Nature and Nurture

August 1, 2016

Nature and Nurture

For 22 years and three generations of the family name, Mick and Janet Millington nurtured once-degraded cattle land at Eumundi into a biodynamic haven. After years of putting in the hard yards, the first generation of the family shares how they did it.

“I remember when I was a little girl and I used to question my mum about why I had to eat all of my veggies, not just the peas … it was only later on I realised that you have to eat all your veggies because they all soak up different things from the soil,” Janet Millington anecdotes to a captive crowd.

She takes a break to sign one of her permaculture books, the page flicking open to rest on the special dedication she’s penned to her two children.

“This book was written just there,” she gestures to a large shed, “part of it was working with Eumundi school and they now have the biggest outdoor classroom that I know in this approach.”

Janet’s holding an open day on the sprawling 33-acre property she and husband Mick have transformed into a sustainable, self-reliant destination.

“Permaculture has all the tools you need to transition to an energy descent future. It’s sustainability, providing what you can on your own place and then forming networks to share the surplus so you’re not asking land to do things it can’t do,” explains Janet.

Mick and Janet Millington

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilising the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

Awarded the Sunshine Coast Council Living Smart ‘Environmental’ Australia Day Award 2016, the couple proudly displays the award while chatting to me in their house ‘Homestead Hill’, as chocolate labrador Chippie bounds in, fur damp from a swim.

“Winning the Environmental Award – it showed that we did it together, it was the whole family because without their support we wouldn’t have done it, without our son David’s help to step in we would have had to sell it a long time ago,” says Janet, tears forming in her eyes.

What was once desolate property with an old rail corridor suffering erosion, fertility and biodiversity issues, is replaced by orchards, water sources, veggie patches, gardens, solar and work sheds; scars of barren land smoothed over by a bamboo forest.

“David and his mates worked on the place, they’d take down the fences, you couldn’t get water flowing, so we had to get rid of all that before we could actually do the earthworks to hold and store water and percolate it through the soil,” reflects Janet.

Twenty years on, and David now resides in a beautiful converted red barn with his own young family, partner Sherie and daughters Molly-Belle, seven and Ginger Leigh, two. This second and third generation of the Millington family assist with the maintenance of the property, particularly during the last six years while Mick and Janet were travelling for Mick’s work for the Australian Navy, before returning in late 2015.

“We’ve got some lovely photos of them in my chapter in a book, Permaculture Pioneers, it’s captioned ‘Molly-Belle Millington loves the family farm and joins in the chores’,” Janet says, getting up to show me the book.

“There’s lovely things I’ll always remember like our daughter-in-law Sherie pulling the trolley and little Ginger sitting up there getting pinecones and timber for their fire. And Molly, collecting passion fruits, carrying a great big pumpkin and feeding the chickens.”

Their daughter Katie is managing director/executive producer for an Australian/New Zealand production company, and supports the farm’s publicity.

The family beginnings stem from Sydney, where Mick and Janet met as teenagers in Cronulla before marrying in 1970 and welcoming Katie and David.

While in Sydney, Janet was a primary school teacher, and Mick worked for the Department of Defence in navy research areas, combat and sonar systems for the weapons component of submarines; his work taking them around the world.

The family moved north after Mick and David were captivated by Noosa during a surfing trip; the perfect location for Janet to escape her seriously debilitating chemical sensitivities illness ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).

They bought a holiday place on Noosa Sound, and purchased 60 acres of land at Eumundi, moving full time onto the property in 1996. They began with aquaculture – a crayfish farm with seven ponds, before selling the ponds and reducing their land ownership to 33-acres, and focusing on the bamboo forestry.

The fresh regional air was a tonic for Janet’s sensitivities which soon cleared up, and the couple embraced the opportunity to nurture both the land and family health with chemical-free rehabilitation strategies, with both David and Mick qualifying to operate all the required machinery from chainsaws to bulldozers, themselves.

Janet Millington

Permaculture has got all the tools that you need to transition to an energy descent future.”

While the property initially began as a way to improve Janet’s quality of life, it’s bloomed into a passion for both, and they are eager to share what they’ve learnt. Mick references a 1993 study he completed for the Queensland Government on return production per hectare – two to three tonne per hectare protein production from crayfish, with one tonne per hectare production from cattle.

“Environmental sustainability was the driving force, and we used all the permaculture methodologies, ethics and principles,” says Janet.

“Bamboo is a whole new industry for Queensland. Aquaculture is the future, bamboo is part of the future and we really do need to promote it,” adds Mick.

The couple is currently finishing the final stages of their law degrees with an interest in environmental and humanitarian areas; they’ve both significantly contributed to various local council sustainability plans and task forces, while Mick currently mentors at the Innovation Centre, adding to his brilliant career as an engineer, Janet (permaculture designer, consultant, educator and author) recently returned from her permaculture tour across Europe in May/June.

The property is used for community and permaculture education and courses, and is now in “maintenance stage”, after years past when Janet would bring in pigs to dig for sweet potatoes thus aerating soil for planting, today’s maintenance work includes David felling timber wood, which is burned into ash for the gardens and orchard.

However, Janet shares with some remorse there are plans in place to sell the property. Today, they take the time to reflect.

“We took the kids everywhere in the Kombi for the first few years of their lives, so we just recreated all the campsites we ever loved on this property, don’t you think, Mick?” smiles Janet.

“As you drive out, you’ll see a sign, The Beach, stop and have a look, you’ll love it,” Mick encourages me, “now, David takes the girls camping here.”

Janet smiles, “I’ve had fine gardens here looking beautiful … but that’s not David’s priority at the moment. He’s trying to grow children.”

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