After a quick pack up we headed for Tassie with The Blue loaded with a stock of RetroSuburbia and the rest of the Holmgren/Dennett travelling bookshop (but without camper trailer) for the first leg of our tour. After a smooth crossing we tootled along the coast to Wynyard to stay with old friends Maureen Corbett and Stephen Oram. They have retired, resettled and regrouped in NW Tasmania where, among other things, they can escape the accelerating climate change heat and bushfire risk of central Victoria. Along the way David noticed a familiar name on the advertising for the Greens: Phill Parsons that he had known from his years in Jackys Marsh in the late 1970s.
Stephen had invited David to open his exhibition of wood art, including work spanning several decades. As a woodworker, occasional user of Stephen’s Hepburn workshop and recipient of advice and help from master craftsman Stephen, David was happy to do so and draw some links to permaculture as a warm up for following events booked by Maia Irell our tireless tour organiser. A pleasant surprise at the exhibition opening was a catch up with Phill Parsons in his last days of campaigning before the federal election.
The next day was back down the coast to the ReSeed Centre that occupies the old primary school in Penguin. David was familiar with the organisation and the venue that hosted the 2015 Australian permaculture convergence but Su was pleasantly surprised to find foraging opportunities for ripe feijoas, apples and even luscious persimmons while the size and vigour of the avocado tree reminded David of the benign climate and lovely soil of parts of the Bass Strait coast where houses facing the sea view are also facing north, sometimes with reflected light off the water (passive solar design by default).
The event at ReSeed was an informal conversation with local permaculture people about permaculture history, lineage and learnings relevant to emerging challenges and opportunities. After a sumptuous brunch of local food prepared by the participants and Nick Towle’s PDC students, we headed for Launceston for the first of our Tasmanian Aussie St gigs on election night organised by Permaculture Tasmania. The MC for the evening was Gordon White who had interviewed David some months ago for his eclectic podcast Rune Soup.
An audience of 60 plus ignored the election to come and be entertained and inspired by Aussie St. Following an enthusiastic round of questions and book sales, a man with a German accent from connections decades ago, introduced himself. Frank Strie, Austrian forester and biochar researcher and entrepreneur who told David about his projects and gave him a copy of long time permaculture teacher Albert Bates’ latest book Burn; using fire to cool the planet, co-authored with biochar researcher Kathleen Draper. Frank’s download on biochar reminded David that while he has been focused on the manifold aspects of RetroSuburbia, out in the rural landscape there were equally exciting responses to the climate crisis. (Biochar does get a brief mention in RetroSuburbia).
As we packed up, a quick consult with the locals and Lord Google saw us head out of Launy on the Scottsdale Rd for our first night of free camping. We shared the car park at Lilydale Falls reserve with a few grey nomads (distinct from us by the size of their mobile homes), some more youthful travellers in a rented van and local lads in a ute and small tent. We had to pack the bookshop and gear in the front seat to sleep in the back of The Blue. Election night had passed without us knowing the result. The next four days cruising down the east coast revived and extended David’s 1970’s explorations of the magnificent Blue Tier rainforests, the previously un-roaded coast below Elephant Pass where we cooked and ate (for the first time) Bill Mollison’s favoured food, (4 frozen muttonbird that we had purchased in a shed behind a fishing boat slip in St Helens), noted the massive expansion of vineyards and irrigated agriculture on the parched east coast and reconnected with the White Peppermint (E. pulcella) forests. Su’s long wait for another camping trip in the desert (since our trip around Australia in 1999) finally had its minimalist trial with four nights free camping in mostly dry and mild conditions. Not really winter at all.
A lunch time visit to Carol Patterson and partner at South Arm marked our reconnection with friends from David and Su’s past before arriving at our Hobart base. Our hosts Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstom live in a cottage perched on the spectacular slopes of South Hobart overlooking the city and the Derwent where the retrofit of the house and garden demonstrates their permaculture design and teaching that is Good Life Permaculture. Their place and daughter Frida are featured in RetroSuburbia and Hanna is now famous of course as a new guest host of Gardening Australia.
Our first gig was a last minute one responding to an invite from Fullers Bookshop. An informal Q&A led by local author and ecologist Oberon Carter in front of an audience of around 120 was a great warm-up for the main event organised by Permaculture Tasmania at the Tas Sustainability Learning Centre. This is right next to the Mt Nelson tech college, once the campus of the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education where David studied Environmental Design and penned the manuscript that became Permaculture One co-authored with his then mentor Bill Mollison. As they say, the rest is history. An audience of 200-ish laughed at the juicy bits of the Aussie St story, asked great questions and kept Su and David selling and signing books.
We finished our time in and around Hobart helping (or hindering) Anton with his latest building project and milking their goats, followed by a trip down the Huon, catching up with Danny Cavanagh – builder, raconteur and boat dweller – at Franklin, checking out Cygnet where Milkwooders Kirsten Bradley, Nick Ritar + son Ashar are moving to after three eventful years at Melliodora, and catching up with old mate Tony Were who helped David and his mother Venie Holmgren through a critical phase in building her passive solar house (Permaculture In The Bush) on the Far South Coast of NSW way back in 1980. Since those days Tony has had several careers and is currently a psychologist, living a Hobart suburban house with a productive food garden that illustrates several aspects of RetroSuburbia.
As we headed for the ferry at Devonport over the newly sealed Central Highlands highway the weather finally turned on a dose of winter wet and cold to reassure us that the climate hadn’t gone totally crazy (yet). As the fog closed over the views of Great Lake and the fire- ravaged alpine woodlands, we arrived at Pine Lake, the highest point of the highway above Jackys Marsh where David lived in the late 1970s and where David and Su visited in the eventful drought and bushfire summer of 82-83. In the fog and sleet we got out of the car to commune with an ancient Pencil Pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) bonsaied by the savage climate of the Great Western Tiers. Maybe it would be the last time for us mortals to connect with these ancients of Gondwana but hopefully not for them and the other Tasmanian endemic alpine species under threat from the collapse of aboriginal land stewardship two hundred years ago and the onslaught of accelerating climate change as each year passes.
An eventful and heartfelt time reconnecting to Tassie and bringing the promise of RetroSuburbia back to the birthplace of permaculture. A perfect way to get us in the swing of our unique blend of work and play that four months away from Melliodora promises to be.