Chapter 1 Education Begins; Institutes Form

Chapter 1 The Permaculture Journal
17 November, 2020
Chapter 1 A Word To My Friends In Permaculture
16 December, 2020
Chapter 1 The Permaculture Journal
17 November, 2020
Chapter 1 A Word To My Friends In Permaculture
16 December, 2020

Chapter 1

In search of meaning

The origins of


Education Begins; Institutes Form

Determined to teach Permaculture, I gave notice at university in 1978, to the horror of my fellows, and the joy of the administration. The cleaners presented me with the old radiator below my desk when I left! It was unheard of to give up a tenured position at my age (then 50 years). To throw oneself so to speak on the tender mercies of the real world, and I confess that I sweated for a week before resigning.

My real reasons were to develop a full-time career in Permaculture; my idea was to become itinerant, and to teach teachers who in their turn would wander where needed. I was touched that Prof. Cardno and others kept my job open for years, in case I starved. Determined not to take employment benefits, but to pull ourselves up by our bootlaces, we went seriously about life, and I set myself to write Permaculture Two, a more practical text based on field experience.

With a good many friends, we bought or rented properties in Stanley as our base, and tried community living. But it was difficult to earn cash for projects, and most of it came in from my consultancy work. Few of the community were very interested in Permaculture, and I was criticised for travelling too much, which was essential to the cash flow.

1978. On one job in inner city Melbourne, I sketched out a design for a merchant banker; when he asked me what he owed, I responded, “An hour of advice.” He sat back and listened as I explained what it was I was trying to do. To teach, to set up a trust to do this, and not to risk our slender resources. After a few minutes thought, he drew me a pen diagram of two independent trusts, one to make money to give away, one to teach and be charitable. I carried away a piece of paper with a sketch like the one below:-

I stared at this piece of paper all the way home across Bass Strait in the plane. Could I form up such a system?

These entities are legally separated and independent. Trust B can pay its employees, and meet its trading costs, but it does not need to own real property, as it takes normal trading risks. It can rent premises from trust A.

All property and chattels belong to trust A, which takes no risks; both work with the minimum of directors in their trustee companies. Companies are chosen as trustees, as they are theoretically immortal. They act only as trustees.

People can be appointed (licensed) by the companies to carry out a great variety of enterprises, and help with the work that interests them.

Both trust deeds are available for a modest charge from the Permaculture Institute or the publisher’s address.

1979. Luckily, Earle Saxon and his wife Estie were working with us in Stanley at that time, and he had had some legal training in the USA. Together, we drew up the deeds for the trusts, with advice from my faithful lawyer Bob Young, and a little help from the Taxation Department assessors, and registered the trust.

The educational/charitable arm was to be called The Permaculture Institute and was administered by a trustee named XAF Pty. Ltd. (I deny that this signifies the Xtraordinary Association of Freaks). The trading trust (a non-profit trust) was to be called McAlistair Trading and its trustee was XCD Pty. Ltd. (I deny that this was the Xtraordinary Confederation of Dunces).

McAlistair, by the way, was a legendary red-headed ex-convict with an insatiable appetite for rum, who once drank at the Blacksnake Inn (now defunct) in Stanley, Tasmania. He was forbidden to drink, but the redcoats found him at the bar, and chased him through town until he at last ran into a swamp, up to his neck in mud and tadpoles; there he shouted defiance at the redcoats, who eventually went away, not wanting to besmirch their pipeclay.

McAlistair was just another defiant loser, another Australian hero: “Follow me into the muck if you dare!” The swamp is now called Harmans Swamp after my great-grandfather, who had his smithy on the margin; he always called it McAlistair’s Swamp, so my grandfather told me.

So now we had an Institute, and we would teach courses. The curriculum I had been slowly assembling for four years was written up, and with some trepidation we advertised our first (3-week) course, Permaculture Design Course (P.D.C.) in the Permaculture Journal; twenty-three brave souls signed on; many had heard accounts of the system on the radio, or had met me in field expeditions. Architects, draughtsmen, biologists, agricultural scientists, and just plain people came to that first course in January, 1980, at Stanley


Most of those people still work in Permaculture, fifteen years later. Some teach courses, many develop projects or properties. And this is how it went on; our students showed a high degree of activism, unlike university, where only 4% or so go on to work in the area of their degree skills.

After only a few courses in Tasmania and Victoria, I decided to carry the system overseas, to become a missionary or an apostle for the Permaculture system. Nothing ever steered itself; you need someone to drive it. As we will see in the next chapters, myself and my student-teachers drove it very far indeed. I had started ‘designing’ in 1972-4, so by 1980, I was well experienced in land and urban designs, houses and systems. We had yet to add legal and financial strategies, but by 1984 these too were in place.

If I were a revolutionary, the Jesus to Jeremiah, I would say to my students, as did Jesus to Jeremiah:-

Behold, I have put my words in your mouth
See, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms
To pluck up and break down
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.

But I am not a violent revolutionary, and wish for change, not destruction. Thus, I would say:-

I have given you what I know
And helped you to build and plant.
If you go forward together in this way
Nations and kingdoms will become irrelevant.
For you will create your own nation.
Which, if it is valid, will cover the world.
And in which there are neither kings nor gods.
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