Sorry about another long gap in blog posts. I just got back from doing a twelve-day Permaculture Design Certificate course in Kin Kin (on the Sunshine Coast between Noosa and Gympie) with Tom Kendall at Maungaraeeda, the permaculture centre that he and his wife Zaia run. Fantastic experience. After doing some research on available PDC courses (see below), I went to Maungaraeeda with high expectations – and they were exceeded. Tom is a wonderful teacher, very warm, very knowledgeable, and very committed to ensuring his students get the most out of the course.
The course sessions are based on Bill Mollison’s book Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual – Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture, was one of Tom’s PDC teachers (the other was Geoff Lawton). The sessions run for 72 hours over 12 days, and are given credibility by examples drawn from Tom’s long agricultural experience. He grew up on an 11,000 acre wheat and sheep farm at Grasspatch, north of Esperance in Western Australia, which he took over after his father retired. In 2000 he sold the farm and moved to the Sunshine Coast, where he bought the property that is now Maungaraeeda in 2005 and developed it as a permaculture-based operation
Classroom sessions were frequently interrupted for practical activities, including several walks over the property while Tom explained specific permaculture features of the management. It is a delightful setting, in a small valley just outside Kin Kin, with the house and food production areas down near the road, the grazing areas above that, and rainforest along the ridge-tops.
But Maungaraeeda isn’t just about Tom. Zaia is in charge of Administration and Marketing, but in reality her role goes far further than that, and every aspect of the running of the place, from the first contact one has about enrolment to the mouth-watering meals, shows evidence of Zaia’s warmth and attention to detail. From the moment I set up my tent on the lawns near the student dining area there was a strong feeling of “home”.
Tom and Zaia are supported by two long-term volunteers whose personalities and contribution to the running of the course added to the warm atmosphere.
And then there were the other students (there were nine of us in all). All I can say about them is that I think I had the extreme good fortune to find myself among a group of amazing individuals from whom I learned a lot, and whose company I still miss now, five days after the course ended. We parted with promises of keeping in contact and setting up a “class wiki” to share our permaculture experiences and I really hope that happens.
There was a choice of accommodation – byo tent, a dormitory bus, or cabins. I took my own tent, and even though it rained for part of the time, and was often pretty cold at night, it was really comfortable – particularly after they lent me a camping mattress to keep the ground chill out.
I promised above to comment on how I came to decide on doing the PDC with Tom. In fact I had been thinking of doing a permaculture course for a while, and realised about six weeks ago that there would be a window in my commitments around late June/July, so I checked out the courses that were available and not too far away from Southeast Queensland. The three I found were: the one taught by Tom; one led by Geoff Lawton (but presented by seven named instructors plus unspecified others) at Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm; and another at Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, also with multiple instructors. Costs ranged from $1,230 to $2,585, with Tom’s falling in between.
After I’d looked at what information I could find about the three organisations and particularly the backgrounds of their instructors, there really wasn’t any option for me other than Tom’s course. Courses with multiple instructors didn’t appeal at all. Permaculture is a “package” and needs to be taught and understood as that, not as a series of topics. Cost was an issue, but not nearly as much as value-for-money, and with Tom’s practical background and his very hands-on ongoing experience in setting up his own permaculture farm, plus the small class size (they limit classes to 15) the value was definitely there.
Did the course change my life? Yes, and a lot more than I had expected – not in the sense of an epiphany or even a change of direction, but in giving me more confidence that I now have a good theoretical and practical grounding for achieving the goals we have set for our property; and the knowledge that I have someone I can turn to for advice in the future. Not only that, but now, whenever I see any agricultural area, my brain immediately starts mapping out swales – I guess you could say that my “permaculture eyes” have been opened.