A Greenfoodie’s Journal – Mulloon Creek Natural Farm Tour

The start of the valley

This Sunday past I was lucky enough to be invited on a tour of Mulloon Creek Natural Farm just outside of Bungendore. The farm is a profitable grazing, cropping and ecosystems services enterprise that uses biodynamic and other restorative agricultural systems to produce high quality and nutritious food while regenerating the environment.

Lush pastures

The tour was organised through PermablitzACT and Cam Wilson, who designs and overseas the implementation of most of the farm’s hydration, tree plantations and landscape restoration projects as well as managing their intern programme. He is also a permaculturist extraordinaire. I brought William and my mother along for company and we all had a fantastic time.

It started as soon as we turned into the farm driveway and drove for 1km through beautiful Eucalyptus forests before opening out onto a stunning, green valley. The Mulloon Creek valley is girded by the Great Dividing Range and still retains its forested crown. Ponds and dams sparkle like scattered diamonds across the valley with little farmhouses, barns and farm sheds dotted here and there. It is hard to describe the peace and serenity that fills this valley and I was captivated. It is the epitome of every dream that David and I have for our lives.

Stables nestled in the valley

Because we were lost in the beauty of the place, we missed the turn for the meeting spot and drove the entire length of the valley, until we stopped at a gorgeous house on the far end. After knocking sheepishly on the door, I asked where I was supposed be and its occupant, who turned out to be Tony Coote, graciously pointed us in the right direction. So, back down to the other end of the valley we merrily went as it was no hard task to take in the views for a second time.

Restored barn at the other end of the valley

Listening to Cam

We had been an hour early but by the time we got to where we should have been, we only had minutes to spare before the other members of the group arrived. Cam Wilson, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide informed us that property owner and business director, Tony Coote was joining us for the first part of the tour with his guest, Uncle Max ‘Duramunmun’ Harrison.

Uncle Max is a Yuin Nation Elder, who was taking members of his family to his people’s sacred sites and passing on his knowledge and wisdom to the next generations.

Uncle Max

After introductions, we learned from Uncle Max that the valley was once a chain of ponds, bursting with life. It was used as a meeting place for the Yuin peoples and the ponds were considered sacred as they held the life force and spirit of the place. Uncle Max explained that this land was always bountiful in the thousands of years his people had gathered there, rich with life, full of water even throughout the dry seasons.

Tony explained how settlers, using their experiences of farming in Europe, had drastically altered the landscape and destroyed its fertility over a hundred years. They cleared the trees from the pond banks and allowed cattle to strip the vegetation and compact the land. What was once a fertile chain of ponds, was turned into a crisscross of ever deepening erosion gullies draining the water-table and channeling water out of the valley. As highlighted by Tony, our laws were breaking the ‘lores’ of the land.

In the video here Tony explains how water is stored in the Australian landscape and how farming practices have dehydrated landscapes all across the continent. Mulloon Creek farm was such a place when Tony first bought the land in 1968 but now the land is being restored through Peter Andrew’s ‘Natural Sequence Farming‘ system. The farm is the first national demonstration site for Natural Sequence Farming and our group was being shown one of the many restoration projects that have been implemented on the farm.

Cam described how they were restoring the creek by slowing down the flow of water in the erosion gullies and retaining the water through building weirs, recreating the ponds and re-vegetating. It was amazing to see how quickly Peter Andrew’s methods were working. In a matter of six years, Mulloon Creek has gone from eroded gullies channeling water out of the valley and a denuded landscape to what you can see below.

Pete's Pond Weir

Mulloon Creek Restoration

Now the water table is rising, soil salinity is decreasing, the water is becoming purer and the land is becoming more fertile. Even through the recent eleven years of drought, Mulloon Creek Farm retained water on the property, with constant slow drainage at the bottom of the valley while other farms around it struggled with chronic water shortages and drought-stricken farmland. Uncle Max voiced how happy he was to see the land being healed and returned to its natural state.

As we explored further up the creek (now returning to their natural chain of ponds) we listened to stories from Uncle Max about how his peoples loved and respected the Mother Earth, always asking before taking. One story was especially amusing and very touching, in which Max explained how learned about respect for water. I’ve written it down as best I could and you can read it here.

Cam's Place

As the sun rose to its highest point we returned to the cars and bade farewell to Uncle Max and his family who were continuing on their journey to their nation’s sacred sites. Our ‘permie’ group (as permablitzers like to call themselves) drove on to Cam’s house on his part of the farm. I was surprised to learn that Cam, his wife and two kids lived in a yurt and I was awed by their pioneering spirit. They lived through two winters in their gorgeous yurt (made of canvas) and they started life there without modern conveniences such as running water or a toilet.

The Yurt

Last summer Cam built two cob (clay and straw) buildings, one for his children’s bedrooms and one for an office and guest quarters. Now the yurt has every convenience, powered by solar panels, gas cook-top and wood-fired oven providing cooking and heat, running water from rain water tanks and a composting toilet. They have made a cosy home for themselves and their children are thriving.

Cam has also designed and installed a permaculture garden with a virtually close-looped system. Rain water drains into the wicking vegetable bed, which waters the plants from below and overflows into a pond that is connected to a swale, which diverts overflow and holds it in the neighbouring food forest. Water then drains down to the dam. In addition, the food forest is watered by the duck pond (an old spa bath) at the top of the garden and the nutrient rich water is drained out every few days by a pull of the plug, ingenious!

There is no tv but who needs one when you can step outside and play in the great-outdoors, a sandpit, trampoline and swim in the dam or pick strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries just outside your door (although there is a computer, and I’m happy to see they are fellow apple mac lovers).

Inside the Yurt

We learned that Cam (and his wife Jess) were part of a community of farm workers who shared work and the food they produced such as milking the cow, killing and butchering their meat and tending to the large community vegetable garden. Many hands indeed make light work and the distribution of food and work seems very fair and equitable, a lovely way to build community.

Cam made some interesting points about ensuring that young families are encouraged to stay on farms and support each other. It is plain to anyone who meets Cam that he loves his life and is justifiably proud of everything he has achieved.

After walking around his garden with Cam explaining the design and how it all worked, we all enjoyed a bring-a-plate lunch together in the yurt before heading for home, happy and inspired. Thank you Cam for showing us around and so graciously allowing us into your home. Thank you Uncle Max for your wisdom and willingness to share your knowledge and thank you Tony Coote for allowing us onto your property and showing us the amazing success you have worked so hard for (also, thank you for being so gracious when I sheepishly knocked on your door).

For more information about Mulloon Creek Natural Farms visit their website here or if you’d like to learn more about sustainable agriculture why not visit the Mulloon Institute’w website here.

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