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All things fall and are built again: a neopeasant response

Fire. One of the most significant phenomenons of this world. Fire makes us human, transports us into technological animals, transforms ecologies, and devastates life when we do not accept its uncompromising feedback.

The seven year old on the right in the below pic is Patrick, joined by his older brother Sam in 1977. They are on a camping trip with their father, Robert. On this night Robert (the photographer) lit a fathering fire after making a fire circle – an early rites of passage for his boys – and cooked a meal.

Four decades later Patrick and Meg light monthly fire circles and gather with community folk to listen deeply to one another and more-than-human life. Each circle, held within the Southwest community forest in the south of Djaara peoples’ land, starts with a listening to country. In an unprecedented time of fear, anxiety and aggregating bushfire cycles, these fire circles provide opportunities for collective reflection and care. And for transformation.

While a far greater acceptance and understanding of fire in Australia is required throughout the various non-Indigenous communities, there are things we can do to reduce bushfire risks.

For us, the most obvious things to mitigate bushfires have been to refuse air travel, boycott drought-producing supermarket products, and compost car ownership. Increasingly refusing drought-making economy and tools, has enabled an advancing of our form of neopeasantry, slowly transitioning over the past 12 years, making an immeasurable number of mistakes, which we’ve converted into an education, and a home.

Five years ago we began taking action in the forest near to us, on the edge of town in one of the most fire-prone regions in the terra-nullius-fiction state of Victoria. We work with neighbours and friends, transforming ourselves into community shepherds.

Our forestry practices marry bushfire mitigation with post-correct biodiversity values. Djaara people, First Custodians to this land, traditionally have managed their country through lores that maintain such a marriage. We’ve been organising community working bees to remove tyres from the creek,

plant trees,

and herd the most ecologically-sound weeders we know.

Above are a few of our co-op’s goats reducing weeds and bushfire risk at Daylesford Secondary College in the spring. Below are our goats carrying out guerrilla bushfire prevention on the edge of town this summer. Working with animals outside industrial-commercial relations connects us with our animal selves. We become dog and goat people.

Animals. Labouring with animals, being animals, eating and honouring them after fire has cooked up all those acres of medicinal fodder – blackberry, gorse, elderberry, broom, wild apple and oak – connects us to our ancestors and produces relationships of interbelonging between species and with land. To kill for food is sacred work. Whether we pull up a carrot or slit a throat. Souls are transformed. Life and death dance together to make more life possible.

There are always hierarchies, the question for us is whether the ideological order we subscribe to supports ecological hierarchy or mass-death hierarchy? The food we produce is some of the most nutritious money will never buy. Food that has been produced requiring almost no transportation fuels, no deforested pastures, no irrigation, no packaging or additives, and no industry-science laboratories.

Some of our walked-for food is produced by reducing the dominance of pioneer plants and their fire hazards, and in doing so moving ecological succession into the next phase to increase the number of species in the biome. The question of meat or not to meat is not a simply-packaged reductionist exercise, it’s an enquiry into ecological, cultural and economic functioning, or dysfunction, depending on what sort of consumer we are.

As ecological eaters and actors on Djarra peoples’ country, 100% of our manures – goat, dog, duck, hen and human – go back into the soil to make more life possible. This flow of goodly shit within a closed-cycle and walked-for poop-loop, gives to plants – the great converters of life.

Plants. Forests of trees make rain. An expanding body of evidence supports the idea that forests, in the right conditions, not only make rain locally but also hundreds of kilometres away. Our druidic ancestors held strict tree lores. Druid universities took place in sacred forests. The trees were the professors.

Cultures that remove forests remove rain. Ingenious swidden agriculture grew Mayan cities and civilisation, for a while. As civilisations grow, increasingly more people become urban-centric and thus increasingly estranged from direct connection to land. Thankfully, all city-empires collapse. Ours will too. Cities represent the pinnacle of primitive thought, smugly bound up in ideologies of abstracted culture making, which inside the context of the city appear sophisticated and advanced. When such smugness reaches a tipping point cities collapse, the monocultures that feed the city return to forests or diverse perennial ecologies, rain returns, populations decrease, animism flourishes again.

All things fall and are built again. And those who build them again are gay.

Planting fire-mitigating, carbon-sequestering, shade-producing and moisture-retaining trees is now our emphasis. We’re being led by the trees themselves, oldtimer and newcomer species that have established their own inter-indigenous logic on Djaara country – blackwood wattles, English oaks, native ballart, wild apples, sweet bursaria, elder, holly and common hawthorn.

These forests make rain and they retard fires, while producing for us and countless others nourishing food, materials for habitat and more-than-human medicines that the Capitalocene will never access.


Food. There are well meaning people who are always trying to get us to scale up, put our food into a marketplace, subject ourselves to time-poverty, grow our art in capital-career terms, and generally get us to be more real in the realm of the Capitalocene. But what we do is modest, and we recognise that the scale must remain small, intimate, informal, flexible, and it must embrace uncertainty and constant change.

The market demands assurity, which in turn becomes a force against life. Assurity is essentially boring, so the transaction is a boredom in exchange for money, which can buy empty promises to fill the hollowness of modernity. While the spirit and ethic of what we do is free to grow, our household-community economy operates at a scale that enables ecological accountability and market degrowth. If the scale of everything is small, everything is novel, everyday there is a mosaic of labours, which never get boring.

We now know the origin stories of our food,

the medicinal properties of hundreds of plants.

how to turn raw materials into fermented wealth. 

and many processes for making prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

People. An increasing urbanised civilisation produces ever greater enclosure laws. Peasants are kicked off ancestral lands, forests are cut down, ships are built, people once bonded to sacred land become transported slaves who in turn find their way to freedom and join their equally traumatised jailers in dispossessing other indigenous peoples. For the Capitalocene is really the Traumaocene. Healing societal trauma begins with a consciousness of the ruptures and displacements and the severing off from connection to ancestral (loved) land.

While living our ethics and values is foregrounded in forest, garden and community biomes, the political work to protect what’s left of the Djaara commons is also important.

We are currently fighting our local council on their proposed revised local laws, which are effectively new enclosure laws being brought onto unceded Djaara peoples’ country, drafted by lawyers in Melbourne. One such local law seeks to ban open fires in a public place, on non-total fire ban days. As Patrick argues, this attacks ancient cultural practices. Other laws stop us from salvaging waste, or mitigating bushfire threat. The laws are supposed to make us safer, they often don’t. Five people have died in cars in our shire in less than one month and our council is concerned about someone cutting themselves on the metal piles at the local tips while salvaging the waste of the Traumaocene. Cars kill animals, people, poison waterways and stoke up the bushfire gods, yet they are the most protected machines of hypertechnocivility.

In effect the local laws drafted set institutional creep deep into unregulated social life, disabling the status of alternative economies, environmentalism and culturing. A bunch of us are running a campaign to stop this state interference of local governance. We ran a meeting, we put together a website and made submissions, which were recorded and shared publicly.

Then on Invasion day, January 26, we came together to ‘fess up to the legal fiction of Terra Nullius.

People make a difference. Four years ago council was livid we established the Terra Nullius Breakfast outside the Daylesford Town Hall, without a permit. If we had asked permission, or applied for a permit, we would have likely been refused. This year council reached out to be involved. We are not Libertarians, but we’re not compliant puppets either. We believe in strict lores. We do however baulk at Capitalocene legalism. People make a difference. Unregulated actions change the culture. We all have a role to play in reculturing society from pollution ideology to diverse modes of low-carbon living.

People make a difference. Showing up makes a difference. Grandparents make a difference!

Permaculture scholars and filmmakers make a difference!


Wise forest women make a difference!
People on bikes make a difference!
Walked-for regenerative energy makes a difference!
And forest children (who are Free to Learn and who will never know what NAPLAN means) make a world of difference!
Until next time, Dear Reader, we need to get back to the real work now…
For those wishing to come to one of our two next house and garden tours you can find more info here
If you’re just beginning your transition and would like a non-monetary online course in permacultural neopeasantry, start at the beginning of this blog (2009) and read forward, then smash your device and get digging. Working the soil gets you high.
A special thanks to Giulia and Michal, doctoral students currently living with us and sharing knowledges, labour and love. All the better pics in this post are theirs. We love you both and we love living with you.

Towards post-colonial bushfire mitigation practices (using goats and hand tools)…

The Austrian painter Eugene von Guerard painted this in 1864. An early colonial image of the place our privilege calls home.
There was a rapid appearance of European peasant goat grazing, browsing and shepherding upon Djaara peoples’ land at the moment when those who spoke old Dja Dja Wurrung tongue, and had survived the prior massacres, sickness and dispossessing intransigence of settlers (backed by the British nee Roman law terra nullius), were being forcibly relocated to Coranderrk.
Due to gold extraction, over grazing and then industrial-era forms of land management the wet gullies and creeks of Hepburn and Daylesford are now infested with woody perennial weeds such as gorse, broom and blackberry. While these plants provide useful ecological services – habitat, food, soil stabilising, etc – their dominance can diminish biodiversity and produce a fire threat each warming summer.
We’ve been involved in providing a climate-era response to this predicament that may be just more blind colonialism but ironically we think it is potentially a way back to the sort of land management practices of Djaara people. Using goats over a 4-year period as well as sensitive hand tools to diminish the dominance of weedy perennials, we believe we can begin to convert these steep stream ecologies back into perennial indigenous grasslands and ecology that will radically reduce bushfire risk.
As Goathand cooperative, we have just finished a trial collaborating with the Hepburn Shire Council and Federation University and the results are very positive. What we need now for this climate-safe weed and bushfire mitigation project to both upscale and outscale is broader government and community understanding of the succession process that could lead back to the possibility of Dja Dja Wurrung ecological burning processes, which have not been viable because of great stands of 2-3 m dry gorse, broom and blackberries that can climb fire up into eucalyptus canopies.
Below is Goathand cooperative‘s first film showing the trialling of goats and hand tools. Imagine this scaled up to 200-300 goats (permanently rotating around the shire so as not to overgraze until the dominance of the weeds are treated) and 10-15 human bodies with loppers and pruning saws for a few day’s work here and there. The people labour is generally nominal because the goats are so effective, but the human labour and goat interrelationship makes a beautiful marriage (not just pragmatic but one of love) and moves us towards a significant post-industrial behaviour change. Very quickly the town’s bushfire risk (Hepburn is one of the most fire-at-risk towns in Victoria) and weed cycle would be greatly diminished and no more glyphosate in our waterways or soil disturbing mechanical treatment or white-fella burning regimes, which all put the weed cycle back at stage one, dry out moisture in the soil and thus causes more fire-proneness. This is not ideal when temperatures are warming.
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If you’re a journo and you’d like to know more about Goathand cooperative, please get in touch.

Fire in our hearts; fire in our bellies

Fire! It’s wild, feared, harnessed and praised. Our first tool. Like the Greek story of Prometheus stealing fire to give to mortals, Djaara people – on whose land we have made home – also have their stolen fire story. Waa, the raven, was originally white and in stealing fire got himself burnt. We heard this told at Yapenya in Bendigo recently. All comers were invited to come witness this new Djaara ceremony.

Djaara women performing Yapenya, before the ceremonial fire is lit. 

Performing new ceremony is soulful, much needed work. Former SWAPs Connor and Marta – who met at Tree Elbow, got hitched, travelled far and wide and moved back to the area – are expecting a child. Patrick lit a fire for Connor and a number of men gathered in the forest to warm Connor into fatherhood with stories about being dads, sons and men. The night was transformative, a kind of medicine.

Meg concurrently held a women’s circle for Marta and again the night revealed many insights and gentle sharings, and this group also realised ceremony was missing in their lives as women.

The cultural absence of gathering around fire, in forests and in other more-than-human environments, led us to establish Make & Play a few years ago. Patrick has recently begun a second weekly group for older kids called Feral & Free – a radical form of scouts (drawing on both the ecological masculinities and ecofeminisms of our day). The following quote from Patrick’s book re:)Fermenting culture, which excavates the fire stealing creation myth of western culture, has been cited as the epigraph in the recently published, Ecological Masculinities: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Guidance:

A culture that has lost its beginning story is a culture adrift, destructive and self-harming. While the West can be seen as synonymous with imperialism, this is not our old people, this is not our true culture, gender-lopsidedness is not our only heritage.

Feral & Free crew

The Celts reportedly said that a woman’s soul is male and a man’s soul is female. How’s that for oldskool gender fluidity? The father fire (technics) and the matering earth (ecology) are within us together, regardless of how we identify. They are not opposing stories, they are intertwined. We are technical animals; storytellers. Story derives from fire.

Story features at all these gatherings in the forest. It is stories – what we tell out and to ourselves – that make us who we are. When we gather and speak together across a fire a raw heartfeltness springs forth. Courage to do this is more than required. Woody spoke his first public story recently, at the local community Cicada storytelling night. He mustered all his pluck to raise himself from his seat and make the slow walk up onto the podium at the Senior Citizens’ Room behind the Daylesford Town Hall. His story was called Spring Blossom, and he quietly spoke of beholding the blossom of a wild apple, trying with his 6-year old language to conjure that earlier moment of praise and delight for the tree, for all of us to share.

Pic: Juanita Broderick

Stories heard from across the crackling foci of the fire speak to our ancient selves in our present bodies. The podium or stage can adversely change this intent, but that’s another story for another time.

Woody is growing up within a general household narrative where a commons (of any form) is never to be capitalised, where an economy (of any form) never enslaves us or makes ruin terra mater. On working out how he is to save up for a new guitar he said: “If I get the sticks from the tip to make my kindling bundles, then I’m not selling them from the floor of the forest but only selling waste.” This ethic he did not learn at school but by learning to think with a forest’s thoughts. What if the dominant value system shifted from unrestrained growth at all costs to the sanctity of humus and earth others at all costs? What transformations of culture would we see?

If we know that the tumorous Internet of Things is just the next sales pitch in a long line of greed and intransigence, how do we garner the courage to turn away from such seduction and face and embrace humus, and all the quiet things of earth not screaming for attention? How do we perform other stories that don’t just passively go along with the dominant, egotistical ideology?

Pic: Laurel Freeland
Woody has been setting up his fire-starting stall beside his dad’s edible weed ID stand at the Daylesford Sunday Farmer’s Market. Like the mushroom ID stand Patrick offers in autumn, spring is weed time, and there are many beneficial autonomous plants to eat, make medicine from, preserve and ferment. None of these gems beneath our feet require climate altering transportation, weeds move around without industrial distribution systems.

Weed knowledges are just some of the things we’ve been sharing on our Permaculture Living Courses (PLCs) this spring. Foraging for weeds is a powerful way back to sensing what ecological economies might be performed in the near future. Weeds constitute about 5% of our diet, but because of their many health-filled properties this constitutes about 40% of our preventative medicines.
On the third and final 2018 PLC we hosted Ryan, Lucille and Clare for two weeks, and reperforming commons of all forms was central to the curriculum. As was making leek kraut, another arsenal in our preventative medicine chest as it is both a pre- and probiotic.

Just three students at a time is small enough to engage intimately with the many interrelationships and layered learnings within a permacultural neopeasant household. We began the course with a big list to get through, that grew and grew from this picture on…

Wood was collected on bikes from areas of forest where fuel reduction burns take place. We talked about the importance of reducing fuel load going into the fire season while at the same time leaving more than enough for habitat, mycelium and humus production.

We also scavenged useful materials from the tip such as chicken wire and fire wood. (If you’re reading this in your inbox you’ll need to click through to our blog to watch the video below).

We gathered elderflowers for brewing tonics and ciders in ready for the festive solstice period.

We planted pumpkins at the community garden, yet another goodly place for reclaiming and expanding the commons.

We prepped beds (double dug and humanured) in the Tree Elbow annual garden. By the time a PLC participant leaves The School of Applied Neopeasantry they would have been introduced to the imperatives of origin-known food. They are also introduced to our economic form: subsistence first (nourishment of household), surplus second (gifts in and out to community), money third (paying the rent and bills). If money by its very nature must grow as an economic form, and knowing what this means to terra mater, it must be sent into degrowth. Money constitutes just 30% of our economy now. We are active degrowth-ers.

Each day of the PLC, when we broke for refreshments, we engaged in discussions on the philosophy, poetics and politics of neopeasant economy, permaculture garden-farming, or regenerative culture making (take your pick of language). Oh, and the subject of Zero was a high priority…

While philosophy, poetics and politics are important, they are nothing without a sleeves-rolled-up pragmatism and a goodly interspecies back scratch.

While Ryan, Lucille and Clare were with us we updated our fire plan, a three page document featuring various codes and scenarios, and what our actions will be with each. We’re sure this doc will be put to use a number of times this season.

We carried out a dress rehearsal on the first Very High day in early December. The PLC participants will no doubt call on such prep work well into their climate changed futures.

Bush fires are, of course, going to be more and more frequent, and more or less a direct feedback to neoliberal economics. Thanks Jordan Peterson environmentalism! Thanks neoliberals everywhere! Thanks belligerent Baby Boomers and your mainstay Ayn Rand ideology! Go get ’em Hercules, Superman, indulgence tourism! Plugging and filling our gutters with water is really such a quaint response to the climate leviathan so indelibly ready to pounce. But plug we will.

As a car-free family, we (ironically) need to be even more prepared on fire risky days than those with cars. Which days we stay home and defend and which days we leave early (on the bus out of town after hopefully persuading the driver to let Zero and his PTV rail approved dog carrier on board because we are, pleadingly, climate refugees) will be critical to call. Packing special items and required documents to have on hand throughout the season is just one of the many tasks listed on our plan.