Today was an anxiously exciting day. This was going to be the first time I was going to meet the Co-Founder of Permaculture, David Holmgren who is going to be the backbone of the film I'm making; Permaculture The Documentary. A lot was riding on this meeting. For one, the only time I had to speak with David was a very brief period of an hour over Skype that I had weeks before I flew over, and the second; I really wanted him to be the backbone of this film, sort of a narration between topics and that took you on that journey. There were many questions fluttering in my head and nerves were creeping in. Could I pull this off, would he want to talk about his personal story? I had never taken on such a feat of a project, nor tried to simplify such a complexity such as Permaculture, so would I be able to navigate my way through the bundles of information and subjects while we spoke, and arrive with compelling content to form a narrative for the film?
That morning I woke up clutching for extra blankets. It was freezing in terms of chilliness and by chilliness it was about 3 degrees, and my cold scale was pretty low as I was still used to the 36' degrees celsius in Perth. I looked at my phone next to the bed, it was 6am and if I wanted to see the sunrise, it was time to get up.
I threw on thermals, scrounged around in my suitcase trying to find a clean shirt and jacket, grabbed my batteries off charge, picked up the camera and headed off to David's Property in Hepburn Springs, about a 10min drive from where I was.
My plan was to capture the sunrise around David's property in the early hours and make the most of the golden hour, before meeting with him and Su. I really wanted to capture a sense of place where David lives and tell the story behind who he is, as I believe this would really be the most important part of making this film. I imagined the sun bursting over the property and the cold air stirring as the sun kissed the dew in the grass. Morning beauty some might call it. My mind quickly snapped back to reality...
The sky was lightening as the sun rose and in about 10 mins it'd be all over the hills. I had to get to David's pronto. I went up the hill and through the trees I could see the tops of the forest covered hills. Where the sky met the trees, a pink strip started to form. I continued on, winding down the road, eventually turning into a gully. One more street and I'd be at David's, but it soon dawned on me; I wouldn't be able to see the sun from the gully where David lived. If I was going to capture the sun rising, I'd have to do that from the hill I came down. I chucked a U'ey and drove back up the hill looking for the pink sky, but it was now a dark blue. The sun was beginning to rise, but the buildings along the street shielded the view. A flash struck my eyes. This could only mean a gap between me and the sun; a clear view. I pulled over grabbed my camera and tripod and trecked behind, what seemed a vacant block. I set my camera to time lapse and waited for the sun to kiss the camera. GTS! (Got the shot)
I headed back to David's and pulled down his street. It was surreal to see, or shall I say, it was surreal to not see the place where Permaculture's co-originator lived, as there were trees completely covering the view of the house.
I parked down a gravel road next door and sat there for a while taking time to soak in the atmos. The magpies were gargling in the trees above and the wind rustled the trees. I took a deep breath and grabbed my camera and walked towards the back of the lot. I wasn't scheduled to meet David a few hours, but had the ok to shoot the property prior, so I quietly moved down the fens line to see if there was anything I could get a shot of while the sun was peaking over the gully. A large grey kangaroo bounded in front of me about 50m away. I thought great, an action shot with wildlife, but as soon as I pointed my camera he bounded into the orchard. spewin!
I took some shots over the next hour heading down towards the stream that ran through the property and saw someone gathering an electric fence. I walked back up the ridge and went to greet them. They had their back turned, so to not shock them I said, "good morning" from about 10m away. An elder lady turned and faced me and said, "Oh hello, are you the filmmaker?". I replied, "That's me! Hi, I'm Craig are you Su?". She affirmed, "I am Su and these are my girls". Su pointed to a couple of white goats that came out behind a tree. "Hallo!", I responded excitedly and moved up to take a closer look, but hesitated when I realised their horns. Somewhere deep in the brain, a distant memory, or instinct warned me; watch for horned animals. Or maybe it was just the old Footrot Flat Cartoons I used to read. Wal Footrot was often charged by the resident goat. Either way, some instinct was cautious-ing me. I left the goats for now. I asked if David was up and Su said he was just near the gate. I thought it'd be best to introduce myself, even though we weren't meant to catch up for another hour.
I walked over and saw a young guy, in shorts, barefoot and in a bright blue jumper. He was staring at my waste. I greeted him, but with the goats throwing me off with hesitation, I was in a bit of a defensive state and thought, what the hell is he starring at? I had a sudden feeling of, "oh my" as I contemplated; this must be what women feel like when they are objectified. I had a sudden urge to say something witty and clever to put this starer back in his place. As I gripped the handle on my camera, it suddenly became clear; he was staring at the camera. Face palm! The camera was a giant crazy thing with cords hanging off it, of course he'd stare at it.
I shook his hand and he introduced himself as Mick. He was a kind simple soul that spent most of his time up ladders picking fruit, or building compost piles. Later, he told me he rode his bike from Queensland down to Victoria to come and stay and work with David and Su. Quite a feat!
I was so concerned about making sure this was a good first impression that ironically before I even said a word, I had completely thrown myself off. I was defensive, embarrassed and thinking in circles in my own mind and then David walked up, "Hello". "Hi", I replied and looked towards the gate and saw David walking towards me. His face was so familiar. I'd read books, watched other interviews and felt like I had met him many times before. It was surreal to see someone like that in the flesh. Much like when you meet someone from TV, except I was making a film about this person, so it was weirder.
David immediately started talking to me about the property and how recently a major bushfire came the closest it has ever come in the last 30 years. He said they were the only residents who were prepared to stay and defend and that they had been preparing since building their house, designing in bushfire resistance on their property. The fire ended up stopping at the lower end of the gully where the stream wound through the hills and met a large native gum forest. I wanted to start rolling the camera, but I didn't have the right setup. I was only setup for picture and I hadn't attached proper mics for sound. I was kicking myself for not going all in to begin with.
He took me down to show me where the fire went through and we followed the stream edge down along some well worn paths. The gully was what I thought was a natural beauty. It had steep sections with long tall trees scattered throughout the stream-bed. The variety of trees was evident. Some native, from Europe growing nuts and something typical I hadn't seen, but only heard about through Footrot Flats; the dreaded blackberry bush. A problem that seemed to only pop up in New Zealand and the south eastern states of Australia. To me it was like a myth and legend as I recall a comic strip where Dog from Footrot Flats tries to save sheep who were caught and stuck in the blackberries. Their thorns stuck to everything. Here I was, seeing it for the first time and I kinda saw it as a famous person. I was looking at it like, wow you're famous, you're in that book!
There was no doubt, it was exactly how the comic told it; no exaggeration. I headed up the side of the gully to get a better vantage point as David pointed to the dry brown forest in the distance. "That's where the fire came through, you can see it from up here", he said as he mountain goat-ed up the gully. I took the camera to get a nice contrast of the green foliage coming from the gully and backed up into some shrubs. My shirt became stuck on a blackberry vine behind me. I yanked and twisted and struggled to get free. Like a fresh green sheep in Footrot Flats, I naively tugged harder and the thorns dug deeper and pierced my palm and lodged in like a splinter. I was hoping Dog would spring out as the fierce Grey Ghost and save me... He didn't.
I managed to tweezer it out with my finger nails, while sharing the Footrot Flat's story with David. He'd never heard of it, but he told me the reason there was no blackberries back towards the house was because of the goats. "They love to eat it", he said. "We take them out daily to munch on the blackberries as a natural form of management of the land, as not only does it stop the blackberries taking over, which is traditionally controlled by herbicides, but also is great feed for the goats that is free and the goats themselves give us milk, cheese and meat". I could see his Permaculture mind sparking and firing. Such a holistic strategy on just blackberries.
We decided to head back and to talk over what I had planned to shoot for the rest of my stay and also about what his movements and time was like for the following three days. He brewed a coffee substitute over the wood-fire oven, which I forgot the name of.
I had a sip. Dang that tastes like coffee, but it wasn't. I was going to ask what it was again to remember, so possibly I could grow this when I got home. Dave began talking about his concerns and thoughts he had around the film, but I was still thinking. What is the name of the coffee substitute? Bummer! I had forgot it. I had to focus, this was something that David was worried about. He was adamant that Permaculture should not be too focussed on ownership and be seen as some sort of revolution caused by someone. He was making a point that although it was indeed conceptualised by Bill Mollison and himself, the fact is that many of the ideas and concepts already existed in much of Indigenous cultures around the world, they had just consolidated this into a thinking process and design tools for modern day to live with the land.
He used an example of how former governments who once had taken power and presented controversial ideas, were seen as revolutionists, but really were just reiterating ideas that had come before them and was seen as a movement. His concern was, that by presenting Permaculture in this way could loose its purpose and become just a moment in time of little significance for future generations.
It was tricky to follow, but I think I understood what he was talking about. I had to double check and asked if what I thought was what he meant. Instead of explaining it further, he put it down to two ways things can be seen when presenting 'revolutionary ideas' to change the world. One is it becomes a movement, but has the possibility to fall into a cult-like following, but really gain a lot of energy and traction. The other way is; to present it by showing and by doing so, you will be encouraging people through showing it is possible. He believed showing is much better way to present your message.
I finally understood what he meant. He had thought about the ways in which Permaculture would be presented to people through a film deeply and he wanted to know how this film would be presented out of those two ideas and I was getting the gist that he thought showing would be the way to go.
The only thing was, I could see a bridge between the two, so I pitched to David, "I believe you might actually be able do both by using storytelling." I have been studying and working through trial and error with storytelling since I began shooting documentaries. The one thing I found is there is something very primal within story. If a story was told that not only shares the experience of what you are doing, but also what you are trying to achieve, you are able to not only have a message that inspires people to change (Like a movement), but you can also show them how to do so by showing how they came to that conclusion in the story (Showing by example). David sat back and thought about it for a minute and took a long sip from his mug, "Ok, well shall we setup for the interview?"
I was thrilled! My whole purpose of coming to interview David, wasn't just the fact he is the last living originator of Permaculture, but he is the only one who can truely tell its story and story is something that I believe can change the world.
Next post covers the interview. Make sure you follow for future updates.