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Creating the world we want, rather than fighting the world we reject

David Holmgren recalls his first meeting with Bill Mollison

Bill Mollison - Co-founder of Permaculture, 1928-2016

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” - Bill Mollison

With the passing of Bill Mollison, aged 88, in Tasmania in September 2016, comes the end of an era for many thousands of people around the world whose lives were transformed by the teaching and writing of one of Australia’s most influential ecological pioneers.

My two-year student/mentor relationship with Bill, from late 1974, was certainly the defining relationship that set the course for the rest of my life. The following article (published in the 2011 Permaculture Diary) recalled that pivotal moment when I first met Bill and effectively selected him as ‘the teacher’.

Bill’s brilliance was in gathering together the ecological insights, principles, strategies and techniques that could be applied to create the world we do want, rather than fighting against the world we reject. His personal life was as tumultuous as his public persona, at times tragic, but always full of the passion and contradiction that the term ‘ecological warrior’ represents. His legacy lives on in all those who were transformed by his teaching.

A chance meeting in spring 1974

A chance meeting occurred in 1974 when I decided to go to college rather than spend the day turning the compost, making bread and maybe finalising the garden plan. It seemed crazy to spend a sunny spring day in the “Dexion”, a chipboard rabbit warren that was ED (Environmental Design department at College of Advance Education), surrounded by blank brick walls hiding the brilliant view of the snow covered mountain.

Still, I felt I should put in an appearance at least once a week; to show that I was still participating. I picked my way through the bean bags that barred the way to the panoramic programme board in the small foyer. I scanned the board for anything of interest or importance.

A seminar on ‘How Patterns of Land Tenure Shape the Exploitation of Natural Resources’ sounded mildly interesting. I wondered whether our household efforts at self sufficient living in a rented house with a friendly and helpful landlady might be a relevant example.

I don’t think anyone saw the relevance to the topic. (I hadn’t mentioned our insignificant efforts at suburban self sufficiency in a rented property). The discussion meandered back to how urban planning controls could or couldn’t shape urban structure and therefore resource use.

Afterwards I went over to speak to this bloke from the Uni. Some of the staff and older post grad students seemed to know him, but I had never seen him around ED before. He might have been late forties I supposed, stocky, balding slightly, beard covering protruding chin.

Meaty hands and thick nicotine stained fingers of a working man, I thought. I followed up on his idea; we talked on for ages about the rabbit problem and more. His way of thinking and expression were fascinating; grounded but at same time, holistic. Ecological, I thought, but not like any of the activists who called themselves ecologists, or the academically trained ones who seemed just as reductionist as most scientists. We exhausted our time, then he asked about my arm being in a sling. A brief recount of the motorbike accident and needing to move out of Blackman’s Bay led to an offer to stay till the end of the school year at his place up Strickland Ave on the slopes of the mountain. Sounded ideal. His name was Bill Mollison.

Extract reprinted from the Permaculture Diary 2011.

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David Holmgren

David is the co-author of ‘Permaculture One’ with Bill Mollison, leading sustainability thinker, author, teacher and public speaker.
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