Friday, May 29, 2009


We've been eating locally gleaned fruit since January and this week marks the end of the season; apples, plums, blackberries quinces and pears have been in abundance in these parts and we have had free fresh fruit for almost six months.

After eating this food it is not possible to eat supermarket fruit again. In the meantime our own fruit trees are growing up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Starting off

I first started gardening when I was in primary school. I watched my Dad striking Margarita daisies and asked him to show me how to do it. Several weeks later my first tray had struck more or less, and I had caught the propagating bug. Throughout high school I built up a collection of plants and designed and tended my own herb garden. I built a hot house and turned the old chicken run into a well ordered wholesale nursery. It was probably my nursery, writing, music, drawing, painting and first serious girlfriend that got me through my troubled high school years. 

Before I left home for art school I sold the nursery to pay for a 10 day white-water rafting trip down the Franklin River in Tasmania. This was my first excursion into the real wild. The interrelationship between mimicking ecology (permaculture gardening), creativity and wild nature forms my art practice today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mulch Island

or, this is what we think of newspaper work (after Gertrude Stein).

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Our house bakes in Summer in the afternoons when the sun radiates through the West side slit windows. It heats up the house dramatically and we wont, of course, get an air conditioner. So we've been saving our pennies to build a carport that will block out the sun and house the car underneath. Other benefits include no defrosting of the car's windscreen in the colder months, and our books inside, which spine to the west, wont need to be covered up from direct sunlight again.

Ideally we'd like to get rid of our car, but living in the country with poor public transport it's not yet possible. Last year we sold our second car and haven't looked back. This one will prove more difficult, but once we work out how then my carpentry business will become my bikepentry business, and this carport will make a lovely greenhouse (with red trims).

Alphabet mask Zephyr (A :- Z)

Saturday, May 23, 2009


It is easy to be caged by words: A convincing argument about a two-state solution; a memoir de profundis; a quote I've carried since I was nineteen –
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If you want to become better at joining the dots... read this

I've since come to understand the reason why school lasts thirteen years. It takes that long to sufficiently break a child's will. It is not easy to disconnect children's wills, to disconnect them from their own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment they will have to endure...

I'm not saying by all this that Mrs. Calloway, my first grade teacher, was trying to murder the souls of her tiny charges, any more than I have been trying to say that individual scientists are necessarily hell-bent on destroying the planet or that individual Christians necessarily hate women and hate their bodies.
Derrick Jensen argues that the dominant culture's processes are psychopathic and destructive and that this destruction is often rendered invisible, or seen as "normal". The culture rapes and exploits because Darwin (and later Richard Dawkins' selfish genes) tells us this is what dominant cultures do. But Jensen reminds us that bears do not dam rivers and kill all the salmon, nor do they harvest all the berries until there are no more left. They understand that if their food supplies are healthy so are they. Thus they don't bred beyond the land's capacity. This model is what Herman Daly calls steady-state economics. The dominant culture's selfish genes destroys traditional communities in order for civilisation to expand. For those who survive, assimilation is absolutely necessary so as we no longer witness how these communities had got it so right for so long. And this is why it's so important not to use words like abuse, genocide or destruction when it comes to teaching our children about what we have done to traditional communities and ecologies. Instead destruction and violence must be rationalised to appear virtuous and reasonable – the characteristics of a psychopath.

"We're here to liberate the people of Iraq and spread democracy".

Jensen illustrates that the dominant culture's unwellness is due to its disembodied state, devoid of feeling, devoid of the visceral, creative and spiritual dimensions of life. At a systems level school traumatises us, the trauma is normalised over thirteen years, and we become competitive, destructive capitalists ready for work. Jensen argues we were not born this way. Modern schooling came with industrialisation, developed simply as a way to sever the body from the head, a necessary performance in the manufacturing of the modern wage-slave. 

We constrain children spatially, we give them highly processed, out-of season food and when they fly off the walls we label them with disorders such as ADHD. Our culture is pathological and cruel, however by investing in Descartian science or in a Descartian God we can avoid admitting we are truly unwell peoples. 

In A Language Older than Words, Jensen is mapping out a comprehensive third option.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A steady-state crawl to self-sufficiency

It's been a year and a half since we started the garden. We began with a cleared block and one beautiful 30 year old oak tree. The soil we inherited was highly disturbed and compacted clay. Since we started we have brought in about 18 cubic metres of mulch, weekly collected green scraps from a local cafe, regularly gleaned brown biomass from the neighbourhood, occasionally bagged horse shit from the nearby horse farm, paid for mushroom compost, and free-ranged about 12 chickens. They're outside the window as I write. They bring us so much pleasure.

Here's what the garden looked like in November, 2007. The first thing I did was build a garden shed out of reclaimed materials and a dry stone wall to deal with the cut that our neighbours had created for their house site.

Over Summer this year we got up to about 25% self-sufficiency, while our indigenous grasses, banksias, wattles and sedges took root and began to grow. We failed dismally with both our sunflower and potato crops due to the lack of soil quality, but our leeks, corn, lettuce, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, broad beans, snap peas, cucumber, onions, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, basil, strawberries, chillies, herbs and rhubarb were incredibly generous in what they provided for us.

So, this winter it's soil improvement time again. More raised beds are about to be built and I've just gleaned more top soil from local council works up the road, brought down by a friendly worker in his truck.

Here's what the garden looks like today.

With permaculture one mimics natural ecologies to grow food in healthy environments. In other words one establishes a significant connection between indigenous and exotic plants, microbes, insects, birds and animals. This constitutes a collective health based on diversity and relations of common substance. Hierarchy, or relations of avoidance, are not honoured here. That's why this garden is based on non-capitalist principals. It goes without saying we don't use anything synthetic on our land. We do, however, kill weeds on our drive by pouring boiling water onto them. This process kills microbes in the soil so we don't do it anywhere else in the garden. And there are many other ways we still behave like capitalists competing for dominance, and this is why our garden to date merely represents a steady crawl away from the dominant culture to a socio-ecological embedded life.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

If it's advertised it's probably toxic

A follow on from Pollan's thoughts...

If you join the dots between a thing advertised and the materials, environments, humans and non-humans used in the process of making that thing, you'll see what I mean.

Take this example:

I walk up to the shops in my town... a massive water tanker passes me by... they advertise their phone number on the side of the truck... I call them up... I'm told they cart bore water for bottled water companies such as Big Wet and Coca-Cola... I then call those companies... they confirm that they exploit this public resource... once public to the Djadjawurrung before their genocide... I start to think about the water being taken from an ecosystem and wonder what large scale, long term water mining will do to it... I start to think about how much carbon pollution the bottled water industry generates by trucking its product around the country... and about the amount of oil required to make the plastic and therefore the landfill of toxic waste...I find out, in Australia alone, nearly 500,000 barrels per year, and for what? Because everyday people like us, just trying to earn a living, conned us into believing that bottled water is cleaner and healthier? My body, my temple – fuck the rest of everything else. 

Conned by religious nuts, conned by business creeps, conned by dodgy politicians? Or do we just con ourselves by falling for the comforting lies of madmen? Why do we pay them attention, why do we pay them our wages?

Here, in my hand is one dot (a discarded water bottle thrown from a car window), and over there is another dot (the ecological sources of that waste). It's up to us to join the dots, for they represent industrial civilisation; they represent our modes of production; they represent us – ecophobic, disembodied and ignorantly abusive.

Take any advertised product, spend a day online researching who's behind that product and where the materials used for it come from, make numerous calls, join the dots, factor in the transportation costs to the environment, and I guarantee you'll find what I have found. Welcome to capitalism! 

It's now time to "grow your own food, catch your own water [and energy], and say hello to your neighbour" – Roberto Perez, Cuban permaculturalist, Daylesford Town Hall, 2008.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't buy any food you've ever seen advertised

Michael Pollan is one of America’s leading writers and thinkers in the country on the issue of food. He is author of several books about food, including The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his latest, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. In light of what he calls the processed food industry’s co-option of “sustainability” and its vast spending on marketing, Pollan advises to be wary of any food that’s advertised.
Watch here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Open wound, closed-mind

This time last week I had just opened up my knee up with my trusty old Husqvarna 394. In the meantime, as you might of gathered, I've been reading Derrick Jensen's brilliant critique of René Descartes' "I think, I am". Are we to assume by this maxim that Descartes, a hero of modern science and philosophy, didn't experience bodily pain?

"René, my friend, don't you feel anything?" asks Jensen.

This is what my wound looks like today.
I used to believe that Descartes' most famous statement was arbitrary. Why hadn't he said, "I love, therefore I am," or "I breathe, therefore I have lungs," or "I defecate, therefore I must have eaten," or "I feel the weight of the quill on my fingers therefore I rejoice in the fact that I am alive, therefore I must be"... I no longer see Descartes' statement as arbitrary. It is representative of our culture's narcissism. This narcissism leads to a disturbing disrespect for direct experience and a negation of the body. Estranged from all of life, Descartes thought that everything was a dream, and he the dreamer.
Does Descartes' ever-expanding dream explain why companies like Monsanto dump millions of tonnes of poisons into the world's environments and strut about as though they have delivered the world a gift? Does it explain why animals are often the subjects of our abuse, or why all the ecosystems our culture comes into contact with are unwell? Does it explain why Aboriginal peoples are still largely treated with contempt or simply silenced and ignored? When we dream, Jensen is suggesting, the bombing of innocent civilians, the rape of women, the beatings of children, the genocide of indigenous people, the stealing of another's resource, the polluting of the atmosphere are all made very possible. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

I am, I think, I deny (Ian Plimer)

Clive Hamilton, in his feature, "Nature will deal with skeptics", critiques climate change denier, professor Ian Plimer's monological world-view. Hamilton describes Plimer's "reason" as coming from one whose ego has been bruised by a new era of ecologically embedded science. 

Read his article here.

While permacultural and biodynamic science are making inroads into modern existence methods (by recalling ancient methods), tech-driven science persists with its make-believe: we can invent our way out of ecological crisis with more product and more technology. The former system understands ecology and promotes steady-state economics, the latter persists with aggregate-growth economics and thus relies on continued resource wars.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Compost –

Conversations with non-humans

Story after story, they pile up, dozens upon dozens of conversations, with or without words, conversations with pets, bears, coyotes, rivers, trees, owls, hawks, eagles, mice.
A friend said, "That's all very nice, but do you have any scientific verification?"
I have plenty of empirical data, but that just means I'm relying on direct experience, not abstract theory. Strictly speaking, scientific verification is impossible, because science is by definition the study of objects, and a conversation is an interaction between two or more subjects. In science, you repeat an experiment in a controlled environment, and you eliminate variable after variable until any moderately careful person can make the same thing appear. Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words, p.64

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Too Much of Me

Click for bigger. Image from Art Monthly, May issue 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cuts, Descartes and compost

I put a chainsaw into my leg this morning because I am enjoying Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words so much I wanted to get off working to read more. It's true. Well partially true, I did put a chainsaw into my knee this morning, and I did get to read more of Jensen's brilliant book in all the waiting rooms I sat in.

I talked to the physician as he stitched 6 internal and 10 elegant black knots across my knee, finding out about his most difficult jobs – the violent attacks by bottle cut drunks, the vomit he's endured while being on duty, the guy who bit half through his own tongue – it took three hours to stitch, he told me, with perspiration beading along his forehead.

After he cleaned up he left me to wait for the nurse to come and jab me a tetnis shot. While I waited Jensen was in full swing critiquing René Descartes' 'I think therefore I am' maxim, arguing Descartes as the father of the disembodied; the father of aggression against sentient non-human nature. 
Because life is uncertain, and because we die, the only way Descartes could gain the certainty he sought was in the world of abstraction. By substituting the illusion of disembodied thought for experience (disembodied thought, of course, not possible for anyone with a body), by substituting mathematical equations for living relations, and most importantly by substituting control, or the attempt to control, for the full participation in the wild and unpredictable process of living, Descartes became the prototypical modern man. He also established the single most important rule of Western philosophy: if it doesn't fit the model, it doesn't exist...Welcome to industrial civilization. Jensen p10.
Swine flu is just another recent event that shows Descartes' philosophy, like its counterpart Christian-capitalism, to be so utterly misguided. But, this is supposed to be a week of compost related posts. 

Change and flexibility, though not in my left knee right now, are also constant subjects for any garden. Blood and bone is, of course, also required material for any healthy garden, and equally good for a compost. When a chook of ours dies or I have to kill one because she is not well, I bury her in the compost respectfully. Her body feeds the brew, drawing greater diversity of microbial life to the heap. When I die I want to be composted aerobically, I couldn't think of a better way to spend my death but sequestering carbon for future life. Speaking of which, here's a pic of Zeph gleaning old grass clippings for compost along a public laneway close to home.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On death, sex and compost

One of the fantasies my girlfriend and I share in bed is our compost fantasy. It's one where we become part of a whole underground domain; our bed wriggling with a world of re-embodying substances, de-centered egos, legs and limbs akimbo, rolling and turning in a field of damp, warm loving life.

What is so inextricably sexy about taking a heap of gleaned organic biomass, fetid kitchen scraps, sweet smelling forest mulch, and chicken, horse and cow shit, and turning it into dark chocolate compost, rich in microbial life? Well for me, apart from the material goodness it provides for the garden, it also means I don't have to visit supermarkets and other centres of abuse, denial, silencing and avoidance.

It's International Compost Awareness Week this week. So, here at The Garden there'll be a number of compost related posts. But first, a picture of one of mine cooking beneath one of my "prohibition" signs (related to yesterday's post).

Friday, May 1, 2009

The level of denial

A number of years ago I was a participating artist at a land art event in Queensland. It was called The Floating Land 03. I installed three site-specific signs around Noosa. One along a bike path near to the regional gallery, one among the mangroves that you experienced by timber boardwalk, and one on Main beach.

The work on Main beach (pictured above and below) was gagged, or rather silenced for a short period during the event. Someone took offense and wrapped it up with fabric and gaffer tape. The reason I'm recalling this today is because I just read this quote by comedian Elayne Boosler:

"When women are depressed, they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country".

The futility of this quote lies with the author's vision. She sees the two different responses to melancholy as being somehow unrelated. One is acceptable behaviour and one not. However the two responses are inextricably related. Man invades another country, justifies the destruction and theft of resources (by creating an enemy monster), makes more products with the resources to be consumed at home, which in turn fuels the illness of aggregate desire specific to modern capitalism. Both the consuming and the warring are acts of violence in modern life, only one is direct and one more mediated.

Unlike most of my friends I was sad to see John Howard go. Yes, I was. It meant an end to this horrible man's smug and mean spirited rule, but it also meant that we were heading back to the more indirect and veiled branch of the same party. As I expected, the Labor party has delivered almost the same government as Howard's, only with more fuzzy rhetoric and more sophisticated greenwash. Early in his office, after the Port Arthur massacre, Howard carried out his only good act as a politician, the disarmament of personal firearms. However, he made up for it later when he followed Bush's phony resource war to the Middle East. His logic: killing fellow Australians is inexcusable, however killing Muslims for fossil fuels is totally cool. Similarly, Rudd early in office, delivering his Sorry Day speech, brought us all to tears by 'fessing up to the brutality of white Australia; the genocides and repeated abuse of Aborigines by our very own colonising forces. The moral force of his words are still to this day just beautiful words, something educated people in positions of power are very good at displaying.

How many more years we have to wait for a politician to act morally is anyone's guess. Here, at the Garden of Self Defence, I generally don't dwell on what the Liberal-Labor party are up to. Many of the solutions to resource war, ecological destruction, male aggression, monotheistic colonisation, aggregate-growth capitalism, carbon emissions, genocide of indigenous cultures, pathologies of industrial agriculture, and abuse committed on non-human nature (by all of the above) can be found in community-based permaculture and heirloom seed gardening.

Photographs by Jonathan Sligh.