Archive for the ‘creative ecology’ Category

Degeneration, sustainability and regeneration

 degenerative regenerative

Sustainability is the mid-way point on a scale between degenerative and regenerative.  It’s not an end point of anything.  As an aspiration, its not saying much to achieve sustainability.  For an activity to be sustainable, just means that you can keep doing it over and over again indefinitely.  Its not saying you’re doing it well, just that it can continue to happen.  We can do better than that.  And to aspire to be “more sustainable” is an even lower ambition.  It only requires shifting in the direction of the centre point, without ever intending to reach it.

With sustainability as our greatest ambition, the possibility of doing something well, of healing, repairing, making things better, this isn’t even considered.  More sustainable is just less harmful, it isn’t beneficial to anyone.  To aim for sustainability is to believe that all human activity is harmful, and to aim for the neutral point between harmful and helpful is the best we can do.

Aiming for sustainability rather than regeneration, this is like aiming to improve your state of health from terminal illness to a hardly-better state of being able to continue to live (to sustain life), while still being extremely ill.  As a civilization, we have been so ill for so long that we can’t even imagine being in a state of health, and no longer desire it.  Our illness is our identity.

So lets try for regeneration.  For healing from the sickness.

Regeneration or sustainability can’t be achieved while there is any degenerative activity going on.

So for either of these to be possible, all harmful activity must be stopped first.

To look away from the harm, this is like trying to build more storeys on a building while the ground level is being demolished.  You can’t build something sustainable on a degenerating foundation.  The foundation needs to be repaired first.degeneration graphIf all degenerative activity stops now, this is the range of possible scenarios.  If it doesn’t stop, follow the descending curve to zero.

The graph isn’t an exact measurement of degeneration.  Given that 98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed, 94 per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone, and 80 per cent of rivers worldwide no longer support any life, and the rate of destruction increasing exponentially, I’d say it’s a reasonable representation of recent history.

Once degeneration stops, regeneration may happen quickly, or slowly.  The point of no return for the complete collapse of the biosphere may have already passed.

Degenerative is anything that destroys life at a greater speed that it replenishes it.  This includes mining, manufacturing, commercial fishing, land clearing, agriculture, war, cities, dams, and anything that doesn’t enhance life.

Regeneration is the return to life, the recovery that happens when harm stops.  This part’s easy, life regenerates by itself.

No one person, or one community, can be sustainable while the rest of the world burns.  We all live on the same planet.  Act local, sure, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

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Footnote rant about sustainability:

Products that claim to be sustainable are nothing of the sort anyway.  They are responsible for just as much pollution and resource use as any alternative, they just hide it better.  Think solar and wind energy, cloth shopping bags, bamboo fibre, recycling, light bulbs, shower heads, and imported organic foods.  Sustainable is just a marketing ploy to appeal to a certain target market.  It’s about the image of being “green”, which has no connection to reality.  Even if these products were less harmful, something has still been destroyed in the making.  You can’t make something out of nothing.  The only way a product could ever be sustainable is if plants or animals are harvested from the wild at a lesser rate than they reproduce, and any processing is done with hand-made tools, and the product is transported by walking only.  Good luck making a sustainable solar panel.

Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone.  Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization.  It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative.  Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject.  You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated?  What animals?  What tools would they use?  How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe.  This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations.  If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk.  There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next.  A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors.  A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure.  People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food.  The crops must be defended.  The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained.  Defended from people, animals, and insects.  Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these.  Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement.  The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do.  Settlements then need their own infrastructure:  toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement.  Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time.  Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work.  The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop.  Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming.  They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture.  The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership.  Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth.  The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food.  Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food.  Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet.  Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs.  Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop.  Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it.  A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured.  Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.  Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants.  People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow.  Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth.  Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice.  Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

“The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture.  Why should they?  The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned.  The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

“Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’ ”

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture.  The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?

Reply-paid envelopes

This is what reply-paid envelopes are for.

Today the Adelaide Festival can expect to receive a picture of a fish.

The Tax Office is sure to appreciate erotic poetry.

Mail order companies always welcome children’s drawings.

Government departments like birthday cards from elderly relatives.  They don’t mind if the card has been addressed to someone else first.  I know this because I met a government department at a party once, and asked him what he likes receiving in the mail, and he said birthday cards.  Since government departments don’t really have birthdays, they’re happy to receive cards at any time of year.

People who send out surveys are happier when their surveys are returned with expired Mexican bus tickets.

Next time a reply-paid envelope comes your way, make the most of the chance to add some colour and confusion to someone’s day.

Shark attack


A shark. Photo from somewhere on the internet. Thanks internet.

News headline of the day: a man has been killed by a shark at Cottesloe Beach.  This is the fourth shark attack in Western Australia in seven months.  Authorities are out to destroy the shark, or any shark fitting the description of A Large Shark.

Why is this news?  If the man had been killed by a car, a machine in a factory, a war or a policeman, there would be no news.  Authorities would not go out to destroy all cars, machines, wars or policemen that fit the description.

Western culture has constructed a hierarchy.  Higher levels in the hierarchy may kill or enslave lower levels.  Lower levels may not challenge, and definitely not kill, those higher up.  The levels look something like this:









The action of the shark defies the hierarchy.  It must therefore be destroyed.

Sharks are killed and eaten by humans on a daily basis.  This isn’t news.  It’s never mentioned.  People who eat shark probably aren’t even aware that’s what it is.

Let’s turn this hierarchy upside down.  Earth first, plants, animals, then humans who are aware of their place in nature.  Return to the natural order. Get rid of the top four levels altogether.  With Earth, plants and animals to lead and guide us, we have no need for them.

Despite all efforts to kill and enslave the Earth, it cannot be tamed.  Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, droughts, floods and storms are a regular occurance.  The San Andreas Fault will bring a significant part of the civilization-machine crashing back to Earth.

Thank you, shark, for reminding us of our place in nature.

An idea for an app: free stuff!

I don’t know what an app is, really, but someone somewhere could take this idea and do something with it.

If you have something you don’t want, or you want something you don’t have, write it in the app-space.  Anyone that wants the thing you have, or has the thing you want, can see, and can take it from you or give it to you.  Are you following?  And you could browse and see things that it hadn’t occurred to you to want, but since it’s available, you could make use of it.  And you could see what other people want and realise that the thing in the shed or the cupboard that you haven’t used for years might be better off with someone else.  You could set it so that you only connect with people who live close by, or people you already know, or if it’s some specialised thing you could connect with people who have an interest in such specific things.

When my mum or dad has some useful thing they don’t need, they ask me “do you know anyone who would want this thing?” and maybe I do someone who would want it, but I don’t know that they want it.  I would like to know, so I can give it to them.

So in conclusion, I want this free-share-swap-things app.  If you have it and can share it, will you give it to me?

And I have lots of peaches and grapes right now, do you want them?  Also there is a mouse living in my kitchen that I don’t want.  You can have it if you like.

Moving beyond sustainability – living within ecosystems

Sustainability as it is commonly understood is based on flawed assumptions.  It assumes that by making small changes in our lifestyles, we can continue to live as we have always done.

Do we even want to continue to live in a way that makes us stressed, ill, and isolated?

It’s a façade, an illusion, out to convince us that if it looks good on the outside, we don’t need to think about what’s underneath.

It assumes that technology will solve all our problems, although the problems are in their underlying nature cultural, psychological, and ecological, not technological.

Sustainability advocates tell us we need to change our behaviour.  If we can only reduce and minimise our actions enough, we can continue consuming and wasting, but in a reduced and minimised way.

Consuming the earth’s resources and creating waste and pollution can never be truly sustainable, no matter how much we reduce and minimise these activities.

The current sustainability paradigm makes us feel guilty about our activities that have a negative impact, so sells us products and services with the label “sustainable” attached, to allay our guilt.  Now that we have these sustainable products, we can continue consuming, and feel good about it.  Now we can say that we have achieved sustainability.  Mission accomplished.

Sustainability concepts create a belief that there is scarcity, that we need to be frugal, to deprive ourselves for the greater good.  Actions taken with this motivation have little if any effect.  Is that one minute less in the shower really going to help anyone?  These attempts at frugality often lead to anxiety, disillusionment, and strained relationships.

Installing a solar panel, buying new lightbulbs, energy-efficient appliances and compostable cutlery might make you feel good, but when you think about the resources that went into making, transporting and selling these things, you start to see that they are the opposite of sustainable.  Consider a solar panel:  it contains metals extracted from an energy intensive mine, on land which has been taken by force from the original inhabitants, assembled by underpaid labour, transported across the world, and sold for high profit by a corporation.  Do you really support these activities in the name of sustainability?  The amount of energy that goes in to making the panels is barely less than the amount that they produce in their short lifetime.  And what are you doing with this energy?  Running refrigerators, televisions and plenty more unnecessary and resource-intensive appliances.  But hey, they’re energy-efficient, so they’ve got to be good, right?

This belief about sustainability reinforces the dominant paradigm of consumerism.  It encourages us to buy more, waste more.  It is nothing more than a marketing tool to sell us more crap.  The beneficiaries of this scam are the corporations, not the environment.  Environmentalists have bought in to the scam, free labour to promote their products.

None of the technologies or behaviour changes that we use in the pursuit of sustainability can ever achieve this goal, as they exist within the belief that economic growth is the only way forward, and growth can continue indefinitely if we make ourselves believe that it is sustainable.

And even if it was possible, do we really want to make it sustainable to live in a world where inequality, obesity, isolation, bureaucracy, wage slavery, debt and oppression are the norm?

Convincing the masses that growth can be sustainable, if only we make a few small changes, allows the system to continue to oppress and destroy, because we feel comfortable and trust what they say.

Current technological and policy approaches require that things continue on the way they always have, that the global economy grows, the electricity grid stays connected, oil keeps being pumped, water supplies from massive infrastructure remains available.  These services can’t exist without massive input of resources. Without these unsustainable foundations, all the solar panels, water-saving devices, carbon taxes, and other products and policies, are completely useless.

Everything we do is assigned a footprint, and if we’re told that if we just make our footprint small enough, we will be sustainable.  We’re instructed to reduce and minimise ourselves down to nothing, act like we don’t exist.  Shrink ourselves down so much that nothing we do has any impact on anything around us.

So what’s the alternative?  Do exactly the opposite.  Change our assumptions and our worldview completely.  Instead of aiming for minimum impact, aspire to maximise the impact of everything you do.  Rather than reducing the amount we consume and waste, let’s maximise our potential, and expand the possibilities of what we can create. Stop consuming altogether.  Instead of basing our actions on the assumption that everything we do has a negative impact, and aiming to reduce these actions, we can eliminate these activities entirely, and replace them with positive actions.


The only way to effectively address the issue of humanity’s continued existence is to identify ourselves as living within nature, not separate to it.  If we view our earth as nothing but natural resources to be exploited, we will never sustain ourselves.  To instead change this view to becoming part of the ecological communities on the land where we live, and nurture and enhance these ecosystems, is the only possible way forward.  Meeting the needs of humans, and those of other beings, can be a symbiosis rather than a conflict.  We need to learn from the world around us, and place our lives in the patterns and cycles of nature.

We can regenerate, rather than destroy, the ecosystems and natural processes that make it possible for humans to exist.

Instead of small, ineffective technological responses to isolated problems, we need an integrated understanding of our place in nature, to see the issues we face in context of the culture that has created them.

We need to stop being motivated by the rarely-defined entity we call “the environment” which seems to be something that exists far away from where we live, in the oceans and rainforests, that we don’t engage with and doesn’t provide anything for us.  Start being motivated to create for ourselves everything that we need to sustain ourselves.  We need to feel a deep connection with the land that is our home, and dedicate ourselves to making it as healthy and robust as possible, for our own sake.  We must conserve and enhance the webs of life that are immediately around us, within our homes and bodies, and the land that provides our food, fuel and shelter.  Only by meeting all our needs in our immediate vicinity, while regenerating the land, can we anticipate human existence surviving and sustaining itself more than a few generations.

We need to dispose of the work ethic, which tells us we need to be busy for the sake of it, and replace it with an ethic of caring for nature and people.  We need to replace our busy-work with time spent observing, thinking and designing ways for nature to do the work for us.

What does this way of life look like?  We can learn a lot from the world’s indigenous peoples, and base our vision on traditional worldviews.

In a truly sustainable human settlement, everyone is attuned to cycles of nature, because we know that our lives depend on it.  We know our water catchments, our food sources, the seasons, plants and animals, and we can forecast the weather.  We identify ourselves as part of an ecological community.

Water is taken only from the catchment where we live, and returned to the earth.  Water doesn’t need to be piped in from far away, and disposed of via sewers and stormwater drains.  There is enough water falling on our settled areas to sustain our homes, food gardens and ecosystems.

Learning happens by observing nature and culture, and practicing skills and crafts.  There are no experts or authorities on learning.

Everything is shared with neighbours, as there is nothing to be gained by having more than anyone else.  Value is given to relationships, not possessions and money.

Nothing is waste. Everything is useful and part of the cycles of nature.

Connections between everything in the ecosystem are recognised and nurtured, and used to design our own connections within the system.

Everyone takes responsibility for providing for the community and regenerating the land, and everyone has a niche where they can express their creativity and passion, and use their skills.  We do not hand over this responsibility to governments, or expect that someone else will do it for us.

Food grows not in intensively managed gardens, but forests modelled on native ecosystems.  After the initial designing and planting of the food forest, there is very little human work required to grow food, as the forest is largely self-perpetuating.

Building materials are sourced from the house site and nearby, and buildings are designed to integrate into the land that they have been built from.  Designs are inspired by the architecture of plants, and the structures built by animals, villagers and nomads.

Humans are embedded in nature, so everything that humans do is a process of nature, not imposed on it.

Local cultures evolve around the landscapes and natural processes of the region.

Seasons and natural cycles are celebrated.

Technologies adapt according to locally available materials, to meet specific needs.

Communities are organised in many different ways, and structures evolve.  There is no one best way to organise ourselves that will work for everyone.

We don’t need to discard what western civilization has created.  It’s all useful, and can be adapted and re-made into items that are valuable in ecosystem-based communities.  The technologies, knowledge and cultural practices that have developed in the industrial era are an abundant resource, to be valued and used wisely.

To make a truly sustainable life possible, we need to have a vision of what the transformed world will look like, and work towards turning it into reality.  This will be a gradual process, and the vision will change as we learn more.  Without a vision to move towards, we will continue to perpetuate the illusion that our small acts are all that’s possible, which only hastens us toward extinction.

What can we do?  Join the transition movement.  Learn permaculture design.  Stop shopping.  Live local.





Living within ecosystems

Minimise negative impact Maximise positive impact
Imposing from above Creating from within
Isolated, disconnected strategies Connected, integrated solutions
Linear Cyclical, closed loop
Motivated by fear and guilt Motivated by love and hope
Focussed on problems Focussed on opportunities
Technological innovations Cultural adaptations
Individual behaviour change, within existing systems that don’t support the change Create new systems and structures
Complexities are simplified, not explained or understood Complexities explained as patterns, can be easily understood
Concepts not easily understood Concepts make natural sense
Act without thinking, place faith in the system and experts Thoughtful, place faith in ourselves and nature
Benefits the current system Benefits people, nature and culture
Degenerative, wasteful Regenerative
Limiting Expansive, creative
Visioning a future the same as it is now Visioning a transformed world
Small ineffective changes Total transformation
Large, industrial-scale Small, human-scale
Scarcity Abundance
Deprivation, frugality Infinite natural wealth
Reinforces existing power structures Disregards or dismantles existing power structures
Boring Exciting, engaging
Reductionist Holistic
Homogenised Diverse
Static Dynamic, evolving
Reactive Proactive
Common response is apathy Common response is action
Illusory Real
Limited possibilities Infinite possibilities
Colonial Vernacular
Rigid Flexible, adaptive
Impossible Inevitable
Civilized Primitive
Forecasting Backcasting
No feedback mechanisms Constant immediate feedback
Humans exist outside of nature Humans embedded in nature
feelings of anxiety, depression and apathy Convivial, joyous and painful
Competitive Co-operative and collaborative
Delivered Interactive
Requires print-literacy Requires eco-literacy
Knowledge held by power structures and experts Knowledge held by human and ecological communities
Demands compliance Invites participation
Requires a large investment of energy for a small result Requires low or no energy investment, for a maximal result
Artificial Biological and ecological
Vulnerable Resilient


Clove House

I’ve lived at Clove House for the last two years.  The name comes from the street name, Clovelly Avenue, at Christies Beach.

Clove is a small asbestos house, close to the beach, covered in a beautiful vine.  The garden has developed over this time and changed with the seasons.

I’ve become quite attached to this house, and want to record my memories of being at home here.

Clove House, May 2009

The house is almost completely covered in a Boston Ivy vine.  The vine loses its leaves in winter, leaving the house naked.  For a few weeks in the autumn the leaves becomes bright red and purple, then drop to be transformed into mulch for the garden.

The shading and insulation value of the vine is impressive in the summer.  Last year, before the vine had made its way around to the north side of the house, my bedroom wall felt hot to touch (on the inside) when the sun was shining on the outside.  The room became too hot to want to go in there.

Since the vine has grown around, the sun doesn’t hit the wall, making the whole house much more comfortable.

Now I let the vine grow over the windows in the summer, to prevent the amplified heating effect of sun shining on windows.  I cut it back after the summer to let the sun in.

January 2011

The yard is filled with fruit trees, which were planted a few days after an investment from the economic stimulus package.  The 21 trees were chosen to suit the climate and give us a variety of fruit in different seasons throughout the year.  The trees also provide shade, beauty and habitat.  Slowly the fruitful forest is growing, and an ecosystem evolving.

The yard is 13m x 8m, and contains 21 fruit trees (with a few colonising the side nature strip)


This is a fabric quilt square I made for Friends of the Earth's Sustainable Food and Farming Quilt Project. It shows Clove House and all the food plants growing around it.

Cherry guava






Feijoa x 2

Grape x 3 varieties




White sapote


Goji berry

Pepino x 3



Pepino is the easiest to grow and most productive.  It’s a spreading vine, which can be a groundcover or directed up a trellis.  It has dark leaves which hide the fruit underneath.  The large white fruit have purple stripes, and taste like melon.  The most exciting part is that once you have a plant, you can share it with anyone by taking a cutting.  Pepino can be planted under trees, and used to fill any empty spots in the garden.  I’ve planted some on the side verge with the hope of it taking off down the street.

Early days. February 2009

When we arrived the only plants in the garden were an almond tree, the poplar round the side, and a few scraggly roses up the back.  The roses were quickly sent packing, and the whole yard covered over with cardboard and a thick layer of newspaper, to prevent grass from growing through, then compost, then straw.  A garden of all manner of leafy greens was quick to make itself at home.

The greens are blended every morning into green smoothies, which both nourish and give us an opportunity to explore the emerging forest that we have co-created.

March 2009

Composting materials and mulch for the trees and garden are gathered from around the neighbourhood.  I gather long grass from mown empty blocks, and ask the neighbours for lawn clippings.  The poplar tree and the Boston Ivy vine generously donate all their leaves in autumn, and then do it all over again the next year.

The garden grows. September 2009

For most of my time living at Clove House, I’ve shared it with two friends and three bantam chickens.

The chickens were named Ek, Doi and Teen (Bengali for one, two, three).  They were sadly lost to a fox, or maybe a cat, several months ago, and haven’t been replaced.

They gave us many hours of entertainment, recycled our food scraps into rich compost, and laid eggs which fed us many a pancake breakfast and omelette dinner.

The chickens occasionally made their way out of their run into the vegie patch, scratching up newly planted seedlings with the best of intentions.  The fence around their run improved slightly after each occassion.

There was one incident where they found themselves out of the yard entirely, and somewhere down the street.  This was on a windy night, during their phase of sleeping high in the almond tree.  A few wanted signs in the street: “have you seen our chickens?” soon returned them home.

They were gently encouraged, with a long stick, to sleep in their shed after this one.

Garden gone to seed. November 2010

When the clothesline broke and needed to be dug out from the middle of the yard, we were left with a large hole which became the obvious place for a pond.  A liner, a few water plants and tadpoles later, our pond was welcomed with a blessing ceremony of floating candles.

Now the pond edge has become a preferred home for edible weeds – mallow, fat hen and chickweed – which have grown so well that the pond is no longer visible.

I recently got hit by the idea of cooling beer in the pond in summer.  It’s quite effective on moderately warm days, although during heatwaves the water warms up so much that it’s not worth the effort.

Kelly checks on the tadpoles in the newly-dug pond, with the aid of a snorkel mask

On the west side of the house is a tall poplar tree, or something that looks like a poplar.  It shades the top and side of the house from the afternoon sun. Its one of the larger trees in the neighbourhood, and the house would be a whole lot hotter in the summer without it.  On hot days, I know that it will be cool under the poplar.

We’ve never got any almonds from the almond tree, as the birds always get in well before ripening time.  The birds are fun to have around, there’s lots of different ones and they move through with the seasons.  The dropped almond shells, leaves and bird droppings add to the organic matter to the soil.

Although the tree isn’t giving us almonds, it useful in lots of other ways.  It’s a needed shady place in the garden.

On the north side of the house there is no eave, which means the sun shines directly in the kitchen window.  Lovely in the winter, but hot and glary in summer.

A few wires have been strung across at eave-level, with the idea that the grape vine below will eventually grow along the wires to give a leafy summer shade, autumn colour, and winter sunlight.  The grapevine is a few years away from reaching this height, so in the meantime a bedsheet is pegged over the wires in the summer.   This makes a huge difference to the amount of light and heat coming in to the porch and kitchen in summer.

zeer pot refrigerator

Clove House chooses to live without a fridge.  Greens are kept alive in a dish of water.  A zeer pot, which is a home-made evaporative refrigerator made from terracotta pots, is used to store dairy products and leftovers.  The zeer pot took an hour to make and cost about $20 in materials.

A wire trolley in the kitchen stores fruit and veg. By having all this food visible we are always aware of what needs using, when food is getting low, and what’s ready to return to the earth via the compost bin.

The fruit and veg comes from various sources, gleaned from supermarket dumpsters and neighbourhood fruit trees, home grown, swapped, or donated by people who have excess, but never bought.

Kim and Dave with the spoils of a dumpster expedition

Seeing the trolley full of a variety of produce always gives me a good feeling about the effectiveness of this method of obtaining food, and seeing it getting low reminds me to give some attention to manifesting further sustenance.

The pantry was once a wine rack.  I bought it at an op-shop for $20.  Again all the food is visible, so nothing gets forgotten at the back of the cupboard for years.


One corner of the kitchen bench holds greens in a dish of water (lettuce, celery, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, leeks all keep well this way).  Also here are sprouting jars and sauerkraut fermenting.  All these things need to be checked regularly: sprouts need rinsing, greens need their water dish replenishing, sauerkraut needs squashing.

By keeping them right by the kitchen sink, but not in the way of anything, these tasks are easy to remember, don’t take much effort or thought, and I can enjoy the view from the kitchen window while I’m there.

Sauerkraut is a simple and convenient way to store excess vegies, especially in a refrigerator-free house.  All it needs is chopped up vegies (usually cabbage), salt, and a large jar to squash it into.  Keeps for several weeks, and adds nutrients to the food through the fermentation process.

broccoli, leeks and celery in a dish of water; lettuces; sprouts draining; sauerkraut squashing jar

We tend not to use the flush toilet, using instead a bucket in the bathroom to collect toilet waste which is then composted.  No smells, no water wasted, no cleaning required.  The compost that is produced after a few months decomposing is impressive.  I threw it round the base of a few fruit trees that were looking close to dead, and within a few days they became tropically lush and sprouted new shoots.  The compost has no smell or appearance of what it once was, it becomes rich black earth with the forest-after-rain smell that lets you know it’s doing the right thing.

compost bucket in the bathroom

Laundry water gets bucketed out to the fruit trees and veg patch.  Integrated clothes washing and garden watering.  Means I don’t have to remember to water.

I’d like to make better use of water around the house.  The gutter in the side street gathers all the  rain that falls on the street, and a small cut into the concrete would direct all this water onto the guerilla garden on the verge.  This garden tends to get forgotten through being beyond our back fence and out of sight.  It’s also under the almond tree, which doesn’t let much rain through.  A concrete cutter could sort this out in minutes.

The outlet pipes from the bathroom and laundry could easily be cut and redirected to water the trees, rather than wasted out to sewage.  An outdoor shower with the hose would be even easier.  I’m thinking to ask the uphill neighbours, who don’t have a garden, about directing their greywater onto our garden. Then I’d never need to water anything.

A rain tank collecting from the bike shed could be plumbed in to the house, and we’d never need mains water at all.

loungeroom window

The house is becoming its own ecosystem, with water, nutrients and human energy moving around in a way that feels natural and easy.  Nothing is an effort and little is wasted.

Nature, economics and the free life.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Money is an illusion that only has value because we believe it does.  It’s just pieces of paper and numbers on a screen, it doesn’t represent anything in the real world.  Since it is imaginary, it can’t control our lives.  Money was originally created purely as a means of exchange.  The concept of money has since evolved to now being considered to have intrinsic value in itself, not based on a foundation of anything with actual value. This means that it can cease to exist instantly, which it often does.  If we all choose not to believe in it, it will be worth nothing and no longer exist.

True wealth is soil, seeds, trees, clean air and water, generosity, caring reciprocal relationships and resilient communities.  By nurturing these things we can create shared wealth for everyone, with no need for money.

Owning money or assets gives us a false sense of security, even though we know it could all disappear at any moment.  By letting go of our attachment to these things, and creating true security in the form of caring neighbourhoods and healthy ecosystems that can provide for our needs indefinitely, we can create a world where everyone feels safe, and our own sense of security doesn’t require excluding or exploiting others.

It is the fear of not having that causes us to selfishly hoard money or things, and makes us reluctant to share.  This comes from our lack of awareness that everything we require to live well is freely available to us, which leads to a lack of trust in other people and the earth to provide.  By sharing freely of ourselves we can in turn trust that others will treat us well, so we need never go without.  We don’t need to be in control of every situation, as it will always sort itself out in ways that we could never imagine.

By engaging in paid employment we are enslaving ourselves to this money system.  Most people in employment don’t enjoy their jobs and find them to be meaningless and unfulfilling. Jobs are the main source of stress in people’s lives and can lead to heart disease, a range of health problems, and suicide.  Two million workers a year die of occupational injuries and illnesses.  Employment doesn’t lift people out of poverty.  Just 5% of the work being done is sufficient to provide for our needs for food, clothing and shelter.

Why work a job?  There are much healthier and enjoyable ways to provide for yourself and your family, make use of your skills, and engage with the world.  Your life is too valuable to waste on something you don’t enjoy, that will make you stressed, sick and probably kill you, while destroying nature and exploiting others.  Create alternatives to employment, that are meaningful, fulfilling and do no harm.

Let the economy die.  The economy is totally dependent on its capacity to destroy nature, and this process has now reached its natural conclusion where there is nothing left to plunder.  It will inevitably come to a screaming halt.  Don’t be a statistic, another resource destroyed by economic growth.  Create alternatives to this parasitic system and live in a world that you’ve created for yourself, where you’re free to do as you want, rather than in a machine that controls and consumes you.

You can do so much more with your life than just survive.  We live in an amazing world with so much possibility, why limit yourself?  We are all innately creative, and everything we do is an opportunity to express ourselves creatively.  Living a life of meaningless employment, shopping and passive entertainment stifles this to the extent that many of us never become aware of our potential, never think of how we could do things differently.

Take responsibility for your own life, your problems and your future.  Blaming other people or The System won’t change anything, and only make you miserable.  By becoming independent of the structures or entities that you are blaming, you are free of their influence, and they cannot affect you.  To blame or complain is to avoid taking on this responsibility.

Traditional cultures don’t expect governments, jobs and money to provide for them.  The people are only dependent on, and responsible to, each other and the land that supports them.


School prepares us for a life of employment, but gives us no life skills, no preparation for living with unemployment.  We are taught that we are not free to do as we choose, and not responsible for how we live our life.  We need to learn skills so we can be effective and fulfilled through unemployment.  Spending your unemployment searching for jobs just leads to despondency, which can become even worse on starting an unfulfilling job.  The idea that a person needs to change themselves to suit a job role means that to be part of the employment system you need to behave like you are part of a machine.  You are not respected as a human being with intrinsic value, or allowed to live true to your values.  You don’t owe anything to the economy.  All it has ever done for you is to exploit your labour and make life difficult.  Create a life where the economy is of no value to you, and let it become despondent.

By choosing unemployment, you are demonstrating not laziness but responsibility.  You are responsible to yourself, your community and the land that you live on.  A free-living unemployed person, who acts with love and makes full use of their talents and skills, contributes so much more to the world than someone who works for the money.  I could never have written this book if my attention was focussed on a full-time job.

Not buying and not working is liberating rather than restricting.  When you stop using money you find that we have more, not less.  More time, fun, adventures, friends, skills, health, awareness, understanding, and a full life. You discover that giving is more satisfying than getting.  Your ability to support your family and friends is enhanced, as you find that spending time with them is more valuable than spending time making money to buy them things.  You gain access to things you will never get in the shops.  You become more involved in what goes on in the real world.  You feel comfortable in the knowledge that no harm is being done to support your lifestyle.  You generate less waste, in terms of wasted time, food, water, energy, packaging, money, and your own potential.  If a free-living project doesn’t yield tangible results, you’ve still gained a lot of skills and enjoyment through the process of exploring the idea.  This is unlike trying to work with The System, which makes a point of wasting everyone’s time and resources, with nothing to be gained.

When you live free, all your time is free time.  Don’t allow yourself to be bought.  If you sell your time away for money, you are selling your life away.  What could you possibly buy with the money that would be worth the life you have lost?  Days of War, Nights of Love – CrimethInc collective.

When you do what you love, nothing needs to be thought of as work.  Leave the work ethic behind and embrace an ethic of sharing and taking responsibility for your beliefs and actions.

Consumption is a disease.  You can choose to be a disease on the Earth organism, or you can choose to have a healthy symbiosis, and be a co-creator of nature.

Work and consumption cause anxiety and depression, and stimulate fear and greed.  Life should be lived with spontaneity, joy, and love, not strategic plans, budgets, and stress.

Challenge your beliefs.  Ask questions about everything.  Just because an idea is commonly accepted doesn’t mean that it is the best way of doing things.  There is always an infinite number of options.  Never limit your choices.

Spread the word.  Share your skills and knowledge, your stories and ideas.  Share homegrown and gleaned food, and demonstrate the possibilities to others.  Listen to others’ stories and ideas, and new possibilities will emerge.

Raise your children and treat your friends and family in a way that gives them maximum freedom.  Choose not to judge anyone based on society’s expectations.

Relate to other people as human beings, rather than as economic entities to trade with.  This way we can form meaningful connections, and remove the fear of being ripped off or badly treated, and the guilt about treating others this way.  Create a gift economy.  Give freely without expecting anything in return.  You’ll find that what does come back to you is worth so much more than money or things.

Don’t contribute to the global economy.  Boycott money completely.  Be free!

Tune in to your feelings.  Be fully present in every sensation, even if it seems unpleasant.  There is great satisfaction to be gained from being totally in the present moment.  The joy of discovering something new, of seeing others practice a skill that you have taught them, of seeing things grow, of sharing, can’t be beaten by a life lived through TV, books or other people.

As I become more attuned to nature, I find that the things I need will come to me at the right time.  Sometimes I’ll be out walking or cycling, and feel a craving for a particular food: an apple, a block of chocolate, a leafy salad.  Always within minutes exactly that thing will appear in front of me.  Really.  I found a sealed package of fresh salad on a roadside.  It’s always exactly the food I was thinking of, never something else.  A few days after it occurred to me that I need a printer, there was a printer with spare cartridges in my next-door-neighbour’s hard rubbish pile, with a sign on it saying “working, please take”.  When I think of someone I need to talk to, I’ll run into that person on the street soon afterwards.  With one friend I experience this quite often, and always in places that neither of us visit regularly.

I start to take notice of the spaces between – the empty blocks, abandoned houses, road verges, dumping sites, patches of native vegetation, and wild places.  To our culture these places are considered eyesores, or are invisible.  As I move away from this paradigm I discover that these are places to explore and cherish, and the things intended to attract my attention and money – the billboards, shopping malls, bright lights and television screens– become invisible to me.

We are part of nature, not separate from it.  Talking about “the environment” as if it is something far away that we never come in contact with is ridiculous.  No-one really knows what this Environment is, but every schoolchild know that we need to be friendly to it.  And this friendliness tends to take the form of such activities as recycling cans, reading from the screen, and buying new lightbulbs and whitegoods when the ones we already have are perfectly fine. These activities are about as far removed from our natural surroundings, and the meaning of friendliness, as I can imagine.

Let’s kill this idea of The Environment and start nurturing our world by living within it, rather than imposing ourselves on top of it, destroying it for our own ends.  We are all animals.  We can’t live in the illusion that the processes and cycles of nature don’t apply to us.  To truly care about our environment we need to care for ourselves, everyone around us, and all living and non-living things.  We must take only as much as we need, produce no waste, and share everything.  We need to attune ourselves to the patterns and cycles of nature, and become dependent only on the resources that exist in our immediate surroundings.


From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

The global economy works by encouraging a culture of individualism, selfishness and greed.  It convinces us we are independent and self-reliant if we rely on our money rather than the land and other people to provide for our needs.  So to extract ourselves from the money economy, we need to recognise that everything is interdependent, and form these reciprocal relationships with nature and neighbours, with everyone and everything around us.  We need to shift our concern away from the health of our bank balance, investments and superannuation, and towards caring for the health of our ecosystems, our communities and ourselves.  When we stop concerning ourselves with financial matters and open up to the natural abundance that is all around us, we discover that we have so much to share.  I find the abundance overwhelming sometimes.

Sharing is an effective way to make the most of the available resources, and reduce waste.  It builds trust between people and reduces social isolation.  To return or reclaim borrowed items, or pass on excess produce, is always a good reason to go visiting friends and neighbours.  It is an opportunity to get to know your neighbours, and just gives you a good feeling to be able to help someone out by doing something as simple as lending them a shovel.

Stuff that can be shared. Food, books, tools, appliances, cars, land, recipes, cultures (both the bacterial and social kind), friends, skills, stories, your home, child raising, clothes, seeds, plants, labour, experiences, ideas and feelings.

Sharing can happen on an informal basis, but to make the maximise its potential, it might be worthwhile to set up or make use of an existing infrastructure.  Some of these include swap meets and free markets, fruit and veg exchanges, Food Not Bombs, tool libraries, community shed, clothes swap parties, neighbourhood swap box, book exchanges and a community library.  An online infrastructure is The Sharehood ( which helps neighbourhoods to organise sharing of produce, tools, childcare, skills, and labour and to hold events.  Other useful websites are, to give and receive things for free, and The Freeconomy Community ( to share skills, tools, space and ideas.


Grow food.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Growing your food gives you a sense of harmony with nature.  You become a part of the life cycle, planting seeds, nurturing plants, eating your own produce and saving seeds so the process can continue.  Your work yields tangible results, and you can be creative and learn as you go.  Your food is right there by the back door, there’s no need to go out for food.  You have access to a wide range of foods that aren’t available in shops.  There’s no infrastructure required.  Anyone can do it.

You don’t need to buy anything to grow food.  Everything you need is produced freely by nature, just look around.


collect from plants growing in friends and neighbours’ gardens, or around the neighbourhood.  Plants that grow well nearby are adapted to local conditions, so their seed will do better than from plants far away.  Plants give seeds away for free, and they really like it when you take some to plant somewhere else.  Local Seedsavers groups share seeds from each others’ gardens, and organise seed swap events.  If you come across a particularly tasty piece of fruit, grab a seed out and stick it in the ground somewhere.  Quite often it will germinate and you’ll have lovely shady tree and fruit for many years to come.  The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton has everything you need to know about harvesting, treating, storing and germinating seed from a large range of food plants.


Lots of plants grow from cuttings.  Just cut of a small branch, remove all the leaves apart from 3-5 at the top, and stick it in a cup of water for a few weeks until it produces a few roots, then stick it in the ground.

Other sources of plants: many fruit trees produce suckers from their roots, which can be dug up and replanted elsewhere.  Seedlings sprout up from under plants that have gone to seed, and can be transplanted.  Garden centres and nurseries may be prepared to give away plants that have outgrown their pots, and I’ve found punnets of seedlings in dumpsters.

Mulch and compost.

All plant and animal material can be composted.  Composting prevents valuable nutrients from going to landfill where they produce polluting methane gas, it creates amazing organic fertiliser, and connects you with the vital process of dead matter becoming new life.  Here’s a recipe: collect animal carcasses and manures, weeds, prunings, food scraps, lawn clippings and your own urine, mix together into a pile about a metre high, add water so it’s damp but not soaking, cover and leave for a couple of weeks.  Spread it around your garden beds, and add a bit when planting new seedlings and trees.  By doing this you are literally saving the earth.

The recipe can be adapted to whatever is around you, the more diversity the better.  When I was living in the desert the only organic matter available was roadkill kangaroos (lots of them), horse manure from the racecourse, and lawn clippings from the school oval.  At a house in the suburbs with very little garden, the compost was food scraps, seaweed and long grass that I had raked up from along the railway line, and brought home in my bike panniers.  That one needed lots of pee to get it going.  Animal manures definitely improve a compost.

Apartment dwellers can use bokashi composting or worm farms, which are both effective if the only organic matter you have is food scraps.  The resulting fertiliser can be given to a friend with a garden, who will thank you for it.

Mulch can be found wherever long grass is cut: roadsides, railway reserves, parks, empty blocks. Neighbours can give you lawn clippings and weeds.  Extra food scraps can be gathered from produce markets at closing time, fruit and veg shops, and supermarket dumpsters.

Animal manures: dog and cat manures are not recommended for compost that’s destined for a vegie garden, as they contain pathogens that can spread disease.  See composting toilet page for a way to recycle these manures.  Other manures can be found, well, wherever there are animals.  Racecourses, stables, shearing sheds, dairy farms, chicken farms.  In an urban setting, gather from pet animals such as rabbits and birds, and pigeon manure builds up under bridges.  Carcasses of birds, mice, and fish can be thrown in, as can meat scraps.

Potting mix is nothing more than sand and compost mixed together.  It’s really easy to make it yourself.

Tools are sometimes in hard rubbish, but they tend to be broken.  Some can be easily repaired, or might just need cleaning and sharpening.  Good quality tools are so much better than bad ones, so this is one thing that might be worth buying.  Secondhand tools are often at flea markets, salvage yards, garage sales and rural auctions.  Borrowing makes the most sense for tools that you use infrequently.  A small garden really only needs a hand trowel, secateurs and a bucket once it is established.  A shovel, rake and fork might be useful to build garden beds initially, depending on the condition of the site.  Being on good terms with the neighbours can lead to a tool-sharing arrangement, in which everyone has a small number of tools that everyone involved can make use of, so between the group there is a wide range of tools available.

Planting containers. Plastic pots are easy to find – look around or ask around.  Seedling trays are thrown out by nurseries, just ask and they’ll give them to you.  Other options are polystyrene boxes from fruit and veg shops, recycling crates that have been superseded by wheelie bins, bathtubs, and clam shells (the big green plastic ones that are in almost every backyard serving no useful purpose).  If you want to get creative try old boots, handbags, baskets, coconuts…

Land. You don’t need a big block of land to grow your own.  Food can be grown in pots on the windowsill, and sprouts in a jar on the dishrack.  If you’re after a bit more space, here’s a few options.

Share a backyard with a neighbour.  The design of our suburbs creates the problem for many people of a large block of land that they don’t have any use for, and it becomes a chore to maintain.  Lots of people would love to have someone else make use of their backyard space.

Community gardens. Have your own plot, meet other local people, and learn about all kinds of things.  Share your produce, your skills, your tools, and your day while building a self-reliant community.

Guerrilla gardening. Plenty of public space is unused – parks, verges, railway corridors, roadsides and those spaces that no-one ever notices.  Add some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and herbs that are adapted to the conditions, and let them grow to provide food for everyone.

Guerrilla grafting. There are plenty of ornamental trees around that are similar to fruit-bearing trees, and can be grafted onto.

Forest garden design. If we observe patterns in nature, and learn how a native forest functions, we can apply these patterns to the design of a food garden.  No work needs to be done to maintain a forest, as all the natural systems interact in a way that makes the whole thing self-maintaining.  If we choose food-producing plants that are suited to the climate, and design them into a forest ecosystem, we can create a garden that needs minimal human intervention, and can keep producing food for us for years to come.