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An Interview With Nick Huggins – Permaculture Expert


If you would like to join Nick and Rebel for an Introduction to Permaculture in Lightning Ridge on 27/28 June – click HERE

Re-Inspiring Drought Stricken Farmers with Permaculture Scholarships

With the conversation in western NSW constantly turning to drought, The Hungry Spirit Centre for Semi-Arid Sustainability at Lightning Ridge is attempting a new strategy – re-inspiring food producers through permaculture.

The Centre has engaged the services of world-leading expert, Nick Huggins, to travel to Lightning Ridge on 27/28 June to host a 2 day Grow Your Life – Introduction to Permaculture course with full scholarships available to farmers that want to come along to regain their inspiration and learn easily applicable holistic strategies for growing food.

Nick Huggins understands the issues facing the western region of NSW in regards to the scarcity of water and the issues of drought.

“There is a great need for people to reconnect with food and food security and take back the reigns of how we produce our own food,” he said.

“There has been so much wisdom lost and permaculture helps us get this back and the good thing is that it’s scalable – the principles can used in a square metre growing space to farms the size of small states and it works in any climate.”

Nick says people are successfully applying the principles of permaculture in landscapes like the Dead Sea area in Jordon,  so it makes sense that the principles, techniques and ethics can also be applied in this semi-arid zone.

“There are four primary points in permaculture design and the first and most important element is water,” he said.

“What we focus on is putting water back where it belongs in the landscape, permaculture draws on a large number of techniques for harvesting water.”

Nick says this weekend will be the opportunity for drought impacted farmers to reconnect; to exchange ideas, to connect with themselves and with other like minded people.

“My role is to offer the facilitation of this process and invite the question and offer ideas about how we can apply permaculture in our lives to reconnect, provide for ourselves and live a great life.”

Grow Your Life – 27/28 June 2015

Email rebel@thehungryspirit.com to apply for a scholarship

To listen to a full audio press the arrow below

Fish & Food Even In One Of The Driest Climates In Australia

Ashley and Ronnie Steed are a couple of pioneers when it comes to food production in a semi-arid environment.

They have spent the best part of the last decade or more perfecting their veggie patch, orchard and most recently; their aquaponics set up. Not only are they supplying their own healthy and delicious food from their 50x50m residential mineral claim on the opalfields at Lightning Ridge, but they are now also growing fish for their table – proving just about anything is possible if you create the intention and manage your conditions.

Ronnie and Ashley have a well established orchard that incredibly includes mango, peaches, apples, grapes and paw paws and their garden, before aquaponics was always full of seasonal produce, grown directly into well managed soil.

A couple of years ago they began experimenting with aquaponics and using mainly re-used material, set up a double tank system that now houses a few hundred fish.

What has grown is abundance in the back yard. The system is all solar powered and fed by rain water (supplemented by bore water during very dry times), as Ronnie and Ashley do not have access to mains water or power on the opalfields.

They have had great success growing everything from carrots and beetroot to corn, beans, tomatoes and leafy greens.

Ashley and Ronnie have used old tractor tyres, rescued tanks, recycled (and well washed) chemical containers and old pumps. Basically the only new components to this system are the pipes and the fish!

They use cumborah gravel as the growing medium, in prevalent supply around the Ridge and when I asked Ashley how he planted the seeds he just made a throwing motion with his hands indicating he just threw them on the top of the gravel and they grew.

Seriously blew my mind!

If you want to learn how to do this in your own backyard – check out the Aquaponics Workshop being held in May

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ShortVideoAquaponics23.4 from Rebel Black on Vimeo.

Backyard Aquaponics

May 23rd & 24th – Introduction to Aquaponics with Murray Hallam (Brisbane)

This one and a half day training event is designed to help the beginner get an overall view of what home based  Aquaponics is all about. At the end of the day you will be able to make informed decisions about  system size for your needs, fish species best suited to your area, plants that can be grown and just how to go about getting started.

We will be building a system and visiting a functioning aquaponics system in semi-arid Lightning Ridge.

Backyard Aquaponics May 15

Time: 9am – 5pm (Saturday) and 9am – 11am (Sunday)

Cost: $275 (payment plan available – workshop to be paid for when booking is made)

Max number: 30

Click here to BOOK

Inspired Veggie Gardeners

The first ever Hungry Spirit workshop was hosted on Saturday 21st February and 16 enthusiastic participants rolled up their sleeves, donned their gloves and big hats and got in and blitzed the garden, filling it with love, seedlings and seeds!

Workshop facilitator Rebel Black was chuffed that so many people had traveled so far – participants came from Tooraweenah and all around Coonamble as well as from Lightning Ridge.

“There is an obvious hunger and desire for re connection to food and to source!”Rebel said.20150221_102711

“It was a treat to work with such an enthusiastic and passionate group of people – and I know they will all go home and get their veggie hand in – and share their produce and new skills with their family, friends and community!”

Rebel says, in her experience, the key to successful backyard veggie gardening in semi-arid Australia is to give it a go and see what happens – and record what happens, so you know for next time.

“You can read all the books you like and google your pants off – and still kill plants or successfully grow stuff…the best thing is to throw your expectation to the wind, take on a positive, productive and love filled attitude and give it a go!”

Rebel’s advice is to start small and when planning to begin a veggie patch consider things like your time, what people like to eat, your space and water availability and don’t be afraid to fail!

Rebel has both a philosophical and pragmatic approach to veggie gardening in semi arid Australia.

“Things die – it’s a part of the natural cycle of life – if you are scared of seeds not sprouting or seedlings dying then they most likely will. If you embrace it as part of the leanring and the cycle – then you just put more in and harvest the abundance that flows when you get the mix just right!”

For more information about upcoming workshops CLICK HERE


The Trees For The Forrest

This morning I sat with an ABC journalist – Sally Bryant, in my backyard and we talked about The Hungry Spirit Centre for Semi-Arid Sustainability.

It was, as it always is with Sal, a great yarn with lots of ebbs and flows!

When it came time for the inevitable ‘photo shoot’ in the garden, I found myself to be embarrassed, not because i hadn’t really done my hair or wasn’t in my finest or event that I didn’t have lippy on (I have LONG got over that as a worry), but I was embarrassed because we had just spent 30 minutes talking about food and sustainability and growing it and yet, she was going to take a picture of me, to be shared online, that was going to show that the garden wasn’t ‘perfect’and that it wasn’t ‘finished’ and that it was, to say the least, rough around the edges on what it has been in it’s glorious past.


My feelings were of fraud and of ‘not walking the talk’ even though my garden is still producing and I eat out of it daily and it is a constantly evolving being (ie it’s summer and it’s bloody hot’) and I felt an overwhelming need to justify the scruffy appearance of the patch…I’ve been away a lot this year, I haven’t made the time…justify, justify, justify..

When I thought about it though – that’s kind of the point. We are at the beginning stages of the next iteration of our home and public space.

We are real people, living real lives, in a real environment.

The realness is what makes it delicious and beautiful and evolving.

Sal didn’t care – she thought what we are doing already was super impressive and she was excited by the future plans!

So, we took blank canvas photos and I invited Sal back, so that she too can be part of the evolutionary story – from red dust to food forrest!

It is so important to remember we are own worst judges/critics and that if we step into the truth of our own goals – others will step with us and see the forrest instead of the lack of trees!

That’s the point of The Hungry Spirit – to evolve the space with the input, energy and enthusiasm of the community!


Small Spaces – Gorgeous Places!

I LOVE renovating, fixing up and taking an ugly duckling space and turning it into something really special.

Hubby and I have spent the past decade or so doing that to our 40ft caravan…and we are almost done…but there is still a verandah to go on…

Anyway. As part of the latest renovations, I wanted an extra room so we could create more storage in the house, a luxury we have been sorely lacking and is the only frustrating element of living in a small space.

So rather than building a new room, which would have been more expense than we were willing to spend, I bought a 20ft caravan that I found locally (advertised on Buy Swap and Sell on Facebook). It was really great condition, had a second roof already installed on it and for $1200 I reckon was a really great deal. The previous owner even came and ‘installed’ it right where I wanted it!

The Van in situ

The Van in situ – you can see it looks happy next to our home caravan – and behind it is a gorgeous tree that will shade in the west, a couple of toilets for use and one day we will also build a shower behind it, in amongst the trees!

I bought it in April 2013 with the intention to spend the next months gradually just fixing it up.

The space will be our second spare room, but will also be fully independent of the house in terms of bathroom facilities and cooking, so that we can have a ‘self contained’ space for visitors, wwoofers and whoever ends up being part of the Hungry Spirit Enterprise as it emerges in the coming years!


It was a VERY bright colour inside…

wide blue

Bright Blue!












And there were a few holes and gaps and wall issues which we gradually fixed as we went – like the roof gap where the bathroom would have been, which was temporarily covered over – we made it more permanent and blend in with the rest of the roof, as best we could.

Dad painting looking north - Copy

Dad helped paint…which was awesome as my arm was going to fall off there were so many coats to cover the blue and the hideous wood paneling of the roof! But doesn’t it look fresh!






























Mainly there was just painting to be done…layers and layers of it to cover up that blue! But it’s amazing what a transformation light, clean, white paint can make to the size of a small space.

looking south (2)

The awesome brightness of WHITE!


looking south

The full extent of the darkness dark colours make in a small space!



















Once the painting was complete (5 coats in total on both the walls and the roof) we updated the floor.

I went for the cheapest floating laminate floor at Bunnings, total cost $250 for the floor lining and the laminate. Its so simple to put down, and it took just 1 day to get it in – the lengthier process has been putting skirting boards around the entire van, as there were a few ‘soft’ spots that proved tricky for Hubby!


Gorgeous new floor! Easy to put down, affordable and looks lovely! WIN, WIN, WIN!




























I think it makes the world of difference and is really easy to keep clean.

Next I took to the windows. I had all good intentions of replacing all the glass and making them start working again (the winding mechanism for louvre style windows), but to be honest I lost my mojo on that and so opted for a good clean and a new adornment of flyscreen.

The flyscreen process was a bloody nightmare and took me weeks, as the tool wouldn’t work properly due to the inconsistent size of the window framing, so I had to use a butter knife…that left big blisters. So I would do the flyscreening until my fingers bled, then would wait for the blisters to heal enough to do another couple. 6 windows in all.

I was glad when that job was DONE!


Fly screens…suffering for the project, blisters galore!


The tool that is supposed to work, in the left, the tool that actually worked on the right!


















My husband fitted an a/c into one of the windows which was a bit of an epic job, but totally necessary at this time of year…I was in there the other morning and it was 44 degrees at 10am!

The final stages are very exciting, because that is when you get to make it look pretty!

Hubby still has to finish the kitchen skirting, which I am hoping will be done in the next few days, as we have our kids coming to visit soon…and I want this spacer PEFRECT for them!

I reckon it looks gorgeous and when totally finished, will be the best value, most practical and elegant small space caravan around!

IT will be a wonderfully welcoming space for family, friends, WWOOFers and other people who come into our lives, now that we have the room :)


Bed 2


Bed 1

Giving Back Doesn’t Mean Going Broke

So here is a pattern that I am seeing all too frequently and I don’t like it…

There is this crazy and entirely unsustainable mantra in community development that you are a bad person if you make money and that all true givers are broke. It stems from the religion based penance poverty mentality I think.

Alright, so it might not be SAID outloud, but there certainly is an underlying hippy based covenant, that rich people are bad and poor people are more noble and give back.

I call Bullshit.

If you want to see the REAL movers and shakers in the room, look at those whose businesses are turning over millions; those people who are able to fully fund projects and programs and change hundreds, if not thousands of lives. I give you Richard Branson, for instance.

Why shouldn’t people make lots of money doing what they do well and then share it in a way that makes them, and a bunch of other people happy? Or better still, empowers others to create wealth and opportunity.

I have spoken to several entrepreneurial spirits recently who want to establish socially responsible enterprises but are being torn in all directions about HOW they do that.

Do they set up a not for profit?

Do they set up a business?

Do they set up a company or a partnerhsip?

WTF do they do?

How do they get paid for the work they put in?

Most commonly though…’I don’t need to get rich doing this, I just need enough to live on’…what are we NUNs now? Why are we selling ourselves so short. Why are we giving away our IP, our hard earned cash and brilliant ideas?

These amazing individuals know WHAT they want to do and they know WHY they want to do it, it’s the HOW that is confusing and here is why….

The Not for profit sector in Australia has a not for profit mentality (particularly small ones) , that means that they are not out to make money, but provide a service; but the reality around service provision is that you need to make money, at some point. What happens is, many NFPs end up with their hands out to government because they aren’t able to charge a full fee for service (if any at all) or they end up calling on their local community to stump up costs, either inkind or in cash.

Which is fine…except when there are new NFP organisations being set up daily, all vying for the same small pot and living in the same reality around…not making a profit.

Now, I am a realist and am well aware that not everything can be turned into an enterprise and that there are just somethings you can’t charge money (or heaps of money at least) for.

BUT there is no reason why people can start thinking differently about how they set up their social enterprises.

Why should someone set up a not for profit organisation that has cumbersome management rules, the need for committees, regulation and management when they could perfectly legitimately set up an enterprise to do the same work and make a profit, that enables them to reinvest in other work…

I think we need to start re framing the way we see ourselves as entrepreneurs in this space.

If you are fed up with giving back and going broke and instead, want to make money and make a difference…then join me, I am putting together a LEAGUE of WARRIOR AGENTS OF CHANGE and would love to see you there!










Greenies In The Garden: The Resilience Green!

IMAG2006I am in love with my veggie patch at the moment and the funny thing is that it is the messiest, most unruly and least organised it has EVER been, in a decade or more…no I am serious, it is!!!

But that is what I love about it.

We have so many self sown broccoli that I never got around to transplanting that are merrily growing delicious and nutritious little broccoli. We have rows and rows of splendid Asian greens that I can barely keep up with and radishes the size of enormous potatoes! The nasturtium, as always, takes over and spreads its wings over everything bringing bees and other little critters in and even the kangaroos are getting their confidence up and coming into the patch to leave little dropping presents. It is unruly and crazy and totally wild and it is brilliant, because I haven’t done a thing in there in months and it is STILL feeding us and then some!

Our snow peas are abundant and our spinach and beetroot keep growing away ready for us when we are ready for them.

For me this is the RESILIENCE needed in our life right now. I have had a lot of time away from home what with holidays and my husbands’ unexpected hospital visits, so our garden really has to fend for itself and RESILIENCE means that rather than surviving, it actually THRIVES! What JOY that is!

What it means is that all the hard work done in years gone by is paying dividends now. And I am grateful for that.

For me this is the same approach I apply to all my life and, it is what I coach my business, health and community development clients in…how to develop resilience and how in turn to foster it in their clients.

If you put in the hard yards now…learning, practicing, building your wisdom and growing your foundations – the rewards will be enormous, paramount and most importantly, timely.

It is hard to predict when the shit will hit the fan. But what you want to know is that when it does, which it inevitably will, you are prepared and RESILIENT, so you don’t just bounce back you fly back!



Challenge = people?

I have spent the better part of the past 2 weeks on the phone speaking with INCREDIBLE people in the Northern Territory, preparing for our Medibank funded Healthy Places Traditional Wisdom Mentor Training in Alice Springs and Darwin later in the year.

What it has reminded me is that community development is a TOUGH gig!

I have been running my own business now for more than 14 years and let me tell you, that is no piece of cake, walk in the park, picnic or whatever other cliche can be added nicely here…but working across multiple stakeholder groups, across multiple industries, across multiple organisation types, across a vast geographic area that has multiple language groups and a very traditional system of doing business that mixes with a very bureaucratic system of doing business and layer upon layer of disadvantage and issue,..and not being from the state..now that, that is tough!

At times I have found myself being pulled in a variety of directions, in my head of course.

Have you considered the language issue? Have you considered the remote locations? Have you considered the cost of transporting people and accommodating them while they do the training? Have you considered the different learning styles? Have you considered that might already be happening here?….

YES, yes, of course I have considered all those things, carefully and with due respect, but the real question is, can my very meagerly funded project meet all those needs? As much as I would like it to..the answer is NO, no it can’t.

One thing I have learned in business and am very rapidly starting to apply in community development is that you can’t be all things to all people…there just is, honestly, no one size fits all model and its seriously crazy to think there is.

What our project can offer is capacity building to INDIVIDUAL community and social service providers who are struggling to deliver the healthy lifestyle message and are looking for some additional tools/resources and support to do that, so they, in turn, can empower their clients and community members…

I am not about to start working with dietitians and telling them to suck eggs, they know this stuff, neither am I going to start working with fully qualified permaculture teachers or horticulturalists..same applies. What we are offering is SIMPLE programs that provide great support for people to connect vulnerable members of the community with a SIMPLE healthy lifestyle message…get into the kitchen, know what you are eating and put a few herbs in pots, but most importantly, value and love yourself enough to do that.

For too long I have watched as community development strategies have failed because it has to be a ‘whole of community’ approach.

What is a community? In my opinion, it’s just a bunch of individuals trying their guts out to survive or be their best given the resources they have been given.

How the heck do we think we are going to ‘develop’ a community if we don’t empower the individuals within that community? How are we going to reach those people if we try to slap a ‘one size fits all’ model to it OR expect that EVERYONE is going to love what we are offering?

If we remove the ego in it all and remind ourselves that this is about PEOPLE and that for some it works and others it doesn’t (just as in sales, some will buy, some won’t), there is room for all of us who are just wanting to make a difference!