Out going interns

Milkwood internship officially came to a close on Monday, three months have passed and it is hard to look back and believe that this all just happened.
I arrived out here with the desire to learn more about permaculture, what is permaculture? And what does it mean to be a permaculturlist?

I had always wished that I had grown up on a farm, nature has always fascinated me and the idea that you could keep a horse in your “backyard” thrilled me.

Life has kept me in the city, kitchens, restaurants, cafes, friends, family, lovers, music, dancing, food, wine, opportunity, endless possibilities, everything you need right there at your finger tips.
It’s amazing, I can not deny that.

I visited my grandmother a few weeks before coming out to milkwood, my family are migrant Italians and arrived here in the late fifties. My grandmother is 86 years old and still doesn’t speak English.
During our conversation she asked what I was to be doing out here, the word permaculture doesn’t exist in her vocabulary, so I just said I was going to learn how to be a farmer.
My grandmother grew up working the land in the south of Italy, her only real memory of farming was post war hardship, so of corse her reaction was with shock a disappointment.

Working outdoors under the warming sun, growing food to feed our families and share with community, raising animals to provide companionship, food and energy, managing the forests to ensure that timber needed to warm our homes, provide us with energy and build structures in our community could always come locally and be renewed, growing up with multi generations, having family, friends and community around to share and exchange skills and education with, managing the land so as to ensure that we passed it on in better condition then we found it.
Since when did we decide that these actions were not noble?

Permaculture = permanent culture = permanent agriculture = farmer = family = people = community = food, nutrition and energy from a sustainable resource = humans co-existing with their environment = life.

I have found inspiration and positive direction out here at milkwood. Thank you Kirsten and Nick for manifesting and materializing this place, your commitment to people care, land care and fair share is awesome.
To all my fellow interns, teachers and colleagues come great friends, it has been an amazing pleasure to connect with you all, sharing stories and gaining new one together, thank-you. Admiral Couling, thank you for your energy, enthusiasm and grounding nature. Trevor, three words for you, wisdom, intellect, carer, you are an indispensable part of community. And in the famous words of Eugenio Gras our bio-fert guru, Rosalita es un amore!!! Rose you have been amazing and at the epicenter of our existence here, thank you for nourishing us!

To all future Interns, don’t forget to bring a good pair of gloves, a positive and enthusiastic can do nature, and a good appetite.










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The Laugh

A priceless moment just happened- a circle of 35+ people from all over the place gathered in a wool shed and shared a good hearty laugh. 215 pearly teeth shown, joyous crows feet gathered at the corners of sparkling eyes, happy tummies bellowed ha’s as we shared a moment of natural and wholesome bliss. The assembly was on behalf of giving kudos for applying permie principles in personal designs during the second week of a PDC here at Milkwood. These people are indeed my brothers and sisters. We gather because we desire to learn from each other, share a community with each other. The community is artificial in the sense that it is temporary, arbitrarily organised in to chores and work groups, but we are here for a common purpose: this thing called permaculture. Permanent, and culture. Yep, we are creating a culture. Nothing is permanent in the universe, but there are things I suspect surpass culture, have been with humanity since forever and will last until infinity. One of those things is a laugh. We connect on an immeasurable level through a laugh- we don’t know why, we can’t explain how, we just do it. It is infectious, yet causes no disease. It makes happy neourons fire and makes every face instantly more attractive to see. It means connection. Instantly gratifying and no withdrawals. It is a cheers to life, a song to the great spirit, a hug we give ourselves and share with others. Seeing beautiful like-minded people in the most perfect pattern, a circle, all expressing vitality and joy in such a primeval way was better than any symphony, and I dare say any day out in the wild. It was love. May that laugh we all shared echo in our hearts forever. Namaste, graduating Milkwood PDC class of 2011.

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wHolistic Management

We are at the end of an inspiring three day course run by guru Kirk Gadzia, an absolute inspiration.
Kirk is a humble, passionate and down to earth man, with an incredible amount of energy and experience.
It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from a practitioner who has the ability to connect with farmer folk and a like, and pass on this invaluable information.

wHolistic Management is about people, families, community, farmers, animals, ecology and most importantly sustainable land management and regeneration. In the words of fellow class mates today, “our role here as stewards of the land is to leave things in better condition then what we found them”
Problems can not be fixed using the same mind set that created them.

Thank you Kirk and thank you Tamara for your energy, teachings and inspiration.

A few pics from the last few days in the field. Discussions of cell grazing, pasture health, animal health, stocking rates, flora disturbance, biological and ecological observations, water management and human goals and values.





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Rip Rap

Recently, Kirsten wrote a nice articleon the work that we did at the top tank overflow. It was great to see so much happen in 3 days. We did some plumbing, and a lot of digging, planting and stonework. I was mostly involved with the plumbing, and all the stonework … and my, did I enjoy it. In fact, by the end of the day, they started calling me the Stonework Queen! It is not surprising that Trevor, who is the true stone mason at Milkwood finds stonework highly addictive.

If that’s a case then, Milkwood is a red light zone for stonework addicts. There’s an endless supply of stones all around the place, and every time you think you’ve run out of stash, a new heap appears out of no where! Gabions, rock beds, retaining walls, rip rap … you name it, we’ve done it. They’re all fun to do, but ‘rip rap’is a personal favourite of mine, doesn’t it already sound so hip hop happenin? Here are  pictures of the rip rap that I helped to construct.

rip rap top tank

Rip rap slowing and absorbing the spill over from swales. Pic by Adam Shand

rip rap road side

Rip rap diverting road run off and slowing water down at a particularly washed out spot at the bottom of a slope. Pic by Adam Shand


In case you’re not familiar with the term, rip rapare broken stones (e.g. gravel stones/ shale) loosely placed in water, or exposed earth to provide a foundation and protect surfaces from scour.

before rip rap

A surface before rip rap. First picture shows after rip rap. Pic by Adam Shand

Riprap works by slowing down and minimising the impact of fast running water before it reaches the defended structure or surface. The size and mass of the riprap material absorbs the impact energy of bodies of water, while the gaps between the rocks trap and slow the flow of water, lessening its ability to erode soil or structures on the edges of swales, river banks, or coasts. The mass of riprap also provides protection against impact damage by ice or debris, which is particularly desirable for bridge supports and pilings.

Of course, there is most often a better alternative to rip rap, and that is to cover the surface of exposed soil with plants which will hold soil together and absorb water. However, if immediate intervention is needed, plants do not grow in a day; and moreover, a particular area may not be suited for plants … hence the rip rap.

I leave you with a song that I wrote about our rip rap experience at Milkwood. Hope you like it as much as I do 🙂


Rip Rap by Sabina Arokiam

(Adapted from ‘Splish Splash’ by Bobby Darin)

Splish, splash
raindrops falling on the ground
Long about a rainy spell… yeah!
Just relaxin’ in the shed
Thinkin’ everything was all rite.

Well… we stepped out of the shed
Started walkin’ the ground
Where the grass didn’t grow
Streams n’ gullies appeared.

And… then-a… splish, splash
We realised it ain’t rite
Water’s erodin’ bare ground
Takin’ an easy way out…

We was a seein’ and a readin’ (the landscape)
Reelin’ with the feelin’
Talkin and a plannin’
Rollin and a rockin’ … yeah!

Bing, bang
We got the whole gang
Squattin’ where the soil washed away… yeah…
Rip Rap
We was layin’ stones down
All the interns had the stonework bug.

There was Olipop with-a Ashey Lee
Good Golly, Mr. Juergey was-a even there, too!
A-well-a…. rip, rap
We were havin’ a ball
We had our homeys and our gloves on… yeah!

We was a rockin’ and a rollin’
Reelin’ with the feelin’
Movin’ and a groovin’
Rippin’ and a rappin’… yeah!

We was a rippin’ and a rappin’
We was a rockin’ and a rollin’ …woo!
Yeah… we was a movin’ and a groovin’ … ha!
We was a reelin’ with the feelin’… heyeyay!
We was a rockin’ and a rollin’
Rip, rap… yeah!

We was a rippin’ and a rappin’…
We was a rippin’ and a rappin’… woo!
We was a rippin’ and a-rappin’…

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Milkwood Internship, Week 3&4: Every day, Permablitz

The first 2 weeks at Milkwood passed by as quickly as a South-Easterly winter wind. Looking back, it was more eventful than we could wish for, keeping our feet on the ground and our fingers warm.

By week 3, we were more settled into our new home for the coming months and ready to learn with a focused mind and steady hands. And what a busy time it was going to be, waking the land to the rising spring, blitzing area after area as we went by.

The week kick-started with Nick teaching us the ins and outs of rocket stoves, followed by repairing and cobbing the rocket stove to keep our showers warm and ourselves clean.


The rest of the week brought us from the showers into the rains, to our first group design project: Planning and implementing a planting scheme for our woolshed, blocking the cold winter winds and providing shade for the hot summer sun, while encouraging maximum water infiltration for the rain that was to follow in the coming days.


Just as the rains kicked in we raced uphill to the overflow of the new watertanks and blitzed the ground where the water fell  and channelled it into a multiple swale infiltration area with pioneer-plantings to take up the stored water in the ground and to provide future windshelter and fuelwood for the intern campsite.

Check out http://www.milkwood.net/2011/10/24/intern-project-top-tank-overflow-design-implementation/ for more details and pics.


After two well-earned days of rest, the Milkwood-team went out to do some service for the permaculture community in Mudgee. It was time for a Permablitz at Anthea’s place!


In the next days we continued the rendering of the earthbag-house that was built by the last group of interns, while sealing our group into a solid team.


Halfway through the week, bee-whisperer Tim Malfroy gave us a 2 day visit, infecting us with an even deeper fascination for these remarkable insects, which have been taken for granted much too often.


Our first month at Milkwood ended with us following Nick to a consultancy for the Hadaways at their future home and permaculture project Budgee Budgee in Mudgee.

One of the great things about the Milkwood internship programme is the fact that it is not set in stone. It changes with every batch of fired-up permaculturists, and steadily evolves out of everyone’s expectations and experience. And so, this two weeks proved to be a great learning curve for all of us as we were introduced to the internship process of Milkwood, refining it as we went along. We improved on the ways in which all of us worked together as a group, and clarified our personal goals for the coming weeks, enabling us to harmonise and complement our learning paths through a structered, wholesome and organic approach.

Many thanks to Nick and Kirsten for their tireless effort to make it all happen and especially to Trevor for giving his full time to each and everyone, tying together all the loose strings into a clear process and fruitful learning experience.

(thanks to Adam Shand for supplying some of the photos)

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A peek into our days at Milkwood, week 1 & week 2

It’s been a month since we (Juergen and myself) showed up at Milkwood on a full moon’s night.  It had taken us a day’s journey to arrive from Sydney airport via train and then a coach which dropped us at Ilford, a bus stop in the middle of no where, about 30 km away from Milkwood. Nick was there to pick us up, and as we drove through the vast expanse of moonlit bush and pastureland, kangaroos and wallabies bobbed in and out of our sight.  I saw a  few houses along the way, but it was scarce and miles apart. Surrounded by wilderness, and a comfortable distance away from the bustle of people and buildings, I was already feeling very fortunate…

We were introduced to the rest of the Milkwood  interns, huddled up in the woolshed, covered from head to toe. They looked like a friendly lot but my brain was too frozen to register their names. It was -5 °C , the coldest night I’ve had at Milkwood by far, and I was thankful for the heater in the caravan that Kirsten put us up in temporarily before we got our tents.

Heaps of amazing stuff has happened since, and I feel like a kangaroo, jumping from one great project to another with a bunch of other hip hop happening Roos, which makes the learning and doing twice as much and twice  as fun!

Here’s an attempt to show you snapshots of our lives at Milkwood week by week, over the past month. I’m starting off with week 1 & week 2 and Juergen will continue with week 3 & week 4.


The caravan where we spent our first 3 nights in

Campsite for interns. One of the highest points in the property

Milkwood is neighbours to Nick's dad's property, which is mostly bushland,sheep pastures, and olive groves

Day 1 site tour. This is where Nick told us about the resident red belly black snake which is pretty harmless if not provoked

Forest Garden sessions and forest garden planting with Dan Harris Pascal

3 day Organic Market Gardening (OMG) Workshop with veteran market gardeners, Joyce & Michael from Allsun. Click on picture for workshop details


More Food Forest sessions with Harris, and more plantings. Newly planted tress are protected from frost, wind and sun with tree guards

Food forest plant identification, labelling, and getting everything checkered on our species list

We took turns working on mud render/ construction work for Nick & Kirsten's tiny house

Juergen and Oliver had a natural flair for rendering, and an insatiable appetite for mud. Glorious mud!

Juergen and Frank Thomas having a lot to exchange in German. An expert in strawbale building and rendering, Frank is very generous with his knowledge and passionate about what he does

Oli, the chef roasting bush deer for dinner around the campfire.

Sheep shearing demonstration at the weekend Windeyer Town fair.Can you spot the sheep's face?

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Farm structures 101

So what do you do when you need to build a shelter for an upcoming course, at very low cost? You call in Shane, and a couple of interns, and send them out around the farm to gather materials and get building.

I thought we’d be gathering already milled timber, but oh how I was wrong, and oh how I was excited. We headed out to the wooded area and assessed the area for suitable trees! That’s right, we got to cut down trees to make the posts for our ‘building’. The trees there are young and crowded so they could do with a clearing out to enhance the growth of the remaining ones. Shane located some ‘yellow box’ eucalypts approximately 20cm in diameter and cut them down. Ashley and I then spent a good 30 mins hitting the fallen trees with the back of an axe, completely stripping it of it’s bark. We had to strip the bark to avoid compromising the post hole when the bark rotted, and it had to be done quickly or it became near impossible to get off. I was blown away both by the ease at which the bark came away from the trunk and the colour of the inner bark, the brighest yellow I have ever seen.


Next we had to get the auger and drill some holes, Shane makes removing the excess dirt look easy, it wasn’t! Ashley and I were getting 3 grains of sand to Shane’s 200000. He says you get better with practce, here’s hoping. The packing in of the dirt with the crowbar was the easy bit. I was once again amazed at how little dirt was required to hold the poles in place.


We also grabbed some old recylced hardwood and iron from around the farm and gave the structure some stability and a roof.


In no time at all and for very little money we have the perfect shelter for all our biofertiliser needs. And in true permaculture style, it will double as the place to store rubbish bins and non compostable wastes!

I can’t wait to get home and build one for the caravan, for storage and for water harvesting!



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