The original dream for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet

April 5, 2010 – 3:07 pm

I’m mining the archive!



Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet from Shirley’s house, 1993


The original dream for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet was very different from the back-biting and suffering we experincce every day on this community. It was a dream with substance and charm. A real dream.


Here’s a photo of the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet from Shirley’s place (lot 6) in late 1993. An exhausted dairy farm being transformed into a Permaculture Hamlet.


Shirley has been explaining to me how the process worked. That heady mix of dreaming and practical realities.


She’s been explaining what her intentions were, coming here alone as a widow in her early sixties. She was dreaming of community. And support. A place to put down roots and live into her older years. Her own, ecological, architect-designed house.


A place where she (a distinguished fine artist with works already in the National Gallery) could paint and create in peace – embraced and supported by Nature’s beauty and bounty.


Embraced and supported by a community of like-minded people caring for Nature and for each other.


What exciting days those were!


The dream was so inviting; the vision so bright; the intentions so clear.


Promotional material for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet


Here’s the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet insert in the Northern Star for late March 1994:


Star Focus on Jarlanbah March 1994


This is the vision we need to revisit.


How can we update the vision and re-align with our current version?


How can we move forward in harmony, cooperation and peace?


I look forward to your comments.


All ideas are welcomed. Contrary views are welcomed and and invited.


Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter”¦. Obliged to you for hearin’ me“¦.

(re)visioning Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet

April 3, 2010 – 9:44 am


It’s Easter weekend: a time for reflection on renewal, blessings and hope.


I am awash with fresh insights following a fascinating community mediation about the dual occupancy (accessory dwelling unit) issue on this community.


Sometimes people leave intentional communities. See “Leaving Utopia”, click here: Leaving Utopia – MARY GARDEN


Things are different now. We’re settled in, the toilet is built, the deck is a daily marvel and my three books have been birthed and are now for sale.


I realise that I can no longer turn my back on the goings-on in my own immediate community and focus only on other communities.


There is much to learn from this small eco-village and much that needs to change.


The Jarlanbah archives


With the help of my elderly artist neighbour, Shirley, a founding resident, I have been exploring the Jarlanbah archives from the early 1990s.


What a tale they have to tell us!



Robyn Francis


The birth of this community in 1993 was accompanied by deep reflection and much dreaming, bearing in mind the state of the Earth and a deep desire to care for Nature in all her wondrous beauty. The developer was completely aligned with these ambitious social and environmental objectives. The designer, eminent Permaculture educator and designer, Robyn Francis, keeps in regular contact with many of us and recently has been helping us understand the deeper intent of our founding principles with respect to intergenerational equity, density, community infrastructure, inclusion and sustainability.


She’s reminded us of the strong focus on inclusion in the founding documents. Given that today there’s a lot of exclusionary thinking about in the world, it’s a salutary reminder!


Those of us who live on Jarlanbah are blessed to have Robyn as a neighbour. Awarded NSW Rural Woman of the Year a few years ago, she’s a Permaculture designer and educator of international eminence.


For Robyn’s award-winning teaching, education, training and design work, see:




How I wish I could have been part of that early planning process!


The far-thinking developer, John Hunter, his planners and designers (and then the first residents) spent long hours exploring alternatives for the social and physical design of this place. It was a dream that was both far-looking and practical; resilient and able to be modified.


We’ve lost our way”¦


For reasons that I will explore in this blog, I believe that we’ve lost our way here in the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet.


But I am confident that it’s not too late to bring the original vision up-to-date, realign with it and and move forward in cooperation, self-reliance and harmony.


I’ve pasted in below the poster that used to be on our sign at the front gate: the original dream. The sign went missing but the dream is still alive in the hearts and minds of many early

Jarlanbah Hamleteers. And the newbies are now learning what our founding mothers and fathers had in mind.


The details of the dream are spelled out in a detailed Management Statement and fascinating early newsletters, which I will also post for people to read.


We need to understand our history here.


I need to understand it!


Blessings on you all this Easter weekend! May we all live in peace, cooperation and harmony.


The promise, if not (yet) the reality”¦


The blessings of a composting toilet

March 11, 2010 – 6:51 pm


After four years living on our half-acre block and over eight years in total including time visiting on weekends, we have a toilet.


We christened it a few weeks ago with great delight and considerable relief (pun not intended).


Neighbours and friends wonder why this basic amenity has taken so long.


I sometimes wonder, too.


But with the wettest two years since European settlement delaying construction of our large roof, we had to work quickly on other projects when we finally did get the roof on.


That required several alterations (dismantling, cutting and re-welding) to the massive box gutter which was splashing all over the interior house timbers.


Now it’s all working.


We have a roof and insulated exterior walls and a box gutter that handles great floods of water.


So we could finally turn out minds – and our resources – to the toilet.


A Farallones Institute Composting Privy


I was surprised to find out what the design for a composting toilet which the local Council approves was first published by the world-famous Farallones Insitute in Berkeley, California in 1976.


I was living in Berkeley in the late seventies and much admired the Farallones Institute and the Integral Urban House (see:


The Farallones Institute was an independent association of scientists, designers, horticulturists and technicians which served for several decades as a pioneering centre for teaching and research in appropriate technology and sustainable design. Integrating architecture, agriculture, waste recycling, water conservation, and renewable energy, the Institute has been widely recognized as a model for ecological design. The Farallones’ resource conserving systems, solar dwellings, and organic gardens have been used extensively as a teaching tool.


That famous place. And now I was about to have one of their two-chamber composting toilets.


The toilet turned out to be much more work that I expected (though I did not build it.) Because it does not get direct sunlight, it has two chambers. After six or nine months, one is decommissioned and the other one is used for a similar period of time. The compost is put on the fruit trees.


Seems fine to me, though having two separate toilets in the bathroom is a rather quaint touch. We did not have toilets like that in North Vancouver.


So now we do not have to trudge 50 metres in the rain down to the community toilet. That was sometimes challenging when we were sick, it was raining heavily or the grass on the slope to the community building had not been cut. More than once I’ve slid down the hill to the community toilet on my bottom.


Gratitude to the Jarlanbah community and goodbye community toilet


Karl’s so happy not to have (in his words) to “push s**t uphill” any longer, as it was his job to clean out the community toilet while we (and many others) were using it. He had to haul the compost in a wheelbarrow up the hill 50 metres to bury it on our lot. That was a hard job, which he did uncomplainingly. But as he says, it’s good to know that it’s your stuff if you’re carting it.


He has great tales about what he found buried in the Jarlanbah community composting toilet! And it certainly wasn’t “our stuff”!


Good riddance to the Jarlanbah community toilet



Toilet Heaven

But now, rain or shine, we are in “toilet heaven”.



The kitchen is next.


Then we can benefit from Karl’s bountiful kitchen garden, currently fallow, but ready for reviving once he has a break from the seemingly endless task of house building. (I know he’d gladlygive up the ladder and welder for a spade and trowel!)


We’ve been at this house-building job for three years now. And now that my three books are published, I have more time to help.


We’re hoping to christen our new home before the end of this year. In the meantime, when we think of people who are so much less fortunate than we are, we’re reminded that we’re blessed with two huge tanks full of water, a cozy, dry place to sleep and a spacious deck for entertaining.


The world ice hockey champions


On which deck, to the great delight of our dear Canadian friend, Marnee and her Irish (but pro-Canadian) husband, Ollie, we watched the Olympic television coverage last month for sixteen exhausting nights.


A passionate, newly demonstrative nationalistic Canada reminded us that Canadians are (and must always be) the world ice hockey champions!


Right on!





One Sleep ’til the Windows Arrive: The joys of owner building

August 2, 2009 – 9:52 pm
The Guest Bedroom, August 2009

We’ve been living in our shed for three and a half years. House under construction for two and a half”¦


And on Friday the windows arrived for the guest bedroom in our house-under-construction project. It has walls, doors, a roof, a floor and almost windows.


Tomorrow morning at 9 am Ken is coming to help Karl install them.


I’ve been reflecting about how much this means to me. It’s so marvellous here these sparking winter days.


It’s absolutely freezing at night as we huddle around a fire on the deck in our Mexican chiminea. Then it’s up to 30 during the day.


Many blessings


I’m blessed to be living in a rural paradise, awakened by the raucous laughter of a dozen kookaburras in a nearby tree.


Spending late winter afternoons watching a family of five wallabies relaxing and eating the new grass shoots on the lawn.


I WANT TO SHARE THIS. But it’s not much of an offering to urban people who have baths and toilets and kitchens when I say I can offer a tent or a rat-infested shed. A wash under the hose.


A lovely prospect


But the prospect of putting a bouquet of fresh flowers in a vase in the guest bedroom, hanging ironed curtains on the new screened louvered windows, setting out a few good books on the bedside table, a candle, incense”¦ that is such a delightful imagining.


It brings a great yearning to my heart. Many dear friends have visited us in our chaotic circumstances.


We’ve trudged them around the muddy building site, stumbling over piles of timber and peering into unfinished rooms, gesturing where rooms could be, how the roof could go”¦


“I couldn’t live like this.”


One, appalled, could only say, “I couldn’t live like this.” Others have hugged us and offered all means of encouragement. Very great encouragement. Everyone marvels at the beauty of the place.


Tonight I was sharing my enthusiasm for the guest bedroom by phone with Leonie, twelve thousand miles away.


Maybe she’ll come to visit after Christmas. We might have the box gutter sorted out by then. I reassured her that her room is rat- and python-proof, fully mossie-proof.


It has a great view of the escarpment.


Great ventilation.


A private verandah. It’s very quiet. We even plan to have key locks on the guest bedroom doors so that guests can leave valuables and not be worried by our relaxed rural attitude to security.


So, one more sleep to an almost-ready guest bedroom. One more step toward the hospitality I dream of.


Feels like Christmas Eve.


Sad postscript the next day: The windows were too big for the spaces. It was the Builders Picinc Day in NSW (a holiday I had not heard of!) so could not sort it out.


Much disappointment. (Watch this space”¦)


A day later: Ordered new windows. We’d apparently violated some window-measuring protocol. Supposed to call it “make size” to include the window reveals (whatever that means”¦)


Our fault.


But they fit in the living room. Still, it’s not the same.


Ken did a great job of brushcutting instead”¦


Sept. 7th, 2009: The windows are in. At last! It’s gorgeous. It’s ready for guests. Cosy and homey. Not exactly “finished” but filled with love.


March 2010: The exterior walls are insulated and clad, two new windows added above the original ones, an internal screen door to allow for more cross-ventilation and we’ve had our first proper guest.


Now that we can offer the convenience of a beautiful composting toilet next door, it’s even more inviting.


Come to visit!

The Guest Bedroom March 2010



Natural Disasters: A Tale of Two Banks

25 July 2009 2:19 am



Build bank

While we have not been as badly hit as many flooded communities in Queensland and New South Wales in recent weeks, things have been messy here.


Roof iron blew off the shed roof, the python got in, as well as rats and mice. And many things were damaged.


Paper did particularly poorly.






Up a ladder and too tired to pay the account


So imagine me on the day that a credit card account was due for payment trying to convince Karl – up a ladder for hours mending the roof – to pay it online as only he knows how.


Understandably, he chose bed after an exhausting day and the account was late.


In the morning – at 9 am – he paid it. I then rang the bank to ask for a remission of the late fee.


I proudly answered all the identification questions: my childhood pet, great aunt’s maiden name, Karl’s favourite brand of German sauerkraut… Anne, from Tasmania, seemed sensible enough.


Then came the question I could not answer: what recent charges have you made on this card?


The earlier statements were with my bookkeeper, who lives in a local community whose road access was flooded out by what the locals came to call “the chasm”.


Airlifted tofu


(As a side note, it was humorous to hear that all the tofu in Lismore was bought up by the emergency services and airlifted by helicopter to the cut-off alternative community members!)


Anyway, I could not remember my purchases. It never occurred to me that they would be, of course, on the statement I was ringing about.


Anne didn’t think of that either.


The upshot was that I was deemed not to be me and therefore had my credit card access cancelled.


“I AM me! Truly, I am. Ask me anything else? Ring me back on any of the numbers you have on file,” I cried, then remembering that the floods had cut the home line.


“Ring me back. Email me! Anything! I’m in a tiny village. Don’t make me go into that terrible bank again with those appalling people who send me away, telling me I have to make an appointment to collect my credit card. I have sworn never to go into that bank. Never.”


On my desk is the morning paper with their latest advertisement: “We’re for… [all good, sensible, community and local things].”


I’m encouraged to believe that they are the bank I can bank on.


They are for me. Hah!


Deep carpet sobbing


I am crying now. Deep carpet sobbing.


I ask to speak to her supervisor.


The supervisor, also from Tasmania, takes the same hard line. She does not say my name because, of course, I am not me.


I am not me


I am not me. I have to drive 75 kms. round trip to Lismore. I have been cut off.


I explained again, sobbing, that I was me, that the account was paid, that all I wanted was a little compassion (the neighbouring community got helicopter loads of tofu, for God’s sake!).


I closed the account and moved things to another bank .


Which bank?


(Which bank? That bank!)


There a compassionate and generous officer sorted out my affairs and made me and Karl cups of tea.


Complaint addressed


In the end, someone from “complaints” rang from the first bank and apologised.


But when I asked here whether State Government policies on natural disasters had any impact on how banks operate, the woman said she did not know. She thought probably yes.


Disasters come in many forms.


For us, blessedly spared, this one just brought us a lot of mess and the loss of some treasured mementoes.


And a new bank. With real people.

Living with a Gypsy

July 5, 2009


Today the Gypsy and I were sorting hardware. Nails and screws.


It’s been a rough week in community engagement and I had to do something else than listen to bureaucrats and aggrieved residents.


I had to get my hands dirty. Get grounded.


Living on a building site generates a massive amount of mess. It’s hard to manage from day to day, particularly with few dry places to store things. Today we were sorting roofing screws from other screws from nails and clamps and tools of all descriptions. Rusted saws (it’s humid here), worn-out paint brushes. Dead paint tins. Odd unidentifiable objects.


Very therapeutic.


Gypsy’s work bench


I have attempted to clean up the Gypsy’s work bench a number of times in the last sixteen years with little success. He’s always tinkering. Genuinely of Romany blood (probably about one-third), he’s a tinker by nature and genetic disposition.


There is nothing he cannot fix.


We discovered that the solar garden lights you buy at the hardware store have a life of about three months and then they start to decline into fickleness, eccentricity, dementia and finally death…


But the Gypsy keeps at them. Resuscitating them. His table is littered with carcases of globes and pickets as he revivifies them one by one. He recharges their yellow batteries and cleans their connections with my nail file. The he gently sets them back to glow along the gravel path.


There are knives to be sharpened and electrical equipment to be repaired. And when the rain took out the phone, endless tinkering with a huge range of cords and adapters to make the phones work again.


Birkenstocks glued back together


I grew up in a household where everything was broken. So I love this quality in the Gypsy. He’s glued my favourite Birkenstock sandals back together so many times they were mostly glue. He’s taken to collapsing Ikea furniture with an artisan’s disdain and made it stand upright again.


He’s built, maintained and endlessly repaired our tarpaulin “hootchie” where we lived for the first few years.


The “hootchie” 2001


His garden is a marvel. His tomatoes to die for. And those chillies!



Old skills


HIs are the old skills. Resilient skills. Like mending and sewing. Knitting. Chopping firewood. Canning peaches. Putting up jams.


Skills we need for the Great Turning: persistence, repair, restoration and loving care.


From my office, I can hear the sounds of kindling being chopped. My chilled limbs predicting another fire in the chiminea.


I am blessed to be the beneficiary of these old skills.


Blessed to be with the Gypsy.

Smoke on the Horizon

21 June 2009, 8:12 am


kites and fire

We’ve had the man from the Country Fire Service around to look over the property.


“Don’t plant any more trees,” he said. “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to live uphill from a gully?”


No more trees.


A hard ask when it’s so hot in the summer.


We’re doing what we can.




When there’s smoke on the horizon, as there was earlier this week, I get to remembering how frightening fire can be in the bush. All my neighbours know this, of course. And my “fire” experience has to do with a very different bioregion: the Top End of northern Australia.


Everything is different there from this subtropical paradise: dramatic thunderstorms, fierce winds, endless periods of rain and dry in strongly defined seasons. The Aboriginal people say there are six: Yegge, Wurrgeng, Gurrung, Gunumeleng, Gudjewg and Banggerreng.


My first bushfire was in August 1991. In Humpty Doo.


I can still smell the fear of it.


I remember the dramatic differences in the “before” and “after” landscape.


sv fire xanthostemon 06

After the Fire, 1991


And I still sense in my body my own terrified response:








In the middle distance I spotted dark smoke rising above a wall of orange. The horizon, formerly hidden by a rich woodland understorey, trees and shrubs, now expanded for acres, revealing the scarred landform’s idiosyncrasies: stream banks, hillocks and depressions. Scattered across this moonscape were burning and smoking stumps, charred skeletons of acacia, woolly butt, kapok bushes, ironwood, carallia, billy goat plums, some without leaves or branches. Only the tallest retained a thin green canopy crowning their blackened branches.


The black, twisted stumps of leafless cycad ferns like amputated limbs. Large birds I’d never seen before spiralled overhead, wheeling and diving on insects and small animals seeking refuge at the fire’s margins.


And the sound of it: the tearing and thudding of huge trees crashing into the earth.


I feel like my life is about to be burned down. With me inside.


That day a hundred acres of neighbours’ bush burns a quarter-mile from my house. Cause unknown. Spot fires burn everywhere, as far as I can see.


Spot fires burn in my heart, burning all my raw places, burning away my shell, exposing vulnerable new places.


Flames are spreading with every breath, spreading throughout my being.


Our neighbour to the west, Trevor, has just planted twenty new shrubs to give us a bit of privacy from each other.


Neighbour Lis, a horticulturalist, bought the plants and Karl helped Trevor with the mulching. I hope they won’t be a problem because we really need to shade the western wall of our new house.


Like Robert Frost, we believe that “good fences make good neighbours”. In this case, trees, rather than fences.


So we try to be prudent and meet our other needs. It’s always this way for us new ones on the block: a sort of awkward, inexperienced, balance … a searching for some sort of equanimity in this rural place …


I try to be reasonable. But I know I’m not reasonable when I smell gum trees burning.


I was too close to that once and it really frightened me.


You can download the full (true) story of “Watching the Fire” by clicking here: Watching the Fire

Fog in the Valley

19 June 2009 at 9:09 am




When there’s morning fog in our valley – as there is today – I go inside. I can no longer see the sacred mountains my activist neighbours saved from logging with fierce campaigns in the seventies and eighties.


My daily glimpse of a politicised landscape to remind me what’s important.


What we’re fighting to save.


My forest.


Even my tiny glimpse of the neighbours is blocked this morning. The fog even seems to silence our tiny ephemeral creek that, this year, is running in the so-called ‘dry’ season.


I go inside.


I stay by my window, inside my memories.


I sit at my desk looking into a wide, grey expanse. Breathe. Then it all comes back.


Vancouver fog in my home town.


I grew up on the boundary of a big city, right at the edge of a dark forest. Most mornings I awoke to the sound of fog and foghorns…





Hoooo hoo.



There were no trees in my suburb. The original forest had been shredded and pummelled flat in response to someone’s unrealistic expectation of building a landing field for small planes. I could not see single living tree growing by the new houses. Not one, not a single one.


In the early days, in the forties, when the houses were brand new, the mountain lions … or were they cougars..? who could say? … still crept down from their forest lairs and along the river banks and wandered the dark winding streets.


Afraid of them and their wildness, prudent householders barred their doors against their shadow-presence. They dreamed of chasing them back to the river. Chasing them back to the remaining vestiges of forest high on the mountain.



After some research, I discovered why we had so much fog in Norgate Park in the early days.


The sawmill not far from our place was still operating and there were few controls on emissions in the forties and fifties.


When the sawmill closed down (they’d cut down all the forests), the fog stopped.


No more mournful foghorn tones in the morning.


But I was gone by then – to seek adventures elsewhere.


What do these musings have to do with fog in Nimbin in 2009?


I’m not exactly sure.


We saved our forests in the Northern Rivers.


Fog is natural in the Rainbow Region.


But this cold winter – colder at night than Vancouver – with frost in the valley- my neighbours – and even our small household – are burning timber in fires and stoves.


How ‘sustainable’ is that?


Knispering: Are Rats Smarter than Humans?

Jarlanbah Eco-village, Nimbin, NSW, 17 June 2009


Karl in the Shed


The Introduction to Kitchen Table Sustainability starts the book off on a bucolic, if pessimistic, note.


Three of the authors are sitting around the tables on the porch of our shed here in Nimbin and speculating about the future and the future of all generations – of all beings.


So far, so good.


All beings


All beings. Good Deep Ecology thinking for a woman with a PhD in environmental ethics.




May all beings be happy and free from suffering.


All beings. Hmmm.


Karl in the shed


For the past week or more, my husband Karl has been up a ladder in the shed with me acting as the trades assistant, that is, holding the ladder.


And what are we doing, two ageing humans with six university degrees between us? We’re trying to rat-proof our 6 metre by 6 metre shed.


So far the little suckers have eaten everything in sight. I mean everything: lids to glass jars, lids to boxes, boxes of files, toiletries, creams and lotions and vitamins and calcium tablets,aspirin, the plastic water filter cartridge AND the carbon pellet contents.


The only thing that dissuades them is a locked metal filing cabinet, which now holds cereal, nuts, and other treasures I’m trying to rescue from the chaos.


Messy eaters


They’re very messy eaters so the floor is littered with their droppings, washed with their urine and blanketed with a multicoloured carpet of half-chewed plastic, cardboard, paper, cellophane, food, vitamins…


The rats came in when the floods came and the winds blew the iron off the roof.


The python followed them, but it got too crowded in the roof space for everyone. So the python (we dreamed he’d evict them) departed after knocking everything off the tops of the bookcases.


He was a messy worker, too.


We’d had lots of rats and marsupial mice before.


But now, apparently sensing that Karl (with a stern countenance, rolls of vermin mesh, a drill and metal rods to attach the mesh to the walls) means business, they are redoubling their efforts to chew up and through everything not locked in a metal box.


Local remedies


All the local remedies are futile: scattering chilli powder where they go, various humane and not-so-humane traps, ratsack, traps camouflaged in potato crisp bags…


Nothing works.


Fortunately, we’re not sleeping in the shed any longer… because the night-time antics of one small mouse can drive an adult human berserk. And quickly.


Tearing out the door and baying at the moon seems a perfectly reasonable response when you have been wakened a dozen times by what German-speaking Karl calls “knispering”. “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!”



Knisper away


Well, knisper they may. But not for long. We’re coming to the end of the job of securing the downstairs of the shed so that they will have to knisper only in the roof space and not in my cherished envelopes of chocolate pudding or my treasured antique fan.


They’re smart, these little creatures. They’re persistent and wily. They make plans for their future.


They take care of their family’s needs. So they should be worthy of consideration as part of our ethical community. (See chapter 3 of Kitchen Table Sustainability.)


They’ve outsmarted us for years. We may be bigger and have bigger brains, but, trust me, rats are not to be underestimated.


I definitely don’t think we humans are the pinnacle of creation or the top of the evolutionary pyramid when I’m standing holding the ladder for hours on end, ankle-deep in rat mess.


And I wonder: what will happen when Karl is too old to climb up the ladder and manage a drill and I am too frail to hold the ladder?


Will rats rule then?


All beings!