June 9, 2015

New features opened on International Permaculture Day

WAS IT or wasn't it? That was the question in my mind when I woke on the Sunday morning of International Permaculture Day.

I lay there as consciousness reassembled itself, booting up from the automated systems of my subconscious into the random access memory of everyday awareness. When audio switched in I could hear the answer to my question in the form of the soft white noise of drizzle falling on foliage. Sydney's rains were continuing and my hopes for blue skies had been so much wishful thinking.

Fiona drove over to Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Back Yards), the Sydney CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) depot to pick up the fruit and veges for Randwick's International Permaculture Day's late-afternoon cook-up and on her return we headed off to the council building to do some printing for the workshops. 


The organisation

Thanks to Randwick Council's courses in organic gardening, forest gardening, community leadership and others, there was a band of volunteers to help run Randwick's International Permaculture Day.

Tina Dimnetrou, a friendly but mission-focused young woman equipped with both diplomacy and determination, had worked with Fiona to plan the day and had brought local organisations together to participate. Leesa Burton, who combines the life of a chef with primary education skills and works on Randwick Council's popular pre-and-early-childhood science education program, organised the menu for the post-workshop, pre-video, participatory cook-up and took care of all things edible at the event.


The start

Rain. It was still coming down, though only a light drizzle now as 2pm rolled around and International Permaculture Day Randwick was about to get underway. I was just returning to Randwick Sustainability Hub, the name given to the community resilience education role of Randwick Community Centre. As I parked I thought that the wet weather that has deluged Sydney this past week would be quite effective at keeping people away from International Permaculture Day. A small event it would be, I thought.

Then I walked in, and what a surprise. People clustered around the hall waiting for the workshops and conversations to start, and a fair number of people too. My surprise came not only from finding that all these people had come out in the rain but at their being here at starting time. People are often a little late, I've noticed. And they continued to trickle in, those with children gravitating to community artist, Karen Weiss' tables where children were making clay pots and embedding vegetable seed in them.


The workshops

The afternoon's workshops included Karen's above-mentioned childrens' craft tables where she was assisted by Julie Gaul from the Early Childhood Environmental Education Network, as well as:

  • getting to know your soil with horticultural and community garden educator, Emma Daniell
  • aquaponics with landscape architect from Sydney Organic Gardens, Steve Batley, using the aquaponic balcony installation in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden and including planting out the vertical garden arrays on the installation
  • Architect, Terry Bail, on how he designed the outdoor classroom
  • caring for soil (it's International Year for the Soil, after all) with Transition Randwick
  • small space permaculture gardening with Emma Daniell (pertinent for Randwick where over half the population lives in medium density dwellings, many in apartments)
  • DIY terranium construction with Sustainimum
  • 'what is permaculture' with the Permaculture Australia (PA) crew — PA Permafund's Virginia Littlejohn, and myself from the communications group; this was more a conversation than a presentation and brought in the work of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance in advocating for a fair food future for Australia.

After we had finished, a couple of the participants in this workshop said that they hadn't known that permaculture included elements other than gardening, such as community economics, indicating just how closely the design system is associated with home food production at the expense of its other characteristics.

The workshops ran over the hours between 2pm and 5pm, with a long break between for afternoon tea and for people to meet and network. Between five and the start of the evening video, people participated in preparing then eating a shared cook-up of pasta salad, vegetable and tofu kebabs cooked outside on a BBQ and apple crumble assembled and baked on site in the kitchen. Estimations for food were a bit over, which made people happy to have food to take home in cleaned and reused take-away containers.

Community CookUP


Virginia Littlejohn and Shar, two recent graduates from the council community leadership and facilitation course, introduced the movie 'Dirt', a US production about the value of soil and of farming it well. After the movie I asked a little girl what she thought of it. "I didn't understand a lot of it", she said. "But it was interesting".


The opening

Auntie Barbara, from the La Perouse Aboriginal community and deputy-mayor Anthony Andrews officially opened the new outdoor classroom, balcony garden display area and the public reedbed toilet.

Photo below: Auntie Barb and deputy-mayor Anthony Andrews officially open new features

Opening at Randwick Sustainability Hub

Photo below: The Classroom, mostly made from reclaimed materials

The Classroom Randwick


Auntie Barbara then talked about bushfoods, previewing the bush food educational trail that will connect the Permaculture Interpretive Garden with the outdoor classroom.

Photo below: Reedbed toilet

Reedbed toilet

Photo below: Balcony Garden Display area:

Balcony Garden Display Area


The day

International Permaculture Day 2015 at Randwick Sustainability Hub was an indoor event, unlike the three previous Days that were held both in the hall and in the garden. In forcing us indoors, though, the weather did us something of a favour in creating the buzz you get in a large roomful of people focussed on doing something.

It is in the nature of International Permaculture Day events that people come and go through the afternoon, however what was interesting were the large number that stayed for the entire event. Good to see, too, were the number of families with children, some of whom spend hours making those clay seed pots with Karen Weis and Julie Gaul.

Talking over the event after we had finished cleaning up — and that was done with the help of a lot of volunteers in addition to the day's volunteer organising crew — Tina estimated roughly 120 people were there at any one time, during the workshop sessions. There could have been around 150+ people throughout the day though, as some may have left after the first session and more people were arriving during the afternoon, she said.



International Permaculture Day has now been running for what must be six or so years. It was started by a Sydney crew as a national event but soon recruited people overseas, national morphing into international. Now, it's a fixture in the annual calendar.

It was adopted at the Randwick Sustainability Hub because council has the permculture designed facilities. It is made possible by volunteers from the courses held at the Hub, by the participation of community organisations like Transition Randwick and Sustainimum and by permaculture-trained educators like Emma Daniell, Steve Batley and architect, Terry Bail, who designed the energy efficiency retrofit off the centre as well as the outdoor classroom.

Also offering International Permaculture Day events in Sydney were Michelle Margolis in Marrickville with her edible home garden, seed saving networker Robyn Williamson in the city's north-east and the Permaculture Northern Beaches crew on the far northside.

If I can be allowed a personal perspective, I find council support for the International Permaculture Day event in Randwick to be about defining a new and better role for local government, one in which it becomes a platform on which communities develop their own useful applications. Council can support local, small business and so build a sound local economy, and I believe one of its main social roles should be the development of a competent civil society that has a direct hand in developing resilient cities. I see Randwick support for International Permaculture Day as contributing to this. It's all about cities as places of opportunity.

International Permaculture Day is promoted through its own website and Facebook and by the communicators among us promoting it through our own social media networks. The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network encourages the participation of community gardens in the day via its own online media as does the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. This, after all, is how networks work as they distribute useful information through their far-reaching digital tendrils.

I wonder, for International Permaculture Day 2016, whether it would be worthwhile publishing a listing of all Sydney (and other cities too) events in a single place so that notification of all of the city's events could be easily distributed.

Yes, it was still drizzling as we turned off the lights after cleaning up, set the alarm and closed the gate. But it had been a good drizzly sort of day, one that had brought people together to talk, learn, teach, share and eat. A wet though good International Permaculture Day 2015, that's for sure.


Story and photos by Russ Grayson, May 2015


Photo below: At the opening of the classroom, reedbed toilet and balcony garden display system are, from left:

  • Terry Bail (Archology), the architect who designed trhe community centre energy efficiency retrofit and the new classroom.
  • Auntie Barbara, La Perouse Aboriginal elder who opened the installation at International Permaculture Day 2015.
  • Peter Maganoff, manager of Randwick Council's sustainability unit.
  • Randwick deputy mayor, Anthony Andrews, who co-opened the new works.
  • Landscape architect, Steve Batley (Sydney Organic Gardens), who designed the Permaculture Interpretive Garden and the landscaping to be planted around the new classroom.
  • Fiona Campbell, Randwick Council Sustainability Educator, who devised and organises the community and schools education program at the Randwick Sustainability Hub and who instigated the Permaculture Interpretive Garden and new classroom. 


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