and yoghurt, separate their own cream, and produce other specialties like ghee and kefir. Nuts and grains are the weak point on the site, but even here they manage to make bread, pancakes and muffins with local bunya nuts.

The ‘Full Moon’ contour dam

Other infrastructure includes two composting toilets, a wood-fired shower, and a secondhand solar hot water system that Tom purchased in a disfunctional state, and in true Tom style, fixed up himself.

The site’s electricity is currently provided by a 50/50 mix of photovoltaic and mains power. As they can afford, they are aiming to add more solar capacity with a view to completely eliminating any dependency on the grid.

A biogas digester is the latest project, and now under construction…

… positioned in close proximity to the manure source — the cattle yard. Biogas
digesters can provide free heating for cooking and hot water. (See another
biogas variant in action at bottom of this post.)

A solar panel powers a pump that pumps water for irrigation up from the top dam
to the water storage tanks you can see partially hidden in trees (upper right side)

Paradise regained. Zaia gathers ingredients for breakfast from the garden.

This is Tom and Zaia’s ‘Health Food Shop’ — loads of vitamins and minerals,
but without all the plastic bottles and glass jars….

The upper left of the photo above shows a pest control management system
(aka a ‘spider web’) Tom and Zaia have been trialling.
It’s a novel idea that seems to work quite well.

Repurposed rebar works well as a trellis for these beans




The head honcho in the chicken yard

The chicken tractor marches steadily across the property,
with a food forest getting planted in its wake.


Goats grazing the wall of the top dam

One eyes me suspiciously

Billy the Kid

As mentioned above, the site’s soil has a poor, shaley/rocky base that translates to it not holding water and nutrients well (in technical terms, it has a poor cation exchange capacity). Tom and Zaia thus need to focus on increasing the organic matter content of the soil, and the property’s swales are helping to do that, as well as improve the site’s water retention. Over time, as humus levels increase, the soil will only become increasingly fertile and resilient to climate stresses.

A beautiful environment to inhabit…

… and not just for the humans.

So what do Latifa and Geoff think of the site?

Sadly, it was too quick a visit, and we had to go. But, I hope you enjoyed the ultra quick tour nonetheless. In short, Tom and Zaia are working steadily to prepare for a volatile future, whilst simultaneously helping to lead the way in showing others exactly how they’re doing that. We need more and more of these examples to get established. If you want to gain a very practical experience, and glean some lessons you can put to use in your own personal and site development, whilst supporting another much-needed permaculture demonstration site with your tuition fees, then be sure to get on one of the PRI Maungaraeeda’s upcoming courses.

Geoff and Tom talk shop before we go

Tom and Zaia share that kind of pleasantly warm and understated personality that I know would lead to our having a terrific friendship, if our visit could only have lasted longer! Perhaps you can take advantage of that opportunity instead.

And so, after getting some assistance to get out of the muddy hole yours truly left our vehicle parked in the night before…, we headed off, hoping to visit again soon.


  1. Tom – do you and Zaia spend a lot of time weeding the pasture? It looks like a monoculture (is that good or bad for a pasture?) whereas mine in the mid-north coast of NSW has tonnes of fireweed, paramatta grass, and a dozen other species of grasses and herbs…

  2. What a beautiful and inspiring property. Gorgeous photos, adorable accomodations! Craig – sorry about the mud puddle!

    Although I love the thought of living on a larger property away from the city, the city is where I’m at and feel like I can do the most good right now. Now to figure out a way to sink water on a neighborhood level here in Phoenix, AZ. There are some promising techniques coming out of Tucson. Meanwhile encouraging my neighbors in composting endeavors and permeable surface options seems like the way to go.

  3. Hi Greg. Tom will probably respond also, but he did say to me that the cows don’t like that particular pasture as much as other areas, due to the monocrop nature of that section. It’s a section Tom and Zaia inherited with that particular grass, and rather than weeding to keep it the way it is, they’re actually working to increase the diversity of grasses there, by adding minerals, etc., to improve the poor soil, so as to create the conditions that will allow other kinds of plants to grow. More diversity is definitely better for an animal’s health. I was simply shooting that section because on that particular morning it was the area the animals were being led to.

  4. Yes Jennifer the larger community gatherings of cities offer many advantages the least being smaller, more productive per unit area and most importantly more affordable gardens. My mother visited the above site and was a little surprised at the expense such a set up involves, requiring not just years of freedom from other work to work on property but lots of use of petrochemical machinery like excavators, chainsaws, and vehicle commuting to populated areas. George

  5. Thanks Craig, for this great article and photos!

    Hi Greg. In regards to the pasture: The soil is very poor and nature is trying to repair the soil by selecting that particular grass in that area. I endeavoured to spread different seed randomly there, but had no success. We are now allowing nature to do its thing and are trying to support that process by spreading bio-fertiliser and compost tea (see Sustainable Soil Management course) and crash grazing / holistic management (see crash grazing article on this site). We also hope that the swale edge planting at the top of the pasture will work its way into the pasture.

    Hi George. The debate on city footprint versus semi rural footprint is yet to be concluded.

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