Bill Mollison (4 May 1928 – 24 September 2016) was a researcher, author, scientist, teacher, naturalist and has been called the ‘father of Permaculture.

Permaculture is an integrated system of design co-developed with David Holmgren that encompasses not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture and ecology but also economic systems, land access strategies and legal systems for businesses and communities.

Let’s learn directly from Bill Mollison’s wisdom.

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action: of looking at systems and people in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.

A basic question that can be asked in two ways is: ‘What can I get from this land or person?’ and ‘What does this person have to give if I cooperate with them?’

Of these two approaches, the former leads to war and waste, the later to peace and plenty.

It is my belief that we have two responsibilities to pursue:

Primarily, it is to get our house and garden, our place of living, in order, so that it supports us.

Secondarily, it is to limit our population on earth, or we ourselves become the final plague.

Both these duties are intimately connected, as stable regions create stable populations.

If we do not get our cities, homes, and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural systems.

Thus, truly responsible conservationists have gardens…

Few people today muck around in earth, and when on international flights, I often find I have the only decently dirty fingernails.

…the end result of the adoption of Permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and the settlements of people, and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora.

You can hit a nail on the head, or cause a machine to do so, and get a fairly predictable result.

Hit a dog on the head, and it will either dodge, bite back, or die, but it will never again react in the same way.

We can predict only those things we set up to be predictable, not what we encounter in the real world of living and reactive processes.

I confess to a rare problem—gynekinetophobia, or the fear of women falling on me—but this is a rather mild illness compared with many affluent suburbanites, who have developed an almost total zoophobia, or fear of anything that moves.

It is, as any traveller can confirm, a complaint best developed in the affluent North American, and it seems to be part of blue toilet dyes, air fresheners, lots of paper tissues, and two showers a day.

Order is found in things working beneficially together.

It is not the forced condition of neatness, tidiness, and straightness all of which are, in design or energy terms, disordered.

True order may lie in apparent confusion; it is the acid test of entropic order to test the system for yield.

If it consumes energy beyond product, it is in disoder.

If it produces energy to or beyond consumption, it is ordered.

What is proposed herein is that we have no right, nor any ethical justification, for clearing land or using wilderness while we tread over lawns, create erosion, and use land inefficiently.

Our responsibility is to put our house in order.

Should we do so, there will never be any need to destroy wilderness.

Type 1 Error:

When we settle into wilderness, we are in conflict with so many life forms that we have to destroy them to exist.

Keep out of the bush.

It is already in good order.

“Most biologists,” (says Vogel, 1981) “seem to have heard of the boundary layer, but they have a fuzzy notion that it is a discrete region, rather than the discrete notion that it is a fuzzy region.”

For priority in location, we need to first attend to Zone 1 and Zone 2; these support the household and save the most expense.

What is perhaps of greatest importance, and cannot be too highly stressed, is the need to develop very compact systems.

…We can all make a very good four meters square garden, where we may fail to do so in 40 square meters.

We ourselves are part of a guild of species that lie within and without our bodies.

Aboriginal peoples and the Ayurvedic practitioners of ancient India have names for such guilds, or beings made up (as we are) of two or more species forming one organism.

Most of nature is composed of groups of species working interdependently

As we read this, we stand in the plane of the present; we are the sum of all our ancestors, and the origin of all our descendents.

In terms of our model, we are at an ever-changing origin, located on the boundary of past and future.

As well, we are spinning with the earth, spiralling with the galaxy, and expanding or contracting with the universe.

As origins, we are on the move in time and space, and all these movements have a characteristic pulse rate.

We cannot bring order to the wilderness, it is already ordered.

A bird’s-eye view of centralised and disempowered societies will reveal a strictly rectilinear network of streets, farms, and property boundaries.

It is as though we have patterned the earth to suit our survey instruments rather than to serve human or environmental needs.

We cannot perhaps blame Euclid for this, but we can blame his followers.

The straight-line patterns that result prevent most sensible landscape planning strategies and result in neither an aesthetically nor functionally satisfactory landscape or stretscape.

Once established, then entered into a body of law, such inane (or insane) patterning is stubbornly defended.

But it is created by, and can be dismantled by, people.

Stupidity is an attempt to iron out all differences, and not to use or value them creatively.

… the value of land must, in the future, be assessed on its yield of potable water.

Those property-owners with a constant source of pure water already have an economically-valuable “product” from their land, and need look no further for a source of income.

Of all the elements of critical importance to plants, phosophorus is the least commonly found, and sources are rarely available locally.

Of all the phosphatic fertilisers used, Europe and North America consume 75% (and get least return from this input because of overuse, over-irrigation, and poor soil economy).

If we really wanted to reduce world famine, the redirection of these surplus phosphates to the poor soils of Africa and India (or any other food-deficient area) would do it.

Forget about miracle plants; we need global ethics for all such essential soil resources.

As long as we clear-cultivate, most of this essential and rare resource will end up in the sea.

It seems curious that we know so much about sheep, so little about those animals which outweigh them per hectare by factors of ten or a hundred times, and that we do not investigate these matters far more seriously.

Our most sustainable yields may be grubs or caterpillars rather than sheep; we can convert these invertebrates to use by feeding them to poultry or fish.

We can’t go wrong in encouraging a complex of life in soils, from roots and mycorrhiza to moles and earthworms, and in thinking of ways in which soil life assists us to produce crop, it itself becomes a crop.

There is no more time-wasting process than that of believing people will act, and then finding that they will not.

As non-scientists, most gardeners deprived of atomic-ray spectrometers, a battery of reagents, and a few million research dollars must look to signs of health such as the birds, reptiles, worms, and plants of their garden-farm.

For myself, in a truly natural garden I have come to expect to see, hear, and find evidence of abundant vertebrate life.

This, and this alone, assures me that invertebrates still thrive there.

I know of many farms where neither birds nor worms exist, and I suspect that their products are dangerous to all life forms.

Too often, the pastoralist blames the weeds and seeks a chemical rather than a management solution; too seldom do we find an approach combining the sensible utilisation of grasshoppers and grubs as a valuable dried-protein supplement for fish or food pellets, and a combination of soil conditioning, slashing, and de-stocking or re-seeding to restore species balance.

Life is also busy transporting and overturning the soils of earth, the stones, and the minerals.

The miles-long drifts of sea kelp that float along our coasts may carry hundreds of tons of volcanic boulders held in their roots.

I have followed these streams of life over 300 km, and seen them strand on granite beaches, throwing their boulders up on a 9,000 year old pile of basalt, all the hundreds of tons of which were carried there by kelp.

Permaculture isn’t about teaching people how to do it.

It is possible, in Iran, Greece, North Africa, USA, Mexico, Pakistan, and Australia to see how, in our short history of life destruction, we have brought the hard bones of the earth to the surface by stripping the life skin from it for ephemeral uses.

We can, if we persist, create a moon-landscape of the earth.

So poor goatherds wander where the lake-forests stood and the forest deities were worshipped.

The religions of resignation and fanaticism follow those of the nature gods, and man-built temples replace trees and tree spirits.

A great many film stars perched on unstable ravine edges in the canyon systems of Los Angeles will, like the cemeteries there, eventually slide down to join their unfortunate fellows in the canyon floors, with mud, cars, and embalmed or living film stars in one glorious muddy mass.

We should not lend our talents to creating such spectacular catastrophes…

Peat preserves timber, animals, and such unexpected treasure-troves as hoards of acorns and firkins of beech butter from the forests which preceded the bogs.

A whole archaeology may very well lie in peat, and the pollen record may reveal past history.

At the base of Irish bogs the Fir Bolg (the little people), their axes, bridges, butter, and forest life are well preserved.

They and their forests were banished, as if by magic, by the Tuatha de Danan (the Children of Diana) who now dig the peat. Diana was displaced in turn by Mary, mother of God.

But all are mixed in the peat and the tongue of Ireland.

Permaculture planning: 7 Steps

  1. Assess:

    market; future; prices; potential for processing to higher value; labour; shares, legal systems; social necessities and local self-reliance needs.

  2. Analyse and get advice:

    on soils and necessary nutrients.

  3. Plan ground layout and windbreak, access, and water.

    Detailing can follow later.

  4. Plan and carry out:

    essential earthworks.

  5. Establish nursery and use:

    selected varietal forms for new or replacement crop.

  6. Commence broadscale placements:

    with or after windbreak and nurse crop.

  7. Continue by constant assessment, consultation, feedback and innovative trials.

    Fill niches as they evolve.

Brambles, in particular, protect and nourish young fruit trees, and on farms bramble clumps (blackberry or one of its related cultivars) can be used to exclude deer and cattle from newly set trees.

As the trees (apple, quince, plum, citrus, fig) age, and the brambles are shaded out, hoofed animals come to eat fallen fruit, and the mature trees (7 plus years old) are sufficiently hardy to withstand browsing.

Our forest ancestors may well have followed some such sequences for orchard evolution, assisted by indigenous birds and mammals.

There is one, and only one solution, and we have almost no time to try it.

We must turn all our resources to repairing the natural world, and train all our young people to help.

They want to; we need to give them this last chance to create forests, soils, clean waters, clean energies, secure communities, stable regions, and to know how to do it from hands-on experience

Patterning is the way we frame our designs, the template into which we fit the information, entities, and objects assembled from observation, map overlays, the analytic divination of connections, and the selection of specific materials and technologies.

It is this patterning that permits our elements to flow and function in beneficial relationships.

The pattern is design, and design is the subject of Permaculture

Freezing concentrates sugar (maple sugar), alcohol, and salt solutions as efficiently as heating distils water or alcohol from solutions.

Open pans of maple sugar can have the surface ice removed regularly (each day) until a sugar concentrate remains.

Salts in water, and alcohol in ferment liquors can be concentrated in the same way.

In the fall, acorns, filberts, and hickory nuts are gathered by wildlife as winter stores.

Field and pack rats bring in smaller seed such as wild rice from the marshes.

If storages are provided, these foragers will fill hollow pipes or logs, or smaller pipes, old vehicle engine manifolds, and nest boxes or wall cavities.

Seed so collected is sound, clean, and neatly stored. Providing some 15% is left, and given over to winter food for these workers, 85% can be collected for human use.

A few people regularly collect their hickory nuts or wild rice in this way, by providing dens for squirrels or pack rats.

It is a question of cooperation and provision for others, instead of attempting to kill off the experts and do the job yourself.

As we read this, we stand in the plane of the present; we are the sum of all our ancestors, and the origin of all our descendents.

In terms of our model, we are at an ever-changing origin, located on the boundary of past and future.

As well, we are spinning with the earth, spiralling with the galaxy, and expanding or contracting with the universe.

As origins, we are on the move in time and space.

Permaculture is about teaching people how to think about doing it.

A people without an agreed-upon common basis to their actions is neither a community nor a nation.

A people with a common ethic is a nation wherever they live.

Thus, the place of habitation is secondary to a shared belief in the establishment of an harmonious world community.

Just as we can select a global range of plants for a garden, we can select from all extant ethics and beliefs those elements that we see to be sustainable, useful, and beneficial to life and to our community.

Security can be found in renunciation of ownership over people, money, and real assets; to gain, keep or protect that which others need for periods of legitimate access.

A lending library enables people to help themselves to information; a locked-up book collection is useful only to the person who owns it.

If and when the whole world is secure, we have won a right to explore space, and the oceans.

Until we have demonstrated that we can establish a productive and secure earth society, we do not belong anywhere else, nor (I suspect) would we be welcome elsewhere.

It is a challenge to educators to revive the meaningful geometries, songs, and dances that gave us, and our work, meaning

In any group endeavour, there are practical and effective, or impractical and ineffective, ways to manage a complex system.

Impractical, frustrating, and time-consuming systems are those governed by large boards, assemblies, or groups (seven or more people).

These “meetings” have a chairperson, agendas, proposals, votes, or use consensus, and can go on for hours.

Consensus, in particular, is an endless and pointless affair, with coercion of the often silent or incoherent abstainer by a vociferous minority.

Thus, decisions reached by boards, parliaments, and consensus groups either oppress some individuals (votes) or are vetoed by dissenters.

In either case, we have tyranny of a majority or tyranny of a minority, and a great deal of frustration and wasted time.

The way to abolish such systems is to have one meeting where the sole agenda is to vote to abolish decision meetings – this is usually carried unanimously – and another where a consensus is reached to abolish consensus – this too shouldn’t take long.

It is no mere coincidence that there is both an historic and a present relationship between community (people assisting each other) and a poverty of power due to financial recession.

Giuseppe Tallarico

Giuseppe is a versatile and results-oriented Agronomist specializing in Permaculture, Food Security, and Environmental Management Systems dedicated to consulting large-scale farms through the transition to sustainable and regenerative agriculture to achieve maximum profitability naturally while creating a greener abundant earth for generations to come. Giuseppe is an Accredited Instructor by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and a permaculture consultant for the government of Jordan. Giuseppe serves the world permaculture community as the founder and General Manager of the World Permaculture Association, the head of the Urban Permaculture Laboratory Educational Center, and manager of Rigenera, a Permaculture consulting company.

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    Giuseppe Tallarico

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