Monthly Archives: October 2011

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 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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I love bees

So I was hitchhiking to Sydney a couple of weeks back, on my way to visit some friends before an international departure.
It was raining and cars were passing me by the dozens, all unperturbed by my thumb hanging out over the side of the highway.
After forty five minutes John pulled up and offered me a lift, he was very friendly and a little shocked by the fact that it had taken so long for someone to stop. It was ok by me, i was just happy to be out of the rain.

As conversation does, when you just meet a person who offers you a ride for the next three hours, it started formally.
John was a school teacher in some small town out west which i can not remember the name of, and on his way to visit a friend for the weekend. John was a good talker and easy going. Formalities eased off as I reclined in my chair listening to John talk about his family, although after having just spent a day and a half with Tim Malfroy (beekeeper extraordinaire) my attention was still with bees.
Not long after we pulled up at a road side vendor selling tubs of honey! A segway into discussion perhaps? I mean who doesn’t love honey? I have always, but never quite understood the ins and outs of a hive and just how great a roll those little guys play in this world.
So I brought up the topic, John was interested in knowing more, and I was excited to share my newly acquired knowledge.

We spoke about DCA’s which I have still not quite come to terms with, then entered heavy ground when the discussion turned to the topic of “where have the bees gone”.
It seems that John was interested to know more but at the same time not sure wether it was really important information. As far as he was concerned honey and bees could have been separate discussions. I gave it my best, relaying all the information that I had learnt through documentaries and some on line literature.
I felt that my story was received like a fairy tale and one that would have possibly made it home with him to be retold at the dinner table, but no further.

The city got closer and the thoughts of bees and nature and getting excited about lettuce coming from the garden or eggs coming from the chooks bum, all got a little diluted by the traffic.
Conversation shallowed and I said goodbye to John a short train ride from my destination.

So I think that I have been stung by the bees, they excite me, truly. And not just because they are Italian or by the fact that they are mostly female but also by the thought that a society of insects who have evolved over who knows what period of time, function in a manner where they provide so much for so little.

Right now I love that we (milkwood) invest our time in making food grow, regenerating poor environments, and in thinking about systems that better suit not just human needs but also those of nature. This is pretty important stuff!

A queen bee is determined by her swarm. They alter the shape of the cell that her egg is laid in and nourish that egg differently to the others. Then hatches a queen. She mates once in her life and that is enough “love” for her to lay hundreds of thousands of eggs during her five year life, with all the genetic diversity needed for succession.
Incredible, no?

We have been designing an Apiery here and today was the first day of implementation. It was warm and the bees were out in action.
Sabina will blog more about that later but I will leave it here with some pics from the hive.



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A shot of permaculture espresso to last a long way

Juergen and I are on a Permaculture Tour, travelling around Australia to connect and learn from amazing people and projects on the ground. Back in Malaysia, we had a small permaculture education & demonstration site, where we ran the first PDC in Malaysia. We organised 2 other courses the following year in 2010, and interest in permaculture has been growing steadily since! However, we do have a long way to go. When I look at how permaculture has taken off around the world and compare it to Malaysia, we are but a tiny sprout finding its roots. The time is right, but the soil is in need of some ecological, and perhaps even some geographical intervention 😉

Considering the fact that Malaysia and Australia are close neighbours, I have often wondered why hardly any of the worldwide permaculture action ever found its way into my teeny little country, less than one twentieth the size of Australia.We may be blessed with one of the world’s oldest rainforests, and recognised as one of the 12 mega biodiversity countries in the world, but it’s fast disappearing! According to the most recent report by Wetlands International, forest destruction in Malaysia is three times faster than all of Asia combined! During the last five years alone, we’ve lost 10% of our forests, and one third (872,263 acres) of our carbon sequestering peatlands to mass palm oil cultivation.

Needless to say, most Malaysians have no idea as to what they’re loosing, and could benefit from a strong shot of FAIR SHARE permaculture ESPRESSO! We Malaysians have much catching up to do, and I’m here to make some of it it happen. By the time I finish my six, hopefully nine months of permaculture travels in Australia, I hope to establish a strong network with folks here, and look at how we can build a permaculture bridge from Australia all the way to Malaysia. Already, we have established connections with several Malaysian NGOs, government bodies and universities that are very interested in incorporating permaculture in one way or another, and I am keen to see how some of these needs can be addressed through a collaborative effort.

Education and awareness building, as well as having working models on the ground is crucial to the success of mass permaculture infiltration. Importing teachers to conduct our PDCs has been both enriching and inspiring. To grow deep and far reaching roots, we will need to build local resilience and have locally grown permaculture teachers and doers. I’m working towards becoming a teacher myself, and intend to start working on my permaculture teachers diploma during our trip; looking at different models and approaches to permaculture education, and how it is taught to a diverse cross section of learners with varying needs, and learning outcomes. I recently did a Teachers Training with Rosemarry Morrow, a wonderful source of inspiration that led me to believe that there’s nothing more exiting and fulfilling as empowering people to realise the wisdom within themselves… which in a nut shell, is exactly what permaculture is all about.

So, here I am at Milkwood, stop no.1 on our permaculture tour, feeling very at home despite the occasional 0 to -5 degrees chills. It feels like I’m at the right place at the right time, with a great bunch of people, and ample opportunities to be, to learn and to share. Thanks Nick and Kirsten for choosing us for this much sought after internship spot.

a morning cuppa and Kirsten's wooly mammoth keeps me warm

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Bee Forage Calendar

Today three of my fellow interns (Ashley, Jurgen, and Olive) quickly cranked out a bee forage calendar that was so awesome it cried out for a digital version. Species have been selected for cold temperate Australia (this is definitely not the subtropics!). We’re all beginners when it comes to bees, and damn close toe beginners when it comes to botany, so please forgive any mistakes and omissions (especially under the “uses” column).

We’ll improve it as time permits, in the mean time I hope it provides a useful starting point for others. If you have any corrections or additions we’d love to hear them!

Please note that the months indicate when the plant will be flowering in the southern hemisphere, where summer is from December to February!

I’ve posted the calendar to my website:

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