Bill Mollison, known by many as Australia’s ‘father of Permaculture’, was famously quoted as saying that ‘though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.’ While I’ve always loved this quote, I don’t think I quite grasped its true meaning until our recent visit to Millpost Merino in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.
Millpost has been in the Watson family since 1922. The farm’s current stewards, David Watson and Judith Turley, along with their sons, have lived and worked on the property since 1979. They currently run around 2,000 Saxon Poll Merino sheep on 1,100 hectares.
David and Judith were rebels with a cause. After taking over the property the couple worked tirelessly to regenerate what was once a cleared and windswept farm. They have spent decades planting trees as windbreaks, woodlots, and as protection from the heat, as well as regenerating native vegetation to form wildlife corridors and provide shelter for their sheep.
The result is nothing short of remarkable. Instead of cleared plains of grass and exposed earth, visitors to Millpost find a veritable oasis, with an abundance of trees, native and perennial grasses, and thriving flora and fauna. ‘Deciduous trees cast a dense shade and cool things down,’ says David. ‘We come back into our garden in a heatwave and the temperature drops five degrees.’
David wasn’t always a Permaculture trailblazer. He spent his early adult years studying a Law Degree at the Australian National University (ANU). ‘All of this land was in my family, but I wasn’t planning a farming career,’ says David. ‘My father had always told me there’s no money in farming, and I didn’t want to do it if I was just going to be exploiting and degrading the land, so I’d gone in another direction.’
‘It was Permaculture that brought me back to the farm. Once I learned about it, I gave the law career the big flick,’ smiles the early adopter of the concept. Derived from ‘permanent agriculture’, Permaculture is about creating productive systems that harmoniously integrate the land, animals, and people, providing a positive solution to environmental exploitation.
Over a feast of home-grown salad greens, eggs, sourdough bread, pickles and preserves, the conversation continues to revert back to Permaculture. ‘We use water harvesting to capture water high up, and gravity feed it to where we need it. That’s what Permaculture is about, designing systems that save energy, just through thinking and using common sense,’ explains David. ‘Sadly, there’s not much common sense used anymore, convenience and consumption seem to have taken over.’
Eldest son Harry, 33, says his parents showed, by example, that you can have a fulfilling life on the land, which isn’t always a battle against the elements and ever-fluctuating market prices. ‘Mum and Dad are proof that it’s possible to have a life in agriculture that provides a meaningful existence, rather than just a way to make a living. I have that same attitude towards agriculture – it doesn’t have to be destructive and you can work with nature rather than against it,’ he says.
While the majority of wool produced at Millpost is sent to Sydney in its raw form, where it’s sold to the highest bidder, the family recently started producing small batches of superfine knitting yarn. This yarn is grown, spun and dyed here in Australia and New Zealand, and is sold directly to the public online and through a small selection of retailers in Sydney and Melbourne. ‘The knitting yarn is a way for us to value-add and take back some of the control of our product. For us it’s about learning what actually happens to our wool, it’s qualities and what can be done with it,’ tells Harry.
While only a small fraction of Millpost wool is currently turned into yarn, the family is hoping to extend this to include the production of fine garments in the future. Until then, the Watson family will continue to do what they do best – using innovative and practical solutions to solve their farming challenges, and building a lifestyle of abundance on their small piece of paradise.
Will Work For Food is a creative partnership between writer Karen Locke and photographer Honey Atkinson, who are working to elevate the importance of sustainable, ethically produced food. Find out more on their blog Willworkforfood.com.au.