NERP History

The Early History of the North East Ranges Permaculture Group

Written by Wendy Mather, 2013


In the early 1990’s Peter Goldstraw was a local identity at the St. Andrews market.

Back in those days, St Andrews market was half the size, run by locals, for the locals and where you could buy almost all your food needs. From meats to nut spreads, locally grown organic vegies to fresh baked bread and then carry it all home in a beautiful basket, hand made by one of the stall holders.

Peter Goldstraw ran the dried fruit and nuts stall. His popularity grew over the years and he expanded and relocated to the Brown House in Hurstbridge and set up the Health Food Shop (where Heart and Soul is now).

Peter was a Vietnam veteran and he had a dream of providing healthy food to his community. Permaculture was growing in popularity and Peter spread the word amongst his customers until he had enough interest to have a community meeting at Allwood house. A group of very excited people was formed and Peter named the group:  North East Ranges Permaculture or NERP.

At this first meeting it was decided to have monthly meetings at member’s homes, with a shared lunch and a particular theme for discussion.  A format that has lasted for many years.

One of the first meetings was at our property in St. Andrews.  Many people came and many ideas were tossed around. We had been having problems with our chooks. As soon as we let them out, they would go straight to the mulch under the fruit trees.  Chooks and mulch went in all directions and come evening we had a merry chase to put the chooks away and then we still had to rake all the mulch back where it belonged!

Someone suggested to fence the orchard, deep mulch the whole area and make it the chook run. Voila!!! Permaculture in action. We very quickly put this idea into action and it has continued successfully (with some extra additions of netting and a watering system) to this day.  The chooks and ducks are happy, the trees are fruitful and our daily jobs got a whole lot easier.

 Once the group became established we had many wonderful events and field trips. One such outing was to David Holmgren’s home in Hepburn Springs where we all learnt so much and couldn’t wait to get back home and put all our new ideas into action.

NERP took on the challenge of designing, creating and maintaining a permaculture display garden at Edendale Farm, and this continued for many years until it was bulldozed to make way for newer developments.

In 1994, NERP hosted a General Meeting and Field trips weekend for Permaculture Melbourne and the extended permaculture community. It was at this meeting at John and Julie Seal’s home, that a proposal for all local groups be invited to affiliate with Pc Melb, was put forward by Christine Pinnager, and unanimously agreed to… …history in the making!  (see attached notes)

NERP continued to grow and in 1996 we had 39 families in our group. We became a very active and social group, one of the biggest in Melbourne area. Early members such as Virginia and Stephen Solomon, John and Julie Seal, Stephen Onians and Jill Stevens, Tony and Joy Roberts, Julie and Howard Ronaldson were the driving force behind our group.

John Seal was very involved with the Heritage Fruits Group and each year hosted a grafting day at his beautiful passive solar, mud brick house in Research.

We had many food orientated days in Virginia’s kitchen. My favourite was the potato and pumpkin day, where we cooked and tasted many, many varieties of each. Unanimous decision of our favourite was Purple Aztec potatoes and Bohemian pumpkin.

Stephen Onians joined the group and bought with him his enthusiasm and knowledge of all things feathered…. ahh!! The memories of roast goose!!!!

Each spring we would have a mini market to sell / swap produce, seeds and plants. One year at Virginia’s even all the children had their own stalls selling their crafts and goodies. This became a tradition within the group and each year spring was welcomed at our seed and plant swap. A popular venue for this event was the tram at Stephen and Jill’s new property in Yarrambat.

When Margaret and Jerry Clarkson joined the group, they volunteered the use of their new barn for our activities. It was called “the barn” but in reality it was a palace!! A grand staircase led to a mezzanine floor complete with composting toilet and below was a kitchen, laundry and a table that would seat at least 30 people. Even if sometimes we had meetings in and around the tractors, it was a great venue for harvest festivals and many wonderful feasts in true permaculture fashion. 

In 1998, the barn was the venue for the National Seed Saving Conference organised and hosted by NERP. Three days of speakers, workshops, delicious food and bountiful friendships. ( see attached program)

NERP members, like our gardens grew and flourished, our children grew up, new members came along, some moved on, but the group continued. As different co-ordinators took their turn in running the group, different formats emerged….night meetings, guest speakers, field trips etc.  but in all these years we seem to have stuck to the original plan of monthly meetings in members homes sharing knowledge, delicious food and friendships.

I dearly hope this continues for many years, as I for one, have found the friendships I have made through NERP have been the strongest and most fruitful of all.

Written by Wendy Mather, 2013

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