Bill Mollison 1928-2016 – a legend passes on

Bill Mollison

Australia and the world has lost one of its most influential thinkers on community-led approaches to sustainable development. Author, educator, academic, researcher and innovative thinker, Bill Mollison, died peacefully in Hobart, Tasmania, on 24 September.


Mollison has been described as one of Tasmania’s leading intellectual exports. Born in 1928 in the Bass Strait fishing village of Stanley, he leaves behind a worldwide movement of remarkable resilience.  From its humble beginnings on the north coast of Tasmania, the permaculture design system, which Bill co-created with David Holmgren, spread world-wide, inspiring individuals and communities to take initiatives in fields as diverse and food production, building design, community economics and community development.



Bill Mollison left school at fifteen to help run the family bakery. In the years following he worked as shark fisherman and seaman, forester, mill-worker, trapper, tractor-driver and naturalist. His lack of formal education gave him many learning opportunities in how the world works.


Bill joined the CSIRO Wildlife Survey Section in 1954 and gained extensive research knowledge. His time in Tasmania’s rainforests and natural systems gave him the founding structure for what became his life’s major innovation — the Permaculture Design System: the idea that we can design sustainable systems that enable us to live within our economic and ecological means and enjoy a modest prosperity. Later, he taught at the University of Tasmania.


In 1974, in Hobart, he and David Holmgren began to develop the permaculture concept, leading to the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. He traveled the world in the 1980s and 1990’s, teaching thousands of students. Bill contributed articles, curricula, reports, and recommendations for farm projects, urban clusters and influenced local governments. In 1981 he received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.


Bill later featured in the documentary series, ‘In Grave Danger of Falling Food’, which was broadcast nationally and, following repeated requests, rebroadcast twice. He authored a number of books on the permaculture design system, the best known being The Permaculture Designers’ Manual, published in 1988.


After establishing the Permaculture Institute in the Tweed valley of northern NSW, Bill returned to his Tasmanian homeland to spent his final years at Sisters Beach on the Bass Strait coast.


The final words represent Bill in his true classical way: “If you hear that I am dead tell them they lie.”


Next week, Bill Mollison will be honoured at the Australian Permaculture Convergence in Perth , WA.  This afternoon an old friend of Bill’s imagined him saying: “In view of the Convergence coming up, I thought I’d go a bit early – just to keep you on your toes”.


More on Bill Mollison: ‪

In Memory of Bill Mollison facebook group: ‪

Photo: courtesy of Russ Grayson

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