The Roots of Permaculture

Permaculture is an amalgamation of indigenous wisdom, much of it stolen.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, the white Australian Bill Mollison did not invent permaculture.

Mollison did write extensively, along with his professional partner, David Holmgren (also a white Australian), about permaculture, and these two men are commonly credited with co-developing the concept of permaculture. To be sure, I probably would not call myself a “permaculture designer” if Holmgren and Mollison had not done the work that they so actively did, beginning in the 1970s.

BUT, collating and publishing information does not make one (or two) the true author of that body of work. I have always thought of Mollison and Holmgren like the two editors of a collection of short stories, or poems–as if they gathered up all of these jewels of indigenous wisdom and shared it, in book form, so that clueless white people like me, and other people around the world, could access it, learn it, utilize it, and make the world a better place.

The more I learn, though, about HOW the practical skills and principles that comprise the cannon of permaculture were gathered by the above men, I am less and less able to believe my old story.

So, what to do with this awareness? Does the baby need to be thrown out because the bath water is dirty? Can we go back and ask for permission at this late date? Does the system of design need a new name? New, more diverse, faces at the helm? More to come.

For a deeper dive than I offer here, please check out Decolonizing Permaculture, written by my Advanced Permaculture teacher, Jesse Watson, as well as another great article (which Jesse also mentions), Critical Questions and Early Answers, by Rafter Sass Ferguson.