In late-2020 Australian permaculture author Linda Woodrow published her speculative fiction book, 470. The publication highlighted the potential of the literary genre to get permaculture ideas across.

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The interaction of science, technology, environment, society and people is a key component in speculative fiction. Photo: The CSIRO’s old solar thermal installation at White Cliffs NSW.

THE LITERATURE OF PERMACULTURE is best described as instructional writing. Books and manuals explain how to grow food, how to design an energy efficient house, how to teach the permaculture design system. It is factual writing. There is reportage too, articles about ideas, permaculture places and permaculture as a social movement.

The practical nature of permaculture books makes sense because permaculture is applied design. The exception is Bill Mollison’s 1997 book, Travels in Dreams: An Autobiography. Bill, with David Holmgren, co-originated the permaculture design system and announced it to the world in 1978 as Permaculture One.

But… what about fiction? Can it have an instructive or inspirational role in the permaculture design system? To get an understanding of how fiction writing influences permaculture and is influenced by it we step into the literary realm of speculative fiction. First, though, let’s figure out what speculative fiction is. …

Stories of the coast…

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Jed’s workshop with a job nearly finished.

JUST FOLLOW the road out of town and take the turnoff, she said. Okay, we’ll do that I say, knowing how easily we could get lost following her vague directions.

No need for worry. We found her place, no false turns, no ending up on some rural dead end. There it was. It’s one of those houses with the hand-made look of an unpretentious rural home… low-key, lived in, comfortable. Nothing shabby. It blends into the landscape of trees and open paddocks and into the fruit trees and vegetable garden that encroaches it. Life as rural idyll, probably.

We stay only one night. We’re on our way along the NSW Far South Coast, heading into East Gippsland then down to the big city where we will board the vehicle ferry that will take us across the Strait. Our friend has been living here for years now. She publishes a magazine and her office, probably what was the first house to be built on her couple hectares, is our accommodation. …

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Fruit, bushfoods, vegetables, herbs and flowers—taking a stroll through The Edible Precinct on the Hobart waterfront.

IT WAS an accidental discovery. Fiona spotted it while we were walking along Evans Street down by the wharves. We found the gate and went in.

“Hmmm… rows of large compost bins, raised planters, fruit trees, veges and herbs,” she said as she wandered off to check out the garden.

We were the only people in the Edible Precinct, which is part of the Macquarie Point redevelopment where old waterfront port facilities are being repurposed to new uses. I’m not going to hazard a guess at its dimensions, but it is a large garden of self-watering planters—wicking gardens, in the jargon. …

Stories of the rivers…

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WATER flows and foams and forms moving patterns of white as it comes down the South Esk.

The foamy patterns are not soap suds or pollution. They are the result of aeration as the water splashes and swirls from turgid rapids to calmer pools.

The effluence of the South Esk into First Basin, below the Alexandra suspension footbridge, is a good place to see the foamy swirls. They also appear in places further down towards where the South Ek empties into the Tamar River.


Cataract Gorge, South Esk River, Tasmania.

Stories of the mountains…

Walking with children on Tasmania’s Kunanyi-Mt Wellington proved a fine challenge easily accomplished.

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High on the mountain trail, Maika makes her way along the Zig Zag Track. In the distance, the town of Kingston, Bruny Island and the open ocean.

THE TRACK from The Springs to the Kunanyi-Wellington summit climbed continuously and steeply until we reached the junction where the Zig Zag Track climbs far more steeply back and forth towards the summit plateau. The track we were following, the Organ Pipes Track, continues past the vertical cliff face of that name and continues on to the chalet, a shelter made of the dolerite rock which constitutes this massif.

We took the Zig Zag. The tracks ascends from The Springs through mountain forest then emerges above the treeline into the subalpine zone of low, wiry scrubs which connects it to the bare, alpine rock field on the summit plateau. …


Spoiler alert: If you are someone who likes to discover plot and storyline as you read, be aware that I discuss these topics in my review. Doing so should not detract from the experience of reading the novel as there is much to discover in it.

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The future’s a weirder place than we thought it would be when we were little kids.…Cory Doctorow

ATMOSPHERIC carbon dioxide has reached 470 parts per million (ppm) and the wildness of the weather is matched by the dysfunction of social conditions, of the national economy, national politics and environmental conditions. In all of this, Kat, Sophie, Zanna and their family and friends do what they can to cope.

That, more or less, summarises Linda Woodrow’s book, 470. The title refers to the concentration of carbon dioxide measured in parts per million in the atmosphere, the common indicator of the extent of global heating. Linda has taken the changes projected to occur at this concentration and woven characters and events around them. In May 2020 we reached 417ppm.

The book raises questions about human behavior, technology and how life might unfold during the collapse of social and environmental systems. Is it one of the growing number of post-apocalypse novels? I suppose it could be read as that, however it is more hopeful despite the disasters Linda describes. …

Technology for the Anthropocene…

Photo source: I don’t know where these photos originally came from. A reverse image search on Firefox reveals multiple sources. My use is media comment for purposes of review and education in compliance the Australian Copyright Act.

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Multiple-purpose landuse through agivoltaics: growing grapes below photovoltaic arrays. Surce: unknown via social media.

WHAT does this photo show? It shows a new type of landscape, a landscape of the Anthropocene. It’s an agrivoltaic landscape — a combination of agriculture + photovoltaic energy generation.

A product of the rise in renewable energy adoption, the bulk of which has occurred over the past 30 years as the world began its shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables, the first iteration of agrivoltaics were the large wind turbines amid farm fields. Large scale photovoltaic systems on agricultural land followed.

OStories of the rivers…

In the days when the rivers ran wild, in the days before the dams and the crowds, there were the intrepid few who dared Tasmania’s wild rivers. This is the story of a few of them.

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I CAME ACROSS Johnson Dean’s book at Petrarch’s Bookshop in Launceston, Tasmania. It was on the specials table out on the footpath where the bargains are. Should I buy it even at this discounted price, I wondered? I took my time in deciding. Maybe, I thought, I could pick it up on my way back. I’ve made that decision before only to find the book gone. So, I took the risk. I bought it.

That was some years ago now. …

Design notes…

It’s just the sort of garden we need in the drying summer heat of a warm temperate climate, when we’re not around to water our plants every couple days.

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The challenge: Construct a minimum-maintenance training garden in a regional park where gardens dry rapidly in the heat of a Sydney summer.

The solution: A self-watering garden that could be left for days or longer without watering.

The problem: Designing and building it.

The permaculture principle: Design from patterns to details.

The pattern was set by environmental conditions, proximity to the teaching centre building and the movement of people through the public open space. This was determined by applying the permaculture principle of observe and interact to assess where the self-watering garden might be built. …

Creative reconstruction…

The old made new again. In Tasmania, a woman, with a little help from her friends, has made a decrepit old farm shed into a shelter for her guests. Perhaps we can call it structural recycling or, maybe, creative reconstruction. This story was first published in By Road & Track.

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CREEEAAAK! With a shove Yvonne pushes open the old plank door. We step into the gloom. The only light is that spilling through the open doorway.

I look around the small shed. No floor, just the sloping dirt of the ground. No lining. No insulation. Gaps between the weathered grey planks of the walls. Not really a place to sit and talk, this ramshackle shed among the old apple and apricot trees, this leftover from the distant days when this place was an orchard.

“See this?”, Yvonne says. “I’m going to make it into a place where guests staying in the bell tent can sit. …


Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.

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