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Time to say goodbye to Dan Palmer — a note of thanks

Time to say goodbye to Dan Palmer — a note of thanks

Story by Russ Grayson, first published in Medium, 6 August 2022

RAIN. More rain. It comes and goes to saturate the soils and nourish what grows in them. So it is with people in the metaphorical soils of our collective experience.

We had been up north in rainy Launceston for the annual gathering of the Tasmanian network of Community Gardens Australia, the national organisation for which my partner Fiona does website design and development. It was on returning home to the coast that I looked at social media and learned of our collective loss.

I hadn’t seen Dan Palmer since the 2018 permaculture convergence in Canberra where he made a presentation on the theory and practice of his unique approach to design thinking. I remember him from another permaculture convergence too — Turangi, New Zealand, 2011. He came over and sat with Fiona and I and we talked.

I might not have seen Dan since 2018 but I sure had heard of him. It was impossible not to, given his contribution to the practice of permaculture design through talks and his online presence with Making Permaculture Stronger, his role in getting the mutual assistance scheme permablitz going, his work in permaculture education and the design agency he worked with, Very Edible Gardens.

Dan was one of those personable, quiet and thoughtful presences we encounter in life. You know, those people we wish we could be. He was not a personal friend to Fiona and I but, engaged in permaculture design and practice, we count him a colleague.

Dan leaves us not long after another permaculture practitioner. Veteran US permaculture educator and activist, Scott Pittman, founder of the US Permaculture Institute, passed only days ago. Two losses an ocean apart but joined by their contribution and practice of permaculture’s three ethics.

News of the their passing comes a couple months after I made enquiries about a friend, Des Shield, who I knew from bushwalking circles when I had earlier lived on this island. I had wondered what became of Dan as I had good memories of his happy, cheeky presence on track and trail through forest and mountain. The news that he had suicided was one of those blows, like the news of Dan, that you have to sit down in surprise and shock to try to make sense of it and ask why. Why?

Like Scott and Des, Dan was both an educator, thinker and connector who brought people together through their work. Connectors are important people because they join the links in this practice we call permaculture, this adventure in good design, to borrow the words of Bill Mollison.

It is a grey and rainy Saturday morning that I sit here as a forest raven calls and black cockatoos make their noisy way across the estuary. I think of Dan and Scott and Des, connectors all. Connectors. Connection. The words of Seventeenth Century poet, scholar, soldier and cleric, John Donne, seem appropriate in thinking of these people because they are about human connection. In one of his poems, Donne writes that No man is an island, Entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

Donne concludes his contemplation on the connection between people with these lines:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

And so it is with Dan Palmer. Connection. Education. Insight. Practice. A piece of the permaculture continent left us that day as the rain came down on Launceston’s saturated soils. But, just as the rain nourishes what grows in the soil, Dan leaves a legacy that nourishes the greater body of our permaculture practice in a world all the better for his presence.

So, farewell Dan, and thanks.

Dan Palmer at the 2011 Permaculture Convergence in New Zealand. Photo: Russ Grayson (CC: attribution, share-alike, non-commercial, no derivatives).

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