Bill Mollison – a giant tree has fallen in the forest of humanity

Robyn Francis reflects on her memories of Bill Mollison, teacher, mentor, friend…

Bill Mollison, co-creator of the permaculture concept and founder of the movement, passed away in Hobart, Tasmania on the evening of September 24, 2016. For many it felt like a giant old growth tree in the forest had fallen. Since then tributes have been flowing from around the world acknowledging the legacy and life’s work of an exceptional man. As David Holmgren noted “With the passing of Bill Mollison… comes the end of an era for many thousands of people around the world whose lives were transformed by the teaching and writing of one of Australia’s most influential ecological pioneers.”

Bill was known as a visionary, researcher, author, academic, philosopher, teacher, mentor, motivator and legendary storyteller. He’d find your buttons and challenge your dogmas–he made you think. He took pleasure in insulting bureaucrats, famous and pretentious people, yet always had time for the “forgotten people”, the cleaners, drivers and lackeys. He was a man of deep compassion and carried a burning rage for those that perpetuated destruction and exploitation of the earth and the disadvantaged.

One of Bill’s greatest and most effective legacies was the education system he created with the Permaculture Design Course (PDC), empowering people to be the change, and encouraging them to teach and empower others. “Information is a resource that grows the more it shared” As a result of the PDC and his books, permaculture is now being practiced in over 140 countries and the on-the-ground projects would now be in the many hundreds of thousands around the world. Permaculture is perhaps Australia’s greatest intellectual export.


Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis at the opening of the EPICentre in Enmore, Sydney, 1986
Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis at the opening of the EPICentre in Enmore, Sydney, 1986


I first met Bill in 1977 speaking at an Organic Festival near Sydney promoting the imminent publication of Permaculture One. However it was in Sydney in 1984 that we really connected and he encouraged me to start teaching. Bill had a knack of making you feel confident you could really do things and make a difference. I was fortunate to work closely with Bill through the 1980s and 90s, co-teaching the first permaculture course with him in India in 1987, providing support for the film crew making The Visionaries and Global Gardener documentary series, organising the early Earthbank conferences which brought the concept of Ethical Investments into mainstream media. Bill moved from Tasmania to Tyalgum in the Tweed Valley of northern NSW in 1987 where he lived for the next decade before returning back to Tasmania.

I treasure the many long discourses I had with Bill over the years, ranging through diverse, deep and eclectic topics, often until the wee small hours of the morning. He’d reflect on life and the interconnected of all things, past, present, future. How death is simply a transformation into new life forms, we are all inherently eternal. It’s the laws thermodynamics, of entropy and syntropy at play. And, with a twinkle in his eye, he’d end with “All plants are carnivores, they’ll eat you in the end!”.

Bill has left behind a global legacy of people and communities building resilience, self- reliance and creating the kind of world we want to see for future generations. A legend has passed to travel in dreams beyond the stars, and lives on in the hearts, minds and hands of those he influenced.

I am writing this tribute en route to China to teach my 4th PDC in that country, where there is a growing hunger for positive solutions and change. When I last saw Bill he was heartened to know that permaculture was making inroads into China, which he called “the final frontier”. In November we will be planting a memorial food forest at Djanbung Gardens to honour this remarkable man and to acknowledge his final request that we plant trees.

Robyn Francis, Sept 30, 2016

Feature photo courtesy of Trish Allen, taken at APC-9, Sydney 2008

The First Mandala Garden  During the 1st PDC in India, Bill and I were discussing the course practical project and drawing up ideas. Since there was so much interest in banana circles we decided we’d make one and perhaps encircle it with some keyhole beds. As we sketched it out, Gangamma, a participant who was sitting nearby, exclaimed “Oh look, it’s a mandala” Thus the mandala garden was born. If you look at the design in the Designer’s Manual p 274, you’ll see it’s called Gangamma’s Mandala. That’s Gangamma in these photos, being shown by Bill how to use an A-frame, and in the banana circle construction she’s in the background wearing purple. July 1987

First PDC in India, 1987, taught by Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis
First PDC in India, 1987, taught by Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis

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