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A Recent Trip to the Permaculture Sydney Institute

I was invited up to Bandusia, near Sydney, by Penny Pyett, to take part in International Permaculture Day and do some work on the site. The work was mainly on infrastructure, which is one of my strongest skills. Having spent some years working in the building and construction game, I developed a varied skill set and can turn my hand to most things. I also went to check out the site for some future workshops and courses we are planning there.

International Permaculture Day was a great success, with a turnout of 40 plus people who came to look and hear us talk about the little steps we can take to make a change.

We had Robyn Willamson, a volunteer seed-saver, teacher and activist from Sydney come up to do a workshop on seed saving. I talked about forestry and portable sawmills and had a Lucas mill with me, demonstrating how easy it is to mill our own timber on site, keeping with the International Permaculture Day theme to grow it local.

I also talked on skills and how we are at a stage where we need to reskill to get out of the specialist mindset and reconnect to our past, where our forefathers were multi skilled. I shared that in developing a permaculture site we need to have that diversity in skills or we risk having to call in a specialist for lots of relatively simple jobs. The talk I did was mainly on hand tools and how from my experience technique is very important, making the job at hand easier and more enjoyable, and in true permaculture fashion saving energy where we can.

Penny and myself did a walk and talk tour of Bandusia, starting at the back door with talking about zones and why we place different elements of a design in different zones. We also talked about the many built structures, e.g. dry stone walls, cob ovens, bamboo bridges and trellising frames and the straw bale chicken house. We then ventured down to the food forest and firstly talked about the water-harvesting features and function of swales, terraces and the importance of level sill spillways and pacifying the flow of water allowing it to do its duties.

Then we continued on to food forests and their function and the difference between orchards and forest in their resilience to change. We also shared how food forests are part of our design for catastrophe strategies, succession and using succession in design, micro climate, pioneers etc.

Then my working week started which was mainly focusing on water, setting up guttering on the straw bale chicken house then installing the water tank. But first we need to set up our base for the tank to sit on, which in this case we used some old bessa brick/breeze block so I chipped off the old mortar to get the brick bedded into the level pad I dug and screeded off (screeding is to drag and push a straight edge across the surface to level it, the same as when someone does concreting or paving) to create a level pad for the bricks, back filled with left over sand from the rendering of the straw bale chicken house, tamped down the sand and screeded the sand, rolled the tank into place and stood it up and plumbed the gutter to the tank.

I’m also plumbing another water tank for drinking water, making gutter ends up from old ridge capping by using the gutter as a template and marking then cutting with tin-snips, leaving about 15mm to fold the ends to 90 degrees giving something to fix to and again using the old ridge capping to direct the water into the tank instead of having to buy pipe joiners and elbows, etc.

We’re also making seating for the outdoor classroom/fire circle, using the left over flitches from the sawmill (a flitch is the bottom of the log — after you have milled the 80 odd percentage of the log you are left with the flitch). Using smaller logs cut into 600mm lengths as the base for the seats, I squared off the ends of the flitches and checked out the bases to bed the flitches into the logs, making two straight surfaces to stop the seat from rocking, since we started from two roundish surfaces.

And last but not least, we moved into place an eco-friendly hot tub, based on a Japanese design, made from cedar. It’s much like a wine barrel, needing to have moisture to keep sealed. The fire box in the water surprisingly took only about an hour to reach 40 degrees Celsius. It’s much more efficient than a hot tub heated by electricity.

So that about rounds up my trip to Bandusia. I will be going back in June for another two weeks when Penny is making a long list of projects to get sorted. I also will be helping out with David Holmgren’s forestry workshop — basically being the brawn for the practical session of the course, demonstrating tree felling, pruning, de-barking, thinning and milling on site with Lucas mill etc. For me it’s also a great opportunity to finally meet David also.

I will be doing another post of the next trip and hope this helps people get an idea how important diversifying our skill sets is. But remember never to be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them — we just need to be empowered to have a go! This gets us on the road to being more self-reliant in a changing world?

David Spicer

David Spicer’s approach to design and education is based upon a proven emphasis on practicality, having over 18 years experience in Permaculture education working and teaching with Bill Mollison at the Permaculture Institute (Tasmania) and Geoff Lawton, the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and Zaytuna Farm. He is renowned for his ability to explain concepts and ideas simply, conveying the basics. David previously worked as farm manager of the renowned Tagari Farm and Zaytuna Farm in northern New South Wales. He has taught and worked extensively within Australia and internationally on various projects, covering six Australian states, Morocco, Jordan, New Caledonia and Palestine covering a broad array of different climate zones. David is a valued member of the permacultureconsultants.com team headed up by Geoff Lawton. He has the distinction of being Registered Teacher #5 with the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. David currently serves as Lead Consultant and Educator for permacultureworks.org.

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