Reading Landscape with David Holmgren 

Reading Landscape with David Holmgren is online and free to watch for everyone.

“We hope that Reading Landscape gently fans those ancestral embers of deep, creaturely connection to place. You are free (and encouraged!) to share this film with others by sending them here. Don’t miss the live panel Q & A with David (Holmgren), David (Meagher), Honor, Meg and Woody that sparked a great conversation at the Reading Landscape premiere in Castlemaine. Watch the playback here.

The film notes “Walk with David Holmgren (co-originator of the permaculture concept) across Djaara Country, as he shares his insights and discusses his unique approach to reading landscape, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom developed over forty years.

David’s approach contributes to re-embedding reading landscape into our cultures as a known and fundamental human capacity, providing an opportunity for humans everywhere to deepen their connection to place.”

Observe and Interact

David encourages to build our observation skills. Learn by doing, not simply by being told what to do. Acknowledge these are sources of knowledge and information are not replaceable by academic learning.

David says Permaculture comes from two models. Firstly, we can learn from patterns in nature and secondly we can learn from indigenous people’s skills. We need to get people out looking at landscape and recording what they can see. Through this process people recognise that they can learn a whole lot for themselves.

Time Worth Spending

“You’ve got to spend time on this…observe and interact” (such as gardening or walking) “unmediated”, without other distractions. So we can be present in the moment. Then, we give full attention to everything that is going on. Sue mentions how she loves their outhouse because it forces them to go outside along a long path and through the garden. Sue “doesn’t consider the task as reading the landscape but more as absorbing the landscape and being absorbed by the landscape”. She believes that “Nature is the best teacher.” Sue aspires for all children to be part of this land.

Reading Before Settling Down

When David and Sue chose their property site they used social and physical knowledge of the region. They considered geology, different types of biological factors and soil, protection from fire and sense of community and the history of the site.

The existing old pear on his property “signifies deep moisture for over a hundred years and the climate suitability of the species to the site”. In their selection for a suitable site they also considered the effects of climate change.

Succession – See Landscape as Snapshot of the Whole Process

We can read the patterns on the landscape, how seedlings can thrive where they are sheltered by thorny plants like blackberries. And how these plants grow to shade out the thorny blackberries. We can play along with this, leverage the action, nudge the system in the right direction. And the exciting part of reading landscape is being able to predict the future.

Beyond Dreaming

Bec, a Djaara women in the film tells us Indigenous people talk about process. And they pass on laws and teachings on how to manage the land. They walk in flow with its changes.

Macroscope (big picture) and microscope (detailed) viewing needs to both done at once. The small details can help inform our understanding of the wider landscape. To be able to step back we need a sense of the scale of the space and time. Also, David implores us to search for the signs of things that may only happen occasionally, but can be very powerful. Climate, geology and hydrology can overpower nature.

Also, revel in the power of the edges, David says “Look closely at edges”. The edge is “where one things turns into another”. Reading landscape is a great way to find opportunities.

Finally, be prepared to be wrong. Build your skills and start to recognise patterns that suit your region. But then find where the rules no longer apply. Learn from elders. When reading the landscape, resist the temptation to judge. Strive to keep your curiosity and the joy of enquiry.