David has been co-teaching on the Food Forest annual Permaculture Design Course with Graham and Annemarie Brookman since 2003. Each year he takes the train and stays for the first week of a residential course, which is then completed in two follow up session of a few days each. That regular visit used to be in summer, but more recently it has been in autumn when the semi-arid nature of the Food Forest landscape is moderated by constant attention to the irrigation of the commercial tree and vegetable crops on a scale well beyond what we do at Melliodora. It is also the time of great abundance and diversity of harvesting and food processing. This visit during spring with lush green grain crops, green manures and weeds below mostly still dormant deciduous tree crops was a reset on David’s dry season image. Although it was less so for Su whose visits have been less frequent and often in spring, which is, as at Melliodora, the season of frugality with fewer and less diverse yields.
Pulling up with our camper felt like a refrain of 1999 when we did the same at the same time of year, although Annemarie’s absence in the Netherlands visiting her family and of course Oliver being fully occupied getting Sellar Dairy happening made this visit different.
We found Graham out “on the block” keeping his orchard tree grafting records up to date.
Over the next three days we organised books, took possession of pistachios for central Victoria eaters and caught up with family, property and other news from the wider networks and world. We had lunch with Kerri Chiveralls and James Ward discussing future options for permaculture programs in universities and had dinner with Tom and Abby Brookman including exchanging observations and actions concerning feral and wild animal management which is a subject of both professional and personal passion for Tom. We met a Chinese Australian colleague of Graham’s in the SA Jujube Grower Association when she dropped in to deliver budwood sticks of a select variety of Chinese Jujube, getting grafting scion wood of two varieties of Pecan in exchange.
David did some weeding in the market garden, and harvested veggies and lots of nettle to fulfil Su’s requests as she took advantage of fresh produce and the considerable diversity of Annemarie’s pantry to produce some lovely meals. Graham helped set up temporary ramps to change the oil in The Blue and of course gave us the grand tour with explanations of the latest technical refinements of the highly regulated (and costly) confined aquifer recharge and refresh project using urban storm water from the Gawler River.
We discussed the prospects for the much simpler low-tech recharge of the unconfined shallow aquifer by diversion of the water by gravity from the south Gawler drain if the current bureaucratic obstacles can be overcome. We caught up on Graham and Annemarie’s recent trip to India assisting former students on a very ambitious permaculture project and of course the action and plans with Jujubes as a important crop at the Food Forest to directly replace cool climate fruits and nuts such as walnuts and apples that are not coping with salinity of irrigation water and scorching summer heat.
After dark Tuesday evening Charlie McGee and Brenna Quinlan arrived in Big Red Bev (Biosphere Emergency Vehicle) from Melliodora in preparation for Charlie providing live rather than recorded music at our Port Adelaide gig, the last of the RetroSuburbia Roadshow. It was strange catching up about action on our home front with those who have been co-managing it in our absence, but not being back home. They said with us being away and then the Milkwooders having made their planned move to Tassie, Melliodora had become Millennialdora (managed by millennials, Brenna, Mick, Charlie and others).
Wednesday was a slow pack up. After lunch we left with 70kg of Food Forest pistachios, three plum pines, fresh vegies and pickled lemon on board to get to Port Adelaide with plenty of time for set up. The journey took as down busy back roads and freeways of the north Adelaide plain past olive, almond and assorted horticultural enterprises, Italianate houses of varying degrees of grandeur, suburbs popping up like mushrooms, industry light and heavy, and plenty of earthmoving for more freeways that promise to be stranded assets. Port Adelaide, like all the ports we visited, has undergone a makeover from industrial landscape to chic urban living and civic precincts. In characteristic SA style, the stonework of the restored buildings are beautiful examples of the art of their makers long gone.
We unhitched the camper in a carpark and unloaded the car in front of the modern but modest town hall with help from Lachlan and Emily from Permaculture SA, met Emma Sandery the co-ordinator of the recently formed Port Adelaide Environment Centre and renewed our connection with Christy Speir from Adelaide and Mt Lofty NRM who was the MC for the evening. Charlie arrived with Brenna and Graham Brookman in time to set the tone welcoming the audience of 120 (another booked out Aussie St gig) with some live renditions of songs we had been playing from David’s laptop as gig warm ups – a real treat that had all the crew in the mood. A councillor represented the Mayor with a brief speech and stayed for the whole event, giving very positive feedback to David afterwards.
The crowd laughs started with Fred’s sky blue FJ Holden and continued throughout the story. A musical interlude from Charlie had to compete with animated discussions before we were treated to four local case study presentations that showcased the scope of some of local household and community projects that illustrated a range of retrosuburban patterns. Most of the presenters had done a PDC at the Food Forest at some time over the last two decades.
Nadja Osterstock made specific reference to her strategic selection of a suburban property informed by having done the PDC and that the Retrosuburan Real Estate Checklist provided validation of that choice and the retrofits that she had made.
Rosanne Parker from Joe’s Connected Garden commented on how it easy it was the grow plants and food (for those with the skills) but growing community was the tricky stuff.
Francoise Piron told her story of nudging the boundaries of behaviour at home, work and in the community.
Lauren Altschwager and Tim Walsh from documented the tonnes of food waste collected from local restaurants to make compost to feed the hungry sand soils of Port Adelaide.
Jacqui Hunter and Jake Bugden from the long established but informal community of neighbours in Gething Crescent Bowden (already a case study on the RS website) outlined some of the learnings that come from their deep immersion in permaculture, community development and mainstream sustainability.
We arrived back at Gething Crescent for a low-key wind down with Jake before bed. In the morning we connected with Jake’s wife Teresa and their children Elba and Innes. Innes (10) took the day off school and regaled us with his passions for growing food including mushrooms, blacksmithing (with tutoring from an elderly gent across the street), designing permaculture systems and gave us a taste of his commercial product: orange slices dried to perfection and dipped in good quality chocolate. He confessed he had trouble keeping the family from nicking his stock. The parents were a little concerned about their son taking more of our attention than we might choose but it was so rewarding to see the results of a retrosuburban upbringing without TV but with a good taste of the bush camping and other outdoor activities.
Thursday morning was a more normal work and school day and with a interview scheduled with ABC radio in WA, we decided to walk the 4 km from Gething Cres to the ABC studios in Collinswood in time for David to go into the “Tardis” with Charlie McGee in person and Jodie Lane at Margaret River for “Focus with Jessica Strutt”; an hour long mostly sequential interview in which Charlie did manage to perform one song live as part of some degree of conversation.
Afterwards we had a cuppa on the stage platform of Big Red BEV in a suburban street and then had our first ride in the truck back to Gething St where we said our goodbyes to Charlie who would be heading back home to Pemberton WA at least until Feb next year. Our goodbyes to Brenna were only until Sunday when we get home to Melliodora.
Lunch was with Jackie Hunter, partner Paul Anderson, Jake, Innes and neighbour Brooklyn Mabbott. Brooklyn has a great retrosuburban rental relationship with the owner who now lives in the Aldinga Arts Ecovillage.
Innes gave Brooklyn “advice” about her garden beds and their prospects of getting recognition in an upcoming permaculture garden competition, advice that she took in good spirits. David took photos and invited her to record her experience as tenant as an addendum to the Gething St case study (or a new one).
Discussions with Jake about renewable energy industry prospects and options were useful to balance David’s energy descent perspectives and help shape our own decisions to take advantage of the falling costs of domestic solar.
That evening we had a bookstall at the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network’s presentation of houses that would be open for Sustainable House Day. Graham Brookman had organised for us to be at the event as an extra opportunity being in Adelaide. The houses presented ranged from modest tiny house projects to the more affluent and large. Su was a bit put out by the event being described as “no waste” because there was separation of compostable from recycleable rubbish but David was honoured by the MC as a great influence on those in the organisation and it was good to catch up with progress in one of the more mainstream fields that strongly relate to permaculture and retrosuburbia.
A debrief with Jake after the event was useful for David and in the morning Su and Teresa had time to connect on some subjects of mutual interest before we navigated Adelaide traffic to head for the hills.
A brief stop in Stirling to look for wholegrain spelt sourdough turned into an exploration of a town with close parallels to Daylesford, talking to bookshop managers, buying organic fruit and veg in addition to bread and chatting with the local knitting club.
Over the Adelaide Hills and down to the Murray we stopped by the Tailem Bend car ferry for lunch sitting on the camper, before the long journey out through the Mallee grain country with still lush green crops.
Across the border and intro the Wimmera, the high rainfall was reflected in taller crops but very little water in dams and wetlands. We stopped half an hour before sunset at the Pink Lake, harvested a bowlful of salt crust using a plastic dust pan and trowel, before finding a camp spot on the Wimmera River; our last bush camp of the whole trip.
It was a nice evening and good night’s sleep despite the 36 wheelers on the Duke Highway 250 metres across the river to the south and the trainline 500m to the north.
Saturday morning we arranged to drop in on Burrum Biodynamics, our source of bulk spelt, oats and legumes, at Marnoo close to the eastern side of the Wimmera plains. But first we checked out the Sugar Gum plantations and arboretum of the old Forestry Commission nursery at Wail near Dimboola, something David had been wanting to do for some decades, as always to understand growth, ageing and regeneration of trees planted long ago, without the water care and attention of trees in city parks and gardens. The Wimmera might be the sort of climate we should be planning for in central Victoria so seeing what grows in these harsher conditions is very sobering but informative.