Jan. 15, 2014

On Tour with Milkwood

IF SEEING is believing then maybe the students of the current Milkwood permaculture design course will believe that permaculture has a role in projects larger than the home garden.

Barrett House, on Frenchmans Road in Randwick, was the starting venue for Thursday’s tour, a day of field trips for the students. Bequeathed to Randwick Council by the daughter of 1920s Australian silent filmmaker, Franklin Barrett, Barrett House is today a community and education centre.

Dilemma

For council, finding themselves with half a house presented something of a dilemma. What would a council do with it? At the time, there was (still is) an interest in the Randwick community for people to learn more about reducing their use of electricity and water, and in growing a little of the food they eat, so architect (and permaculture graduate) Terry Bail from Archology and landscape architect (and permaculture graduate) Steve Batley from Sydney Organic Gardens worked together for council to redesign the interior and landscape of the building to make it suitable for community use, a stipulation of being given the house.

A placemaking session was then organised by council’s sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, a member of council’s sustainability unit manager, Peter Maganov’s team. Through this, members of the local permaculture association and other organisations and individuals came up with ideas for use of the place.

Now, Barrett House is open monthly so visitors can learn about modern energy and water technologies and the paints and wood finishes used inside, and to walk through the small edible cottage garden and footpath garden outside. This is what the Milkwood students experienced.

South

After Barrett House it was a short car pool south to the Randwick Sustainability Hub, the name given to the educational role of Randwick Community Centre.

This is a much larger retrofit to a public building than Barrett House and includes the PIG — the Permaculture Interpretive Garden — a combined public park with edible landscape and education garden for council’s courses in Organic Gardening, Forest Gardening and Living Smart. Like Barrett House, the sustainability hub and its garden offer take-home-and-try ideas to visitors.

The garden

Randwick Community Organic Garden, the last site visit of the day, is close to a hectare in size and was the first community garden in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. The visit was led by community garden president, Richard Pang.

Now located at the end of Botany Street on the edge of a soccer field, the garden was started in Bundock Street by students of a Pacific-Edge permaculture design course in 1995. They designed a community garden as a course design assignment. Kim Morris, then the community centre manager, liked the idea so the students then worked with Kim and local people to make the garden a reality. Randwick council offered support.

Milkwood educator, Nick Ritar, suggested to the students that they assess the agricultural biodiversity of the community garden — the range of edible plants and the species that support them, such as the nitrogen-fixing legumes that improve soil fertility and the flowers that form the basis of the insect food web, an important part of the integrated pest management of the garden.

Here in the garden students met plants some of them had not seen growing before, such as the sweet potato, amaranth, some of the legumes as well as others. Nick pointed out how different plants grow together and, like people, have relationships.

Students

What a good bunch they were, the students. A mix of ages and backgrounds, they had clearly been stimulated by the course, one of the young women saying how it has broadened her horizons.

With the addition of the home garden the students visited in Maroubra earlier in the day, they visited a range of sites that have scaled-up the application of permaculture design and, at two of them, saw how local government, too, can make use of the permaculture design system in its public works. They also saw how people had built permaculture design into their livelihoods.

Were we to apply the permaculture principle of ‘produce a yield’, then the day was one where the students saw a number of sites producing yields both edible and social, while their yield was information, knowledge and experience. What more could you want?

Story and photos by Russ Grayson

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