Go to: Family background | Engineering and travelling | The environment and agriculture| Aquarius | Moving to the land | Dharmananda: land history | The landscape | Early history of the Community | Growing food | Dairying | Community work | Working at SCU | Bananas | Neighbours | Sustainable farming | Systems agriculture | Communal living | Shareholding | The agricultural land | Conservation land | Community decision making: guns and herbicide | The lantana
So there are obviously different attitudes towards how you would farm from the old farmers, compared to the new people coming in. What were the techniques you were following?
Well the great question for me is how to farm sustainably, not just on this property but on the planet. And this is a microcosm. And so I got in to any of these things – for example you go back to the early 1980s, permaculture was the big word. There’s even a couple of permaculture teaching places in the area. I got interested in that and went and did a permaculture course. Bill Mollison wrote a couple things, him and David Holmgren put out a couple of books called Permaculture One and Permaculture Two – but none of it was relevant to the subtropics. They were from Victoria and Tasmania. And so a guy I got quite close to for a while, Tony Gilfedder, he was putting out these little magazines, Permaculture for the Subtropics. So I used to go up to his place, he lived right on the border, Tomewin on the Queensland New South Wales border. And to get to his place, which was on the Queensland side, you had to drive up this road and climb over a barbed wire fence which was the state boundary. And he had this amazing view looking down to the Gold Coast right up the back of Currumbin Creek. And so, yeah, we used to have these workshops up there and put out these magazines and I’ve lost them, they’d be collectors’ items.
That’s 1980-1981 and then he and Max Lindegger organised a permaculture course, they’d all done courses with Bill Mollison and so they were anointed to run permaculture courses. They could use the word, Bill owned the word. (laughs) And they ran this course up in Nambour and I went and did that for a couple of weeks or something like that. Came back here and I started a permaculture group and I used to teach permaculture courses at Adult Ed, stuff like that. Did three or four of them and then handed it on to someone else. So permaculture was the big thing…. a lot of good ideas there but I don’t think you see too many permaculture places that produce much.
It’s ….anyway I won’t say any more about that, but I kind of moved on from that and I would describe this place, although a permaculture person would come on and say ‘Oh this is a permaculture thing,’ and ‘that’s a permaculture thing,’ but they tend to say anything that works is a permaculture thing. But I describe this as a standard organic farm with biodynamic overlay. And biodynamics is just a ….the next thing that came along for me was biodynamics.
I’d heard about it and there was a bloke called Alex Podolinsky here, have you heard the name? Some regard him as the father of biodynamics in Australia. He certainly had a big following and interestingly his, I think it was his father, was the deputy Prime Minister of Russia when the revolution occurred there in 1917. He’s an aristocratic Russian. And Alex kind of decamped to Germany or somewhere and ended up in Australia. An incredibly charismatic guy and a very interesting bloke and I got involved in that outfit and I was the local – I always seem to find myself bubbling to the top – and being the secretary or the organiser of that group.
We used to have field days and have up to eighty people come along, you know, in the area – some of them alternative types, small holders and others were kind of commercial level people, macadamia growers in particular. And then about 1990 organics started to get organised and they talked about certification and I sort of got dragged into that and myself and a couple of other guys set up the TROPO (Tweed Richmond Organic Producers Organisation) and I was the president for about the first three years starting in 1989. So anything that was going I’d be in there up to my neck at the regional level you know? Because I wanted to know and I wanted to help I suppose but basically, to be quite honest, at one level it was all driven by a desire to find out how to run this place sustainably.
Yeah, but how does biodynamics work? I ended up parting company with Alex’s outfit, and went over to a different BD association which was based in Bellingen. I ended up being secretary of that for about four years, as well as doing the newsletter and all that. So we used to have field days here. That was the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. We’re getting into the 90s, late 80s early 90s.
So was there an overlap between there and TROPO?
I was doing the two. I was a busy boy, a busy boy. And then Ellen decided to take a year when she was going to go full time to uni like do four units, still externally, and so I had to get a job. And so there I was trundling around the uni looking for; you know where I’d done bits and pieces over the years. Fortunately one of my mates, one of the guys, was going on study leave so I did his unit. I started making a bit of money in the academic realm.
In those early 90s I was full on into the whole organic agriculture thing while at the same time too I think I had chronic fatigue syndrome. And later, in 2005, I got Q Fever which is a disease that you get from cows. Like a little, one of the cows had calved and the calf had a crook foot and I massaged it and that sorted him out cause sometimes their feet can be locked up like that. And a month later I got really crook, went into hospital and I got a thing called Q fever which is the thing that cattle farmers and abattoir workers can get. Particularly in this South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
But when they were doing the serology afterwards, they still weren’t sure what it was but they can tell later when the antibodies show up. They said ‘Mate, you’ve had everything.’ I’ve had Barmah Forest, I’ve had Ross River, I’ve had Epstein Barr which is also known as glandular fever as well as the Q Fever. I said ‘there’s nothing left.’ My doctor said ‘look mate, you’ve had Q Fever very acutely.’ I was lying in bed there, Ellen was away again and sweat…I was totally dehydrated the worst flu you’ve ever had. I just thought ‘I’ve got the flu,’ after ten days Carol took me into the doctor. But the thing was I’d had three major illnesses back in the early 90’s when I was incredibly active you know doing all that stuff. I don’t know how I did it.