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The environment and agriculture
So I got interested in agriculture back in 1972. The Limits of Growth Report was about a model that some computer people had done at MIT and they’d looked at the whole global system and they said ‘look by about 2030 or thereabouts the current system is gonna start collapsing,’ you know, and they looked at things like food supply, resources, pollution etc. etc. And I realised from a personal level, and at the level of the whole of society, it’s not sustainable, it’s incredibly fragile, brittle. You know we’ve got this amazing system and human ingenuity had created all these things but the underlying fundamentals were being destroyed. The environment -the resources that we depend on. And it just got me thinking and as a result of that, myself and a couple of other friends at the university, we set up an organisation called the Society for Environmental Action. It was one of the early ones -there was another group called Ecology Action outside the university and we all joined that. I started researching various issues and the thing that kind of captured my imagination was the food issue and the fact that farming was industrialised. All those chooks you buy and eggs and it comes from a chook that sits in a cage all day with two other chooks and I just thought that was wrong.
And so one thing led to another and I joined an outfit called the New South Wales Organic Growers or something. I used to go to their meetings and I met someone there who had some land outside of Sydney and I started making compost and growing vegetables. This bloke had some land out at Dural that he wasn’t using. I used to go out; he had this little old cottage and he was building a big new house. I used to go out and just dig ditches for him for a couple of dollars an hour just to get out of town once a week. And one thing led to another and I said ‘why aren’t you farming this place?’ And he said ‘I’m too busy building the house,’ and I said ‘Well maybe I could,’ you know? He said ‘You can have that two acres there.’ So I bought myself a little truck and a rotary hoe, I used to pick up all sorts of organic material and I had these huge compost heaps, doing all that and I sort of liked it, but I was doing it on my own. But I did it for a year or two but at some stage I realised ‘I’m not going to make any money growing vegies, better finish the PhD.’
I’d sort of dropped out at that stage; I’d said to my supervisor ‘look sorry.’ I felt really bad about it because he’d put a lot of energy into the project. The thing that I remember was the professor, the Head of School, my supervisor was away on sabbatical in England and I’d sort of hit a bit of a bump and I said ‘I’ve lost motivation.’ This was the Head of School and I thought he’d blow his top because I had a really good scholarship but he said ‘The two most important things in life are your health and your happiness.’ I was blown out. This was a guy who was pretty hard driving sort of a bloke and he said ‘Take six months off and see how you feel at the end of that.’ At the end of the six months I could see that I wasn’t going to make any money growing vegies but I enjoyed it, so I went back and finished the PhD off which made me feel good too. But I’d had a taste for the farming life if you know what I mean. And I thought, yeah somehow I’d like that to be part of my life – getting involved in the land.
By that time it was 1973 and the Aquarius Festival happened over here in Nimbin and I decided to go to that. And that was my first connection with this Northern Rivers area, but I ended up going back to uni and finishing my PhD. But I sort of dropped out [and] thought ‘oh, I’ll be a market gardener.’ Bloody hard, it’s much easier to do sums and make money. I finished that and then went and did a bit more travelling and came back to Australia. But I never forgot that whole idea, and I used to get all the magazines. There was an American magazine called Mother Earth News. I’ve got them all, they’re all over in the library in the main house and they were great, lots of inspiring stuff in that. There was a big ‘back to the land’ movement in the 70’s, there were magazines called Earth Garden and then in 1980 permaculture came along.