A bit more context

So I feel that the scene is about set, and that I can nearly launch into some of the substance, the content I have in mind to get the ball rolling here. But first with this post let me scene set just a little more.

In March last year, a little over a year ago, I found myself at an Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Penguin, North-Eastern Tasmania.

Several significant things happened over the several days of the event that were formative in the sense of helping set in motion a sequence, one outcome of which has been this project.

The first thing was during Bob Brown’s opening speech. Great speech, by the way. Great speech from a great man. In effect a rousing urge to environmental activism. One comment was that “the stupid are cocksure, whereas the intelligent are self-doubting.” Anyways, toward the end he said something like “if you lot were running the country, we’d be fine. But unfortunately, you’re not.”

Now of course he was being nice, flattering the crowd, giving permaculture the thumbs up, and all that. But the thought that hit me at this statement was along the lines of “my god, let’s be honest here, if this lot were running the country, we’d be [let’s just keep it clean and say not so fine]” So that was one thing. I’ll get into why I had this thought in due course.

The second thing that happened was that I led a session called “critical self-reflection in permaculture.” Maybe 30 people came along including several elders of Australian permaculture, which I was delighted with. I played the thing by ear and introduced the concept of a weak link analysis, introduced a few of my pet weak links in permaculture, calibrated against the group, and then invited others to submit theirs. I won’t get into the details now, though, but what the heck, I will share this list that came out of the session (we will come back to a lot of these items in more detail in future posts):

  • Neglect of design process
  • Lack of post-PDC pathways
  • Dearth of evidence
  • Lack of stress/focus on implementation and management
  • Permaculture design course evaluation & evolution
  • Conscious decision making/leadership/management skills
  • Doing everything ourselves
  • False confidence
  • Closed shop vibes
  • Permaculture of the inner landscape (this from Professor Stuart Hill)

Details aside the main point is that my feeling from the vibe of the session along with feedback afterwards was that the approach I was suggested resonated with the group. Which was encouraging. I remember actually joking about starting a website like this, not expecting myself to actually do so over a year later.

The final thing that happened was not only an aspect of the convergence but of the two-day advanced permaculture design course I led directly afterwards. With two able assistants and 19 lovely participants, we had a special few days. But where I’m getting to was that I was deeply struck by the number of folk, often younger, sometimes not, that had permaculture design certificates and were earnest, and intelligent, and wanting to take it further, often with a component of professional design work.

These three things (becoming aware of my own perception that the permaculture movement generally doesn’t have its shit together in a lot of basic ways, a positive reception to the topic of critical self-reflection in permaculture, and tuning into a huge wave of interest in taking permaculture design work to a higher level) affected me quite deeply, and are part of how I came to be the me that is having a go at setting this whole thing up.

So, yes, just wanted to acknowledge the contribution of that convergence toward getting this whole thing, whatever it is, exactly, off the ground. Thanks, convergence!

Over and out.


  1. Hey Tamara, it is really interesting to hear about your experience with spermaculture in Australia.. I’m a female permaculture professional designer and teacher here in NZ, and was at that hui (convergence) Dan mentioned… you got me thinking about this in the NZ context.

    I’m not totally sure, but we don’t seem to have that problem in Aotearoa NZ …. When I started my permaculture journey about 2002, so many of NZ’s leading permies were women: Miriam Tyler, Trish Allen, Kay Baxter, Robina McCurdy, Sabine Druekler, Jo Pearsall, oh dear now I’m worried I’ll leave someone obvious out!

    Occasionally I do wonder whether women are less likely to put their hands up to run sessions at our national hui, and whether the hui organising teams unwittingly are less likely to ask women to.

    Anyway, I’m interested to hear what other kiwi women feel about this…

  2. Hi Dan,

    So there were quite a few points that got my attention in the list above. Let me start by saying that although I have spent considerable time studying and practicing permaculture I do not have a PDC and it seems that this makes me an outsider. I have actually almost completed a PDC online, thought I was finished and work got lost, life caught up and I haven’t got back to it. Now I am starting to feel a little rebelious about the issue. Does the fact that I don’t have a PDC mean I have nothing valuable to contribute? I noticed that I cannot attend a convergence unless I have one. So I get the closed shop vibe. Where is the recognition of prior learning? experience in the field?
    Permaculture is one of the tools I use in promoting sustainable life styles and biophilia. At the present I am studying a Masters in Social Ecology and looking everywhere for articles in peer reviewed journals. Yes they are out there, mainly to do with practical technique and not design principles as such or the impact of permaculture education. Is there resistance in the permaculture community of practice towards academic study? Why? or is it to do with funding issues? I find it suprising since there seems to be a lot being said on social media.
    I think this is a valuable approach to strengthening permaculture. I look foward to more reflections and critical thought.

  3. Hi Dan,

    Can I add “Spermaculture” to the list of weak links please?
    This means a range of things and comes from an article written in the last few years.
    In the women’s groups I’m a part of we find it galling that the permaculture movement is a difficult place to be a woman teacher or practitioner.
    At both of the convergences I’ve been to I found it necessary to call a women’s circle because women’s space was extremely limited.
    Both times we talked about feeling the exclusion of women at convergences even when organisers had men and women on the committees.
    Children were not allowed at the last convergence and those that did bring children were chastised.
    We no longer have women only spaces at even international convergences even though we request them.
    There have been some great stuff on patterns for women in Permaculture but it is still a very weak link.
    I’m happy to contribute to this project on this topic.
    Much love,

    1. Hey there Tamara and though I don’t think that term is necessarily conducive to opening the right flavour of conversation about this indescribably critical weak link in permaculture (men can be a defensive bunch sometimes), I’m stoked to have you putting your hand up to contribute in this regard. I am at a NZ permaculture convergence right now with children intermixed throughout and both genders appear pretty well balanced in the program, which is refreshing, but I in no-way mean to imply that this means everything is hunky dory with respect to this issue. ‘Cause it ain’t. But know I am very actively striving toward ways of avoiding the same old pattern with this project (whether I succeed or not, at least I’ll have tried). One thing this means is that I am extremely open to feedback whether public or private with respect to this topic. Please help me not perpetuate this crippling divide! Meantime Tamara or anyone else I would love to know if you know of any women working critically on the foundational understandings of permaculture. Not from a let’s try and add women in as an afterthought but from a let’s get things in balance from the beginning. Again, I’m open to feedback and suggestions here!

      1. Great Dan – yes, both genders need to be included at the foundations of any permaculture project. Please recognise that I am not attacking you personally with any of this message – I think we need to have a few things written down to address a weak link in this area.

        I’m so glad to hear that children were welcome at the NZ convergence – because it means that parents, including single mothers can attend.

        I wonder what women thought of the convergence. Was there a women’s only space? And – did anyone ask the women if they felt included? At the Sydney convergence we felt so disenfranchised that we called a women’s circle and presented our discussion to the main group. At the Tasmanian convergence we again had a women’s circle but were unable to present back because we had to come together after the convergence had finished.

        We asked for a women’s only space at the London convergence and we were turned down. The attitude was that woman are equal and therefore don’t need women’s only spaces. And that if we have a women’s space we also need to have a men’s space (I totally support a men’s space). This forgets that one in three (worldwide) women have been on the receiving end of male violence. With woman coming from all around the world this is higher (60-70% in Pakistan, India, Asian Pacific). Almost every activist group or counter-culture event I know of has a “safer spaces” policy. It seems that many permaculture events don’t.

        I used the word “spermaculture” because it demonstrates the way some women *feel* about the continuing exclusion of women in mainstream permaculture.

        Its not the right word for a weak link analysis, but it is evocative of what we are discussing on our women-only permaculture women facebook groups, and face to face. That we are excluded and have to work that much harder to claim our place in Permaculture.

        I’m sure many permaculture men will say “we don’t exclude women” or “from my perspective, women have equality”. But that is how we again exclude woman’s voices being heard. We aren’t saying these things to make men feel bad. We are asking to be heard by the movement. We are half of the movement.

        We do need to come up with a name for the topic of true inclusion of women in permaculture – rather than what we call in the academic historian’s world – “add women and stir”.

        Thank you for this opportunity Dan.

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