Homage to Bill Mollison

In Making Permaculture Stronger’s first post of 2017, I pay homage to the late, great Bill Mollison. Despite a rumour that the news of his death was a lie (a rumour he turned out to have actually started himself), it turns out Bill really did pass away September 24, 2016.

Bill was not only the senior co-originator of permaculture – he kickstarted the turning of permaculture into a global movement.

Bill Mollison, Melbourne, 2005

Bill described the moment of epiphany, the seed that later germinated into permaculture, as like a physical change in his brain, where it was like suddenly seeing a red carpet rolling up and down the hills of the forest. His epiphany was that humans might take natural systems as their ultimate models and teachers and start mimicking them in the ground-up redesign of our agriculture (and ultimately our culture).

In the early 1970s, it dawned on me that no one had ever applied design to agriculture. When I realised it, the hairs went up on the back of my neck. It was so strange. We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years — everything was turning into desert. So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them. Ecologists never apply good ecology to their gardens. Architects never understand the transmission of heat in buildings. And physicists live in houses with demented energy systems. It’s curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live. (Bill Mollison in this interview with Scott London in 2005)

Thanks in large part to Bill’s genius for communicating his ideas (combining sometimes shocking and unbelievable statements with always brilliant, worldview exploding insight), not only does permaculture exist today, it thrives. As it continues to spread rapidly, it brings a method for generating real solutions and real futures to countless people around the world.

Without forgetting David Holmgren’s (and many others) crucial role, I thank Bill for making permaculture what it is, this amazing design system I only want to see becoming stronger and stronger. Paraphrasing Rob Hopkins, I want to see permaculture’s rapid horizontal spread being balanced and supported by ever-increasing depth at its core. Any such deepening work, however modest, I see as one way of honouring Bill’s remarkable contribution to humanity.

I like to think Bill would have been pleased each time a little bit of critical thinking and discussion led to helpful developments out there on the ground of real permaculture design, implementation, and management projects. I’ve no illusions that he wouldn’t have called any one engaging in such work a rude word from time to time, but keep in mind he called pretty much everyone a rude word in his later years, even when he really meant it as a compliment ;-). So it seems to go with these thick-skinned gnarly pioneer types.1

With this post, I take a moment to express my gratitude to you, Bill Mollison.

Gratitude for your inspiration.

Gratitude for living the life you did.

Gratitude for being who you were and for channeling your anger and lending your skills toward positive action in service of the global ecosystem you loved.

May the memory of your breath long continue to fan the fire you helped light and nurture.



A few classic Bill quotations (all from this 1991 interview):

The review started with, “Permaculture Two is a seditious book.” And I said, “At last someone understands what permaculture’s about.”

…if you’re an optimist, you could say permaculture is an attempt to actually create a Garden of Eden

Anyone who ever studied mankind by listening to them was self-deluded. The first thing they should have done was to answer the question, “Can they report to you correctly on their behavior?” And the answer is, “No, the poor bastards cannot.” (Bill Mollison)

“..if you lend your skills to other systems that you don’t really believe in, then you might as well never have lived. You haven’t expressed yourself.”

There’s no need for anyone else – we are sufficient to do everything possible to heal this Earth. We don’t have to suppose we need oil, or governments, or anything. We can do it.

and here are a few nice tributes/obituaries:


  1. I swear I heard Bill exclaim “bastard!” when, upon hearing his family’s request to plant a tree for him after his passing, I went out with a chainsaw and cut some down – harvesting several eight-year-old, 18 metre tall eucalyptus regnans I’d planted in New Zealand where they grow like rocket ships. One of thousands of trees we’d planted as part of thinning and all that, but still, that definitely did the trick. It sounded to me like he was smiling as he said it though ;-)


  1. Love it Michael ;-). And done deal, Bill and Leonard Cohen each have a honey locust planted next to each other. Hard to imagine that conversation!

  2. Nice write-up Dan, thanks for sharing. Nice job capturing Bill’s spirit through those quotations. Many of us around the world filled with gratitude for the man and his work, just like you. Now go plant a tree, you bastard! 😉

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