Memories of Bill Mollison at Tagari Garden Farm

Ignazio Schettini
Thursday, 3rd November 2016

Ignazio Schettini spent three months living with Bill Mollison. He learnt about Tagari Garden farm and permaculture, and spent many hours enjoying Bills company. Here are his memories.

There are moments in everybody's life that one can clearly remember as if they just happened. For me, it is leaving London to experience permaculture in Australia.

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...Bag on my back, my home on my back. A young man on the road, open to new perspectives and to the world - as always, I would say - but with a different look in my eyes and the will to understand “how to do it”.

With that bag on my back I was feeling young as well as hopeful - despite many catastrophes at different levels. Never before had I felt so brave as in that occasion.

And it's definitely true: fortune favours the brave! 

Meeting Geoff Lawton in Australia and visiting his reality is sure worth the price of my one-way ticket (since I had not bought the return flight yet).

Anyway who would imagine that Geoff had in mind the most amazing surprise for my stay abroad?

He suggested me to Lisa Mollison for a three-month cooperation at Tagari Garden farm, in Tasmania, the Master's house.

A trustworthy person was required for the role - either Geoff is crazy or he truly thinks I'm up to the task.

What about the Master? Well, he is there waiting for me. It was May 28th, a historic moment in my life, when I shake Bill Mollison's hand and say: “Nice to meet you, Bill”.

Just a few months ago I got to know Geoff and now Bill. So many emotions during just one long, never-ending journey. And this story is only a brief extract of it.

It is hard to explain how it feels to be shaking the hand of men like these. To be honest they both asked me to let go of their hands, while I was still incredulously holding on.

I might have said THANK YOU a million times. But these two men really deserve these thanks, because we are the result of their teaching and I have the utmost respect not only for their mindset, which I share, but also for their excellent activism and sense of responsibility towards this global movement.

I must stop thinking about who they are though, because right now I'm here with them. Just time to leave my bags, and I'm ready to help.

What do I have to do? Lisa Mollison has to travel back and forth from California and Bill, aged 86, needs help for the household, running the farm and shipping the books. The family business. And we soon become familiar with each other. 

I have to be around Bill, work with him, together - Bill and I - 24/7 for three months. Where? Doing what?

Well anywhere really. 

In the kitchen, for example, where the Master likes to show off his skills. Not only sitting at the table enjoying some Italian dishes (Sicilian fried rice balls, Apulian panzarotti, various kinds of pasta and tiramisu were served), but also complaining when this Italian guy shows his incapability at cooking mushrooms!

Do you know how we usually stir-fry mushrooms? The famous Italian trifolati? They're prepared in the same way in every part of Italy, aren't they? According to Bill, they're pretty disgusting! They should be cooked whole, top down, with a knob of butter, salt and pepper. Well, that's the way Bill likes them. 

In the office. Here the Master finds himself in his own world where he spends hours reading, writing or listening to classical music, even completely forgetting about eating or drinking.

“Bill, shall I open the window and let some light in?” “No.”

This attitude reminds me of the seven years spent at the faculty of agriculture preparing for my exams. No ray of sun could enter my room, but the only light was coming from the lamp on my desk and projected onto the page I was reading. The void around me, a condition of deep concentration.

Strolling around within the 7-hectare farm, where on those beautiful austral winter days we go out like little mice to make sure that everything had properly been taken care of by the WWOOFers working there in that period. Two of the WWOOFers today are two great friends of mine: Andrea from Brazil and Darren from England. Despite not being very big, the farm shows all the features of permaculture design methods. Bees, alleys, ponds, small pools, sheep, photovoltaic systems, forest, compost toilets, WWOOFers, gardens, orchards, chickens, geese, horses and many, many more. Oops, I almost forgot about the garage used as storage for shipping the books (Manual included) all over the world.

Very often Bill wants to go out, so we travelled all around Tasmania and every time we stopped to eat something or have a coffee, we would start to compete trying to make the waitress blush. Useless to say, Bill was unrivalled.

In the middle of the night! Bill wakes up often … and we would spend hours having a midnight snack served with a multitude of anecdotes as side dish. “Bill, shall we go to sleep now?”
Bill could spend entire days without talking or eating and then whole nights reading or enjoying midnight snacks while telling stories. A totally unpredictable man. During his life he had also worked as a fisherman and a baker, therefore he was obviously used to waking up in the middle of the night. A strong man, hard as a rock, with the hands of a real farmer. At the same time, however, a kind man, very wise and smart, as the English would say.

We lived so many moments together and a whole year of columns would not be enough to share all the memories I jotted down in my diary!

Above all, I’d like to recall the first time I stepped into Bill's library: shelves and corridors packed with books that had all been precisely catalogued. Even the library of the agriculture faculty where I had been studying for seven years could not compete with that multitude of books. In that room we use to spend whole days and every read was a good input for talking about any chosen topic.

When I left, we hugged each other in tears. The situation got even worse when Lisa started crying, I built a deep connection with her too. A vale of tears. Bill thanks me for the time we've had together and in that moment I feel like the happiest man on earth. It´s been so good being with the Master and I've shared with him precious moments that I'll never forget...

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On the 24th September, 2016, Bill passed away.

Sadly, my aim to show Bill the Italian version of his masterpiece Permaculture - A Designer's Manual, will not happen.

MEDIPERlab, the association I'm leading, are currently raising the required funds to create this Italian translation of the primary textbook for permaculturists all over the world. www.buonacausa.org/cause/manuale 

Bill's passing was a shock for our whole group. We had all dreamt of wrapping the Italian version of the Manual and bringing it to him personally, but unfortunately this will not be possible.

Nonetheless we still have enough time to show that together with the community we have done our best to make this book accessible to everyone.

The Master tree of our human forest has fallen, but it leaves space and fertility to make us grow. It is now our turn to take the reins.

The Manual is an indispensable tool and if we truly share the ethics of this movement - as we all proclaim to do - then I'm sure we won't face any problem, since we just need to join our forces. That is it. Together we can make this happen. In fact it is feasible, if we really want it.

Let's make the net work. We would really appreciate the help of anyone who would like to spread the word about our campaign. Please just send us a message:  [email protected] 

Further resources

How I met Bill Mollison by David Holmgren

For more about Bill Mollison's contribution to the world see also Bruce Charles 'Bill' Mollison-1928-2016

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