David Holmgren comes in from the garden of Melliodora, his home on the edge of a gully in Hepburn Springs. Tall, 60 and super fit, he has a warm smile and a way of talking that draws you in.

The kitchen sits at the heart of the mudbrick home he built 30 years ago with his partner Su Dennett. Spread out on the table are the first tomatoes and cucumbers of the season grown on the one-hectare block of permaculture garden. In the garden, hardy nut trees shelter more delicate stone fruit trees which, in turn, protect vegetables from the wind. Water is collected, compost made and almost all the food for the household grown. David knows a lot about permaculture – he wrote the book. Together with the late Bill Mollison, he is considered co-founder of the movement that integrates natural environmental systems with human creativity to create sustainable homes, gardens and lifestyles.

Originally from Western Australia, he was drawn to Hepburn Springs because of its cool climate and progressive community.

“The region was at the forefront of the nation’s back-to-the-land counter culture,” he says.

“It has always drawn people for the health and lifestyle reasons the mineral springs offer. And the Swiss Italians, who petitioned to have the mineral springs protected from gold mining in the mid 1800s, were some of the world’s first environmentalists.”

David’s latest project is Retrosuburbia: A Downshifters Guide To A Resilient Future. It’s the culmination of over 40 years of lived research into sustainable living. A collaboration with a team of ten other permaculture experts, the book paints a pathway towards resilient households in the suburbs and country towns.  Places where we are seeing debt and consumerism replaced with a changed attitude in which self-sufficiency and rewarding relationships become the centre of life. “One of the most important things in life is to grow food and talk to your neighbour,” he says with a gentle smile. “You can’t be sustainable on your own.”

David holds permaculture workshops in the Daylesford Macedon region and the book Retrosuburbia is available online at retrosuburbia.com

About the author

Cornish Richard
Richard Cornish
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Richard Cornish is an award winning food writer whose love of the land lead him to explore the issues around food, where it comes from, how it gets to us and why some foods taste better than others. He writes for The Age, SMH, DMT Life and has written eight cook books including co-writing the Movida series with Frank Camorra.