Stuart Muir Wilson Interview: Lessons Handed Down From His Grandfather, Bill Mollison
PMNA Interviews Stuart Muir Wilson
In this interview, Stuart shares lessons imparted by his grandfather, Bill Mollison, and the many ways Bill has influenced Stuart’s own life and work.
Note: This interview was published in the second issue of Permaculture Magazine, North America, in August 2016, before his grandfather Bill had passed away.
PMNA: Your grandfather, Bill Mollison, is a founder of permaculture, he could even be called the Grandfather of permaculture. How much has permaculture been part of your upbringing?
Stuart: The influence of permaculture from grandpa has been, and still is, very strong. From around the age of 12, and for a large part of my life, I worked holidays, weekends, and after school for him. This played a major role in creating my strong work ethic, focus, and my ability to see projects through until they reached their full potential. Before the age of 12, I had actually not met him, as he was traveling the world spreading the seeds of permaculture. This taught me the power of education to inspire and change lives, as well as change the world – an incredibly important part of the foundation of my being, and something that I am very grateful for inheriting.
PMNA: What was the main conversation topic at family dinners?
Stuart: Grandpa loved to tell stories. It was the main way in which he passed on much of his knowledge. Often these stories had a theme. For example: his encounters meditating with Australian aboriginals, growing up in Stanley (a small fishing village on
the N/W coast of Tasmania, Australia), and Phenomenology – specifically how ecological patterns would interact with time and thought. Often these stories were told over cups of tea when the weather was too wild to work outside.
PMNA: Do you think you had an unusual childhood?
Stuart: Yes (laughter). Having been influenced so young by such a global visionary, so intently, formed me into the very unique human being that I feel I am today. Grandpa constantly taught me to question everything and solve problems with practical thought and subsequent solution-based action. Grandpa also taught me bush survival and homesteading skills, and probably most fondly, how to read patterns in the environment and the interconnected relationships that develop. Seeing my maverick of a grandfather apply these theoretical patterns to pragmatic solutions is something I will never forget!
PMNA: You bring permaculture to some of the poorest people in North America. Please tell us more about that.
Stuart: One of Grandpa Bill’s most significant lessons was about giving back to the more vulnerable members of our ever-growing global society. In order to solve a problem, such as the problems faced in North America, the designer must understand it first. In order to understand it, one must first listen. Listening is a very important foundational skill, and one that is often missing in permaculture design work.
To financially support the projects in Mexico, I work as a graduate architect and carpenter in Australia, often colliding face-to-face with the brutality and bureaucracy of our capitalist-based systems. The money I earned in Australia helps me to fund projects throughout Mexico, empowering people to escape poverty through education. Recently, my focus shifted to project management of ecological projects here in Australia. These projects regenerate the biosphere and create livelihoods for our farmers and the local communities . This gives me the tools to take my work to the next level, and to the global stage.
PMNA: What is the difference in government regulations working with permaculture in Australia, Mexico, the USA?
Stuart: Planning and building regulations of local governments, here in Australia, are a constant growing pain for the natural building and off-grid communities of Australia. Unfortunately, these regulations limit creativity and the development of human settlements. While this is the current scene in Australia, no such regulations exist in Mexico. The price, however, is that in Mexico there is inadequate sanitation, higher child mortality from preventable disease, and corrupt aid/charity organizations that cripple populations. I think there is a balance to be achieved that can already be seen in many off-grid communities in Australia and around the world.
PMNA: What legalities hold back permaculture from helping those who need it most?
Stuart: Neo-Liberalism is based on Darwinian “Survival of the Fittest” (riches, success, or power). This creates a construct of winners and losers. Therefore capitalism rewards argument (courts) and judgment as the best way of resolving problems. Transforming this toxic relationship that capitalism establishes with money and each other needs to be addressed as a collective aspiration of humanity as a pragmatic goal, replacing this relationship with money with a positive tool to overcome global challenges together. Darwinian Co-Operation cultivates the best traits of humanity, and could give us a different framework to operate from.
The ownership of land is an obsolete model that does not represent the best potential of humanity. Vast swathes of land are often owned by one family. The creative, intelligent, and practical potential of permaculture could transform such a blight on our humanity and collective potential.
Legal land tenure uses and laws need urgent dismantling. The very premise of Government is to dis-empower the individual in order to create a obsolete construct. Ethical accountability and respect is the very foundation of humanity’s quality and potential. Permaculture presents an evolution in a different paradigm towards a world where borders do not exist, compassion and humility are inspirational virtues. Serving the planet, eco-system, and humanity, as we do in permaculture, is what will save the planet.
Expanding Maslow’s Hierarchy to cover oneself and mankind is still a great obstacle that we as humanitarian permaculturalists face on a daily basis. In order to achieve this, I think everybody must read Chapter 14: “Strategies” of Permaculture: A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison, which offers an alternative global knowledge.
PMNA: Please tell us about your work with The Right to Livelihood organization.
Stuart: I was recognized for my work with the Right Livelihood in regards to furthering the legacy of Grandpa’s work for humanity and the Earth. The Right Livelihood is an incredible support network of practical resources and legal protections for humanitarians around the globe. I am the ambassador for the global permaculture network to the Right LiveliHood organization in Switzerland. (For more information visit http://www.rightlivelihood.org/.) [In 1981, Bill received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize,’ for his work in environmental design.]
PMNA: What do you say to those who say permaculture is a rich gringo thing, stolen from natives?
Stuart: The premise of this question is based on a lie. It is very dangerous to allow such lies to have a voice.This statement would only be said by someone who is highly ignorant and uneducated. Ignorance is the root cause of greed, war, poverty, and the collapse of the Earth’s bio-sphere.
Permaculture frees the poor from the shackles of fear and poverty. I can only hope that by role-modeling the essence of what permaculture is and by highlighting the millions
of people permaculture has aided in escaping poverty and the ills of capitalism, that the ignorant may learn and grow in a way that contributes to the changes that are needed on this planet right now. One only need look at the rainbow serpent symbology on the cover of Permaculture: A Designers Manual, to discredit this question.
PMNA: How would you change this perception?
Stuart: Emotional intelligence is needed to transform such toxic perceptions. Although energy and time is likely better spent on educating the millions of people that are interested in hearing and learning about permaculture – rather than trying to persuade the ignorant.
PMNA: How is a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) that you lead different from others?
Stuart: I base it on grandpa’s format for a PDC, which is a balance between theory and practice. I often teach with local permaculture leaders from schools and environmental institutions. I work through the student’s problems. I teach them the system of design of permaculture based on the ethics and relativity of permaculture to current real-time applications.
Also, my architecture and construction experience means that I can comprehensively integrate alternative technology and construction teachings. This further equips students with the capacity to establish off-grid properties, ecosystems, animal forage systems, dams, swales, P.A Yeoman’s and Key lining, just to name a few of the practices learned.
Students come away feeling empowered and inspired with the tools and clarity to solve local sustainability problems.
PMNA: What advice do you give to people that are just discovering permaculture?
Stuart: Traveling and volunteering with permaculture is by far the best way to learn the depth and importance of the movement. A great place to start is the Barefoot Atlas, which is an index of global non-profit organizations doing incredible project-development work. And, of course read, reflect, question, and then manifest the action. There are some incredible books that give readers amazing insight into what is possible with permaculture, including Design for the Other 90%.
PMNA: What is a significant permaculture lesson with your grandpa that you’d like to share with readers?
Stuart: One of the greatest lessons from my grandfather was the lesson of empowerment through the theory and practice of permaculture education and the powerful contribution it has had, and will further make, towards saving humanity and protecting the earth for generations to come.
PMNA: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Stuart: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Three ways to help support Stuart and his humanitarian efforts:
1) Buy the Design for Humanity Bamboo Eco cup from his foundation’s website. www.designforhumanity.org.au
$2 from each cup goes directly to the development projects in Mexico. The Eco cups act as an educational tool, inscribed with the 3 Permaculture Ethics and non-GMO heirloom seeds are included inside. They are available for purchase in wholesale boxes of 40 Eco Cups for $300 U.S.D (plus postage).
2) Hire Stuart for Permaculture or Permatecture consulting, graduate architect, or for design and project document.
3) He is available for sponsorship, to consult (both in person or over Skype), teach PDC’s, design and run natural building workshops in Australia, North America, and worldwide. A percentage of Stuart’s wages go to the development of educational projects. Donations go directly to disadvantaged communities across the globe.
For more info visit www.designforhumanity.org.au