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Towards a Walkabout Permaculture

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

Written by Dr Charlie Brennan & Bridget O'Brien August 2019.

How things have changed ! And not....

Walkabout Permaculture is for all the people on the move, commuters, travellers, students, refugees, nomads. For those on pilgrimage, between places, lost, displaced, looking - those on Walkabout. Permaculture is the conscious design, redesign and practice of ecological living for all aspects of life – this includes movement towards regenerative cultures and healing of selves and places.

We live in times of rapid almost unknowable change. We are learning ever more about the complexity and beauty of living systems - and we are also exponentially increasing our understandings of how to live within these living systems – to live guided by ethoses of cultivation, justice & joy. And yet, tragically we live amongst current & imminent multiple systems collapse. This is serious and we need to be ready for whatever is next.

Permaculture is a term and set of ideas coined and gathered in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison & David Holmgren. From their first 2 books and teachings came a movement that now spans the world. Mollison & Holmgren drew together systems thinking, an emphasis on design, the inspirational works of Masanubo Fukuoka, PA Yeomans, Robert Hart and others and combined these with their unique messages and styles. Many people remember the 1991 4-part series The Global Gardener that featured Bill Mollison traveling to Permaculture projects around the world.

In Australia Permaculture originated very much was a ‘to do’ guide for the back-to-the-land movement; offering positive actions for people who wanted to be for something as well as against deforestation, nuclear proliferation, and so on. Permaculture was taken up in inner city and rural alternative sub cultures, and ‘taking your PDC’ was on just about everyone’s lists. Interestingly it co-evolved in Australia with a suite of powerful alternative land practices including Landcare, Bush Regeneration, Regenerative Agriculture, Social Ecology as well as increasing acknowledgment and respect for Aboriginal worldviews including Songlines and the primacy of ‘Country’.

40 years on the world has changed. We sit here working, writing and researching, on our laptops in a café in Chicago on a quick break from life near Detroit. In two days here we have moved around by Uber, stayed in Airbnb’s and navigated our travels by Google maps and the internet. This is for many people a newly mobile & liquid world; often a precarious world. We walk the gardens & visit cafes’ museums and markets. We’re struck by the fact that for 48 hours almost all our interactions, here in Chicago - with café workers, gardeners, guards, shop workers, street workers, Uber drivers - seem either to be with young casual gig workers, students, African Americans and/or migrants & migrant workers from South & Central America, Asia and the Middle East. All being paid minimal rates. It’s pretty much the same in Dublin and in Auckland and so on. From crowded roads we glimpse desperate tent camps of homeless people under underpasses, in parks and near hostels.

40 years on we have so much information; so much media. The challenges are to not be overwhelmed by 24 hour cycles of cynical trivial TV news and manipulated Facebook. Further underneath are the existential stories that really matter, of climate extremes, biodiversity collapse, proxy wars, poverty, housing crises, indebtedness, new health epidemics leading to decreasing life expectancy, refugees seeking safety, corporate tax avoidance, the undermining of civil society by vested interests the likes of which have never existed before.

News we never hear is that 10’s of millions of people are practicing, dedicating themselves, to building a beautiful, fair, ecologically healthy world. This is an unprecedented global movement of activists and practitioners. 40 years ago, when people had had enough they dreamed of returning to the land, now they’re more likely to go… On Walkabout. Returning to the land is a ubiquitous fantasy, but actually doing it is often the preserve of the wealthy due to the costs of buying and looking after land.

To go 'On Walkabout' is to inhabit the Global Commons. The people of the 10’s of millions alternative community most likely identify not with any particular region or country but all of planet Earth. Like fungal mycelial networks, this movement is partially underground, reaching into and through liminal spaces. The spores of this network are everywhere, intelligent, adaptive, independent, almost anarchic, responding to opportunities; creating life.

In Walkabout Permaculture we are less concerned about with settlement and suburbia, focusing instead on peoples’ mobility whether through choice or circumstance. The Permaculture movement is one of the few holistic responses to social, personal and ecological systems collapse and crisis. However, historically Permaculture is arguably predicated on a homestead fantasy, on some kind stable status quo. This is not current, or likely, reality for many people.

In the western world the next gen is all but priced out of the housing market, navigating casual and contract economics, student and other debts. In any case they have little or no aspiration toward creating heterosexual nuclear families; limited time for 9-5 career alignment with distant impersonal corporations or organisations, or being in sterile, garden-less, denatured, dormitory housing complexes. Mass enclosed individual ownerships that are elitist from any global perspective. We are surrounded by damaged lives, places, ecologies, life support systems. All this is clearly no longer sustainable.

We say live by design rather than by default. If the design is not immediately emergent, go for a walk, go to liminal places, to the commons, take pilgrimages. This is a globalised mobile counterculture searching and networking, looking for ways to be ethical, just and cultivating respectful abundant ecological relationships. This new world is pluralistic - people are much less tied to a particular TV channel, one career path, one ethnicity, one spiritual practice, gender identity or sexual/life partner. Allegiances to places, countries, nationalities, homes, friends and communities are fluid and polyamorous even.

But at the same time, according to Florence Williams, author of Nature Fix, the greatest mass movement of humans is underway now – it’s the mainstream movement from outdoors to indoors! Children & adults now rarely spending any time (alone) in nature. This must be reversed: it’s time to reinhabit places, bodies and practices.

All this may sound whimsical but it’s absolutely not. Life as a whole, for species, ecosystems, people is increasingly precarious, dangerous & insecure. How to eat well, where to sleep safely, where to find clean water, how to be free, how to live to and in old age, how express our duties to care for all life and being in supportive community are day to day challenges. The basics of life are increasingly less assured. Not whimsical, but serious, fluid, adaptable, courageous and strategic.

Paul Shepard in Nature and Madness (1998) argues that when humans domesticated other species for agriculture they also domesticated themselves. Domestication results in neoteny which is living life in a kind of suspended juvenile state. We use the term On Walkabout in deepest respect. Walkabout describes Australian Aboriginal rite of passage ceremonial journey into land; to Country. It is also used to describe quietly moving away from domestic /work situations to attend to, to face into, really important business.

Join us for urgent, exciting, stimulating, confronting, explorations into food growing and foraging, self-care, housing, social permaculture, conservation, ecopsychology, wilding and more. This course is for people who wish to explore Walkabout Permaculture and is appropriate for all people and levels of Permaculture experience.

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