This morning I went to visit Djanbung gardens, home of permaculture pioneer Robyn Francis and Permaculture College Australia. The gardens have been around since 1994, and since I was passing through the area I wanted to go and check it out for myself.
Robyn was teaching a PDC when I arrived, but I was greeted and given a really great map of the site, and was left to wander around to my hearts content. It can be difficult going into a permaculture garden without having somebody there to explain the systems in place, but the map really helped showcase the vision and theory behind what I could see.
Gardens in sunny climates are always generally a happy place to be, and I wandered around with a wallaby for company in a lush hidden bamboo grove whilst I was there. The certificate 3 and 4 in permaculture are held here, they also have interns, volunteers and courses running (such as this PDC), and Robyn also lives on site.
The systems they have in place sound great, unfortunately without Robyn to talk through it all I can't really say whether they were all working as they should, it would have been great to have her around to chat to. The map was a great idea, beautiful and well made and a really useful tool with lots of information about the ideas behind the different areas. Robyn is clearly a bamboo enthusiast, with some absolutely incredible huge stands of a variety of different species that she uses for building, eating and firewood, along with running an annual bamboo building workshop. They have been carefully designed into the site to be sure of access (to get them out again, they can grow up to 30m high) and to stop them from spreading too far near the garden (as bamboo sucks water from the ground around at a crazy rate, and also inhibits the growth of nearby plants).
The main building was also clearly very interesting, made with passive solar design and a variety of natural building techniques, using pressed earth bricks and packed sawdust panels within the walls, all created with local materials and very minimal waste going to landfill. Old recovered railway carriages are used for volunteer accommodation, and grey water systems use reed beds to filter and then transport the water into ponds that grow mulch and livestock feed. Black water is settled out and then sent through reed bed filters, and then sent down into holding ponds using flow forms to oxygenate the water.
This was the temperate gardening season for this part of Australia, which meant the gardens were growing all of the things that I recognised from home, though not as abundantly as I would have expected. It made me wonder if perhaps the focus of this place was on education rather than production, and if they had as much support/people around on site to do both..
I had a great realisation whilst walking around Djanbung, of just how important beauty is to me when in a public space, or any space for that matter. There were a few things in Djambung that looked like they needed a bit of energy putting into renewing them. On the map I saw a childrens playground, and as natural inspiring kid spaces are such a passion of mine I was particularly saddened to come across an area that had partly been created with natural materials but was well in need of some love and attention. It looked like the space could have been pretty lovely when it was first made, but that was clearly a very long time ago and a few plastic toys were all that stood out to me. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I was very aware of the feeling this playground gave me, I wasn't inspired to bring my children there at all and they wouldn't have been occupied whilst I was chatting, or studying, unless there was other children to play with, in which case they didn't need a playground at all. Maybe that's not been a focus here, though I wonder if others have had similar experiences. It's thought given to the little things like that that help to make permaculture education inclusive to all of those of us who have small families. A few logs and stumps for den building and climbing on, a tee pee for hiding in, maybe some berries or fruit the children could help themselves to, and some variety of colourful additions to the space that made it feel more welcoming and kid friendly, that would have made a huge difference and is so easy to do.
Djambung gardens are just outside Nimbin, definitely the most crazy hippy town I've ever seen in my life, and there was a really funky old bus parked outside the gates which I think is a mobile library/healing station.
To visit and check Djanbung gardens out for yourself, their details are all here.