The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
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A Collection of Articles by and about Ralph Long

Ralph Long (1932-2000) dedicated the later years of his life to furthering the notions of sustainable living through the principles of Permaculture.
He contributed regular snippets and occasional articles to the journal.

Bureaucracy shows its incompetent side
Permaculture Award For Ralph Long
The Long Report
The Australian Constitution And Republic

Bureaucracy shows its incompetent side

I purchased my land in 1963, first checking with Bowral Council that I could farm the land. Then I proceeded to clear land and grow crops of potatoes, strawberries, cabbages and green manure crops. In 1977 I learnt about Permaculture and realised that this was the only way to farm without leaving the land in a mess for future generations. In 1983 I purchased beehives in order to harvest the native bush and everything else that is useful to bees i.e. nearly 100% of my place. I concentrated in growing as many diverse plants as possible in order to create an ecology that would be freer of pests and disease than a monoculture and provide me with an income.

This January I receive a letter from Wingecarribee Council stating that from 1st July my land would be rated as residential. Apparently some overpaid bureaucrat took a cursory glance at it without bothering to use their brain (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here) saw that it was not a monoculture poisoning the world with chemicals so said it was not a farm.

These incompetents justify their lack of brain use by hiding behind the legislation instead of using their brain to interpret it properly, which they are paid to do. Watch this space for details on how to elect Councillors who would be prepared to weed these incompetents off the payroll.

Last year my rates rose by about one third while the gang of seven councillors claim that the overall rise was only 2%. Perhaps their rates went down by one third to compensate. In 25 years my rates have risen by 1,756%, if they are allowed to get away with this my rates will have risen by 2,985% in 26 years. If this happens I may have to resign from co-ordinator of Permaculture Southern Highlands Association in order to devote my time to righting this injustice which has played havoc with my health.

The world’s environment is in a bad enough state without the ignoramuses penalising those that strive to correct the unsustainable development that they encourage.

PC 5

Permaculture Award For Ralph Long

by David Johnson

Ralph Long has very recently been awarded the recognition that his dedication and consistent service to Permaculture thoroughly deserves with the Permaculture Community Service Award. It was in 1977 that he first heard Bill Mollison spruiking on an ABC radio program. He followed it up with an enquiry to the ABC studio and then corresponded directly with Bill. In 1982 he responded to an advertisement in the local paper, and found some like-minded souls and together they established Southern Highlands Permaculture. In 1984 he pursued the ideas of Permaculture further with one of the first Designers' Courses with Bill. Ralph has devoted much of his energy to the precepts that he puts into practice as much as his health allows on his Mt Gibraltar property. Always eager to talk to newcomers about the big ideas and the little practicalities of Permaculture. Ralph is to be found with consistent regularity at the Organic Markets at Eukarima every Saturday morning rain, hail or shine and there his experience is frequently sought by less experienced gardeners and designers.

The prestigious Award has been presented to fewer than 100 recipients world-wide. We would all agree with the citation that reads "for vision and work forming an essential and selfless contribution to the promotion of permaculture locally and/or globally, and toward the healing of the planet."

Ralph’s response to the award is summed up in his own words. "I am very proud of this award. I could not have achieved what I have done without the help of those that helped me during the seventeen years that I have been interested in Permaculture. Thanks to all those and apologies to those that I have let down by not yet achieving what I have promised."


The Long Report

From Ralph Long

First some good news. The majority of Councillors have decided that I qualify for Rural Rating. This proves that they have more foresight than the bureaucrats and I can now get on with my plan. I was amazed at the vast number of people, some perfect strangers (they are perfect, they agree with me), who contacted me with offers of support. Many thanks, the first problem is the new legislation of the Fahey government and the second is the way bureaucrats handled it differently in different Councils. Ask questions and think before you vote in all future elections!

The editorial team always needs organic tips as to what you can do to make the production of quality food easier. I find that if I record tips in the season they need to be done then I can refer to them next year and publish the tip before the relevant season. So forward your tips as you use them and we will store them on computer until the right season.

I had noticed that the rabbits were eating my green lettuce but not touching the brown lettuce. I was not sure if this was a coincidence or not, until Julie Donker told me the same story, confirmed by Judy Walker. So the next test is to grow green and red cabbages together to see if colour makes a difference. We are sure that companion planting with onions helps deter rabbits. What have you found?

I have just learnt that Mary Brander had a fall doing some pruning, a fortnight ago, and has a broken pelvis and arm. Ian and Mary are foundation members (1982) of Permaculture Southern Highlands Association and have been a power of help and information. We all wish Mary a speedy recovery.

PC 8

From Ralph

I am always learning, sometimes relearning what I have forgotten, the recent drought no exception. I had never seen it so dry at the end of winter. It was obvious that unless we got good rain then it was going to be a tough summer.

Over the past few years the creeping weed "sheep’s sorrel" had taken over my vegetable beds and past experience had shown that it will even travel under a newspaper mulch I had a problem. I could not mulch until I had eliminated it from amongst the vegetables, resulting in the sun shining directly on the soil drying it up. So even with much watering most of my vegetables ran to seed when the very hot weather arrived.

As I had used all the available compost as mulch I prepared a bed by placing straw over it. Then I proceeded to transplant onions amongst the straw but found that when moving a little aside to plant, as I do with the compost, the movement of the straw dislodged the plants that I had just put in. So I removed all the straw, planted all the bed, covered with straw again and hoped that the onion quills bent under the straw would find a way upright. They did.

When it did look like raining for a few days I transplanted some lettuce that were a little too small. I watered them until we had a series of wet days, which gave me a chance to stay inside. Alas when I next looked the snails had found them. It was so long since decent rain had fallen that I had forgotten that you must look at least once a day. Or as we say in Permaculture not a snail problem just a shortage of ducks, Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell are the best ducks, as they do far less damage to plants than other ducks.

After a few days rain I found that it had only wet the top inch (25mm) of soil, so back to the watering to establish a store. I think that some of my neighbours though I was crazy, out in the fog and mist watering after it had rained for a couple of days. The result, my tanks did not overflow, I built up a store of water where I wanted it and the sun was not evaporating it.

My swales (contour furrow for collecting water) worked well with many people commenting on how healthy my trees looked. I did not water trees and my uphill neighbour’s lawn, mown (shaved) every week, is half dead.

The birds ate a lot of apples when they were marble size they must have been after the moisture, normally I do not have to cover them with nets till the fruit starts to ripen. The answer is to provide water for the birds. The Crimson Rosellas are now eating the flowers and seeds of the lettuce. Looks like I will be lucky to get self-sown lettuce this year. I found out by accident that when the pasture went to seed the birds spent most of the time eating the grass seeds and only ate the fruit for dessert. They are also fond of chicory flowers and seed.

I also lost some bee hives at the beginning of spring, they had plenty of honey and pollen stored and there was no sign of disease. I can only conclude that it must have been the fluctuating hot and very cold weather causing them to think that it was spring, the queen laying plenty of eggs and then the brood got chilled because there was not enough workers to keep them warm. I have since been told that neighbours may have sprayed plants with a chemical that may have been poisonous to bees. If you have neighbours who spray ask them to wait till dusk when the bees have stopped flying.

PC 9

The Australian Constitution And Republic

There is a lot of talk about changing the constitution and well as becoming a republic. It is no use rushing into either of these unless we end up with something better. A republic will cost a great deal of money with no saleable result. The monarchy does not cost us much money, being mainly supported by the British. I am afraid that the replacement will be a failed politician who will get their parliamentary superannuation (which is excessive for what they have done) and a massive allowance as head of state which would amount to more than it costs us now.

Who should vote? Should only citizens who do not have a allegiance to a foreign country have the right to vote and be eligible to stand for public office? People holding dual nationality would have to denounce the foreign one in order to have Australian citizenship. If the majority of the citizens decide on a republic then the figurehead should be chosen also by the majority of citizens. You can not leave it to the politicians. They chose Leo McLeay as Speaker in the last federal parliament and he was so politically biased that even his own party was embarrassed. (How could someone who fell off a bike be trusted to be balanced in his views!) The constitution should state that anyone who had belonged to or contributed either directly or indirectly to a political party should not be eligible, so that they would be impartial and apolitical like the monarchy. If a political appointee had the powers that the Queen now has, can you imagine them not using those powers down the track.

A change in the constitution would give the citizens (poor mug taxpayers) a chance to right a few wrongs in the three tiers of government. Australia must be the most over-governed country in the western world and I am sure that this is a major factor in our not being able to compete on the world market. The last figures I heard were that one in three was a public servant in Australia, when out in the real world it is one in twelve. In theory the three tiers of government exercise checks and balances on each other. In practice this power is abused by the two major political parties. So it is of no use deleting one tier of government unless control is given back to the people with the opportunity to dismiss governments at anytime if the majority of citizens so wish.

Citizens Initiated Referenda works well in Switzerland and should be incorporated in our constitution. They do not have it in Italy and look at the mess they are in.

I would like to see local government expanded into bio-regional government and the states abolished but only if Citizens Initiated Referenda is in place to control the politicians if necessary. Thus the politicians could not sell the assets knowing that you could not vote them out for two/three years.

That brings us to parliamentary terms, they should be for a fixed period. Say every three years, April 1st would be a fitting permanent election date. If a politician retires mid-term then they should pay the cost of the by-election themselves. If the States survive then there should be one state election every six months at fixed dates. This would stop political parties putting off some decisions until there is a lull in state elections. Likewise bio-regional elections should be for a three year fixed term and they could be spread out so that there is at least one bio-region is in election mode each month.

This would evenly spread the work load of the electoral office and also not everywhere would be in limbo together from the date of elections till the new members took their seats.

If the parliament becomes unworkable then a Citizens Initiated Referenda would decide if an early election was necessary. Also during the term of a government only one person would be allowed to qualify for a Prime Minister’s pension.

To stop the carte blanche mandate syndrome all decisions to be advertised and only passed if after two months no action by Citizens Initiated Referenda had been commenced. Note a minimum number of citizens is required to initiate a referenda, that way a very small minority could not disrupt the process of government.

The present voting fiasco, whereas a person can visit every polling place in an electorate and vote (even using other peoples’ names), needs cleaning up. In marginal electorates this could change the democratic result. Every voter should be provided with an ID which when entered into a computer at the polling place cancels the voter’s ID at all other polling places. Banks could be opened on a Saturday (for voting only) and their computers used to do this easy task. The regional electoral office could use computers and electronically scan the voting papers. This would give a nearly immediate result. The papers could then be later counted manually just to check that the computer had not been tapered with.


I believe in equal pay for equal work, so I can not see how some people justify their salaries especially politicians with their tax free allowances. Their package should be linked to performance, if the economy slumps then so should their package (salary & allowances).

There is no shortage of applicants, so they should state how much they want for the next three years with their election promises. They would be paid the average wage including allowances (at present about $500 per week, hereafter called the base salary) and at the end of their term, the citizens would vote on their performance and whether they get the rest of their money.

Another thought here is that a politician in a safe seat does not have to work and those in a marginal seat have to work hard. Therefore their base salary should be discounted by their electoral margin. i.e. a politician with a 2% margin gets 98% of the base salary and one with a 70% margin be paid 30% of the base salary.


The general public is responsible for their own actions, if they make a mistake then they pay for it. Out of their own pockets if they own the business or possibly with the sack if an employee. So politicians (and public servants receiving above the average wage, including allowances) should be responsible for their own actions. They should have to pay for wrong decisions that cost the taxpayer more than estimated (allowing for inflation).

Think and talk about these and other points, we must be prepared and not railroaded into anything that is to the disadvantage of people or the environment, especially being asked to vote for a package of amendments instead of each amendment separately.

Speaking of the environment, I believe that the owners should have to live the closest to their business, next the managers then the workers. Thus if it pollutes etc then they would be the first to know and thus be directly responsible for their own actions.


PERMACULTURE, A Designers’ Manual, Chapter 14, "Strategies for an Alternative Nation" by Bill Mollison.

NOTE. Bio-regions are areas where the residents have a affinity with each other and their surroundings. They may be defined by natural boundaries, such as mountains, natural water catchments etc. i.e. you would not put Goulburn in the same bio-region as Nowra as the electoral commission did a few years ago.