‘portal’ to another way of being in the world in relationship with others. I didn’t need to be fighting against things. Instead I could be working for something and share a vision that was attractive, inviting and inclusive.

After discovering this ‘new’ world of thinker-activists, I heard that Fritjof Capra was teaching at the new Schumacher College in the UK. My heart leapt at the chance of being in a residential learning community exploring these ideas. With help from my parents, a Melbourne University lecturer (who paid me upfront to come back and lecture about what I learnt), and selling anything of value, I set off.

My ‘Turning Point’ I intended to stay at the college for five weeks then backpack to iconic eco-projects like the Centre for Alternative Technology, Findhorn, Windmill Hill City Farm, but I simply couldn’t return home after that. At Schumacher College I met Helena Norberg-Hodge who had just written Ancient Futures. Her sessions about the Ladakhi culture so transfixed me that I volunteered immediately to help at the Ladakh Project. It was an incredible journey to reach this Himalayan region – into the throng of Delhi, through the devastating conflict zone in Kashmir, before rising over the Zoji-La pass, one of the most dangerous mountain roads in the world.

© Luisa Puccini / Shutterstock

Opening a Portal I continued my search for a way to make a difference. I read voraciously and followed the references from one book to another. I discovered EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, McHarg’s Design With Nature, Capra’s The Turning Point, Morris Berman’s Re-enchantment of the World, and the early permaculture books by Mollison and Holmgren. They explored how to live differently to create an ethical and meaningful life. It was as though I ’d opened a

Coming ‘Home’ There, in the remote villages of Ladakh, also known as ‘Little Tibet’, I first experienced what a sustainable society actually felt like – one that had been in existence for over 1,000 years. It was a life built on a rich fabric of connections with place and community, local resilience, cooperation, natural food and housing, an integrated pattern of work and family life, and a colourful cultural world full of music, dance, celebration and ritual. The radiating smiles, the warmth and sense of abundance were evidence that with almost no money, real wealth and happiness could be found. It felt like coming home to what it truly meant to be human. In stark contrast, Helena highlighted the impact of Western development and consumer culture on this way of being, and how being drawn into the global economy was eroding the foundations of Ladakhi culture.

Volunteering in Ladakh remains one of the most transformative experiences of my life, also because of the incredible volunteers I worked with there – Gaian ecologist Stephan Harding; Vandana Shiva, the renowned Indian seed activist; and a young Zac Goldsmith.

After almost a year away, I was back home in the suburbs of Melbourne with a question. What does ecological thinking and Ladakhi-style resilience look like in Western culture? It was then that permaculture came alive for me, though it had always been there. For the seed of permaculture thinking to flourish, I had to first nurture my internal garden and cultivate my ability to see the meta-patterns.

For years, I’d been watching the emergence of a permaculture village in Queensland. When a Permaculture Design Course was offered there, I went. It was what I

issue 108 summer 2021

|  5