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Lesson 03 – Historical Permaculture

Where and How did the Permaculture Movement Begin?

Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison

Bill was born 1928 in Stanley, Tasmania. He is an Australian researcher, author, scientist, teacher, and biologist. He is considered to be the “father of Permaculture” (although Joseph Russell Smith was the first to write about a system of permanent agriculture in a book entitled Tree Crops, published in 1929, and also a book from 1910 entitled Breeding and Use of Tree Crops).

Permaculture is an integrated system of design which Mollison co-developed with David Holmgren, and it encompasses not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture, and ecology, but also economic systems, land access strategies, and legal systems for businesses and communities.

In 1978, Mollison collaborated with Holmgren and they wrote a book called Permaculture One.

Mollison founded The Permaculture Institute in Tasmania, and created a training system to train others under the umbrella of Permaculture. Mollison’s system of train the trainer has taught thousands of people how to grow food and be sustainable using the Permaculture method.

He received the Right Livelihood Award in 1981 with Patrick van Rensburg.


David Holmgren

David was born in 1955. He is an Australian environmental designer, ecological educator and writer. He is best known as one of the co-originators of the Permaculture concept with Bill Mollison.

Holmgren initially concentrated his efforts on testing and refining his theories, first on his mother’s property in southern New South Wales (Permaculture in the Bush, 1985; 1993), then at his own property, Melliodora, Hepburn Permaculture Gardens, at Hepburn Springs, Victoria, which he developed with his partner, Su Dennett.


A Brief History of Permaculture’s Beginnings

by Andrew Jeeves

Permaculture started in 1975 or 1976 as a public interest when Bill was talking about it to a friend who had a friend who was a radio interviewer on the national, government-run, radio station in Melbourne. Bill was asked whether he wanted to do a talk-back program at this radio station. So he did. It turned out to be the most interesting talk-back program they had ever had. The board was just lit up for the rest of the day. People were asking what it was about and where could they get more information.

Bill, at that time, had a manuscript that he had been working on, just ideas. He thought now was the time to publish something because there was so much information needed. He had at least three thousand letters coming to him saying, “Where can I get more about this?

At that time, David Holmgren was writing a thesis at the University about Permaculture, working together with Bill who was directing his research. So they got the thesis together, Bill added some more, and they rushed together a book which turned into Permaculture One.

Twenty-five thousand copies were printed. Within three years they were out of print.


Out of that came a group of people wanting to get together to talk about Permaculture. They decided to set up an association. The International Permaculture Journal now had about three thousand direct subscribers.

Regional Permaculture groups started. People get together once a month or every two weeks to talk about Permaculture. Maybe they get something going politically or set up a bio-regional association to let each other know what is going on regionally.

They are swapping plants, and mapping species of trees in the bush which are good bearers of nuts, and operating a seed exchange, that sort of thing. Thirty-six of those groups in Australia arose in the first four years.

Everywhere we hold a workshop, a group usually forms and starts doing something. Every one of those groups seems to be performing a different function.

Bill decided that Permaculture Two needed to come out because there was more information. There was also a need to update a lot of the material in Permaculture One and change the emphasis from theory to something more practical.

We got the manuscript together that Bill had written. It was pretty haphazard. I went to stay with the editor of the Quarterly and we put it together and edited it some more.

Then we had thirty thousand of those printed. This book is now reprinted.

Bill went to America, just lecturing and going from place to place with a few books and selling them, and scraping the money together so he could get to the next place, not really having much money, buying a van in California for $700. It was during that really hot summer and the van died. Bill was stuck out in the middle of nowhere, dead van, and wondering whether this was all worth it?

Then he went to the Futures Conference in Toronto. There were probably 1500 people there. They gave him a little spot, and he gave a talk about Permaculture. Someone asked him whether he would like to talk again.

He said, “Yeah, OK.” There were 700 people at the next meeting. And he was asked to talk again, and there was a bigger crowd. Bill was one of the main finishing lecturers. When things seem to fall down a bit, and no one knew where to go on from there, Bill got up and started talking, and everyone was going, “Wow! Listen to this guy!

After Bill’s trip across the USA, a few groups of people decided that they wanted to hold some more workshops. One of these was The Rural Education Center. Where it spread around the world and is now the basis for Permaculture Design Courses worldwide.

Bill wrote the encyclopedic primer of Permaculture “Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual” which he used as the basis for his courses on Permaculture Design.

After Bill began his teaching career, he saw the need to make a more user-friendly Permaculture book for his students.

He wrote Introduction to Permaculture, which is also used by Rak Tamachat Permaculture as a basis for our Permaculture Design Course Curriculum.

Permaculture owes its beginning to not just Bill and David, but to a myriad of other Teachers, Authors, etc.