This is the inaugural post in what will be an ongoing series where we’ll meet permaculture designers around the world.
Béla grew up in a village in the Hungarian part of Yugoslavia — a village where you had to grow all of your own food to eat, where bartering was the norm and where horse carts were the main form of transport.
Upon his arrival to Australia in the late 1970s, Béla heard of permaculture and instantly thought, “Wow, what a fab idea”. It was an idea that changed his life as he embraced all aspects of permaculture practice, building his family’s passive solar and mud brick house, creating gardens and re-learning skills for self reliance, including woodworking, metal casting, blacksmithing, tool making and repair and more.
“One of the jobs that I was always given growing up was to double dig the soil in my families market garden every autumn each year. When I learned of permaculture, one of my first thoughts was at least I can get out of all that digging!” said Béla.
In 1991, Béla convened his own permaculture design course, bringing together more than 45 people and in 2010 he completed a two-year full time Permaculture Diploma in Melbourne. In 2013 he enrolled in a Masters in Integrative Ecosocial Design with Gaia University to take his learning to the next level.
During his Masters, Béla’s project work has accelerated. “Without the Gaia University action learning and project-focused model, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the variety of projects I am engaged with and gain a Masters at the same time.”
Béla is currently searching for a site to build a community demonstration and teaching garden, where people could come to develop their skills and access plants and design support to create their own gardens at home.
Picture of a permablitz at Churinga,
a disability support service.
Béla is also collaborating to start a Community Supported Agriculture project on nine acres of land in Melbourne, to be used as an education space and permaculture social enterprise. This is all at the same time as forming a group to start creating Béla’s dream of living in an ecovillage.
When not gardening, building or crafting, Béla works with adults with multiple disabilities. In his 12 hour shifts he says, “I have tried to bring in more gardening and cooking together at work and the result is that we are all learning more about permaculture ideas and practices.”
Coming from Europe, Béla is passionate about fruit. He is in the process of creating a database of acclimatised non-native fruit in Australia, brought in by Greeks, Italians and others. He is planning to create mother trees which can support cuttings for plants long into the future.
He is also part of the Darebin Fruit Squad, a group of volunteers who harvest excess fruit from households in the Darebin municipality. The fruit is given to food security organisations who distribute it to people who most need it.
Despite all his activity, Béla still feels frustrated with the permaculture movement:
People don’t feel the urgency. Many people are too comfortable in their own lives and permaculture is more a social scene than a movement.
Béla craves action and wants to see permaculture applied across the planet. Doing his MSc was one way he could access that global network of permaculture practitioners, that could support each other in achieving this goal.
In 1998 Béla decided “Permaculture is what I want to do in my life”. 16 years later, he is as committed as ever, with still so much to learn and do.
For more information about Béla Beke’s work visit, his website: Fertile Oasis Original Designs.